News Leadership 3.0

July 08, 2008

Star-Telegram sports online

Fort Worth’s high school site
attracts users and revenue

Successful online ventures identify and tap into community passions. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has created a megasite for high school sports and is riding a wave of popularly and building revenue. I asked Ellen Alfano, Deputy Executive Editor/Vice President for Online at the Star-Telegram about the site, www.dfwvarsity.com, and the result is this guest post:

By Ellen Alfano

High school football is more than a tradition in Texas - it is an integral part of our culture. The Star-Telegram devotes a lot of resources and space to Friday night football. So three years ago, the Sports department and IS department began working on a super web site that would connect us to those readers who are fanatical about “Friday Night Lights.”

We created a home page for every high school team that we cover - nearly 100 - and have continued to improve the functionality as well as the number of high school sports that are part of the site. The site includes team photos, results, statistics, schedules, recruiting updates, player information, message boards and score alerts, as well as blogs and interactive pages for uploading user generated photos and videos. We have expanded the concept to include girls and boys basketball, soccer, baseball, softball and volleyball.

The staff that produces the content for dfwVarsity is a small army of sports staffers, correspondents and employees from different areas of the newspaper. This is the same group that covers games for the newspaper, only they file for the Web site after each quarter of a game and immediately after the game is over. The only additional people we have devoted to this project are programmers. There were a few missteps along the way, most of them involving the programming.  We are currently working on the third version of the software and we have a web developer from IS working with a newsroom web developer to finish the newest version.

Anyone who is considering a site like this needs to have a project leader who understands sports and agate as well as web development. Developers who worked on the site but didn’t understand sports left us with a table structure that was not flexible enough to allow us to adapt it to additional sports.

The one area that has never been an issue is the popularity of dfwVarsity.com. The site had more than 3 millon page views last year. It has also been a revenue-producer from the beginning. We began with a sponsor who paid $12,000. This year we will produce almost $200,000 in revenue.

Last year’s dfwvarsity site, including the videos, brought in $5,000 a month in revenue. The video was not specifically targeted. We quickly realized that was too low. This year, the main sponsorship was sold to Chevrolet for $10,000 a month for 10 months

One feature of the site is a weekly video program during the football season that just won an Emmy. More about that program later this week.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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