We've been talking up the Hudson Valley group's high school sports effort (http://www.varsity845.com) quite a bit lately, and exploring with some of you the possibility of borrowing elements and functionality for your use (Southcoast has since taken them up on the offer, and is working to integrate some of the scoreboard elements into their high school football coverage).
See below some outside feedback on the Varsity 845 effort.
While projects like this do depend on some technological pieces being in place, success comes only from completing the circle with widespread buy-in and usage by the staff. Matt Pepin has done a superb job of using the technology that Patrick Mullen has provided, and running all-out to make sure the content is filling the platform and building the audience.
Please reach out to Patrick and Matt when you can. They have hit upon an initial formula that can work for you. Lots of audience growth can be derived from consistent and persistent use of online tools to strengthen your timely and interactive coverage of the local online sports scene.
From: Pepin, Matt
Sent: Tue 9/25/2007 11:08 AM
To: Vanderhoof, Joe; Mullen, Patrick; Gliedman, Erik; Osenenko, Derek; McGuire, Meg; Mohart, Doug; Polay, Sean
Subject: a review of V845
Everyone ... very favorable coverage of V845 by the New York State Sportswriters Association in the president's blog. Link is here, text is pasted below.
The 411 on '845': Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill was famously quoted as saying "All politics is local." He was also known for his ability to return to his old neighborhood and recognize people he hadn't seen in years, greeting them by name and attending to them as though they were life-long friends.
Rep. O'Neill got it. He understood that he needed to be attuned to the lives of his constituents. It's grassroots politicking, and it's how he got re-elected time after time after time, though being a liberal, Irish Democrat in Massachusetts certainly didn't hurt his cause.
I'm not sure yet whether the effort will amount to "too little, too late," but newspapers and other old-school media are going the grassroots route as well these days, focusing their newsgathering and delivery on so-called "hyper-local" approaches. Major newspapers and electronic media that used to have multiple foreign news bureaus are shutting them down to concentrate on national and state coverage. Those that used to maintain a presence in New York and Washington, D.C., have been cutting back to focus oin state and local reporting.
And mid-sized daily papers are moving their resources back from the statehouse into the local neighborhoods to recapture readership they've been losing for any number of reasons over the last quarter of a century. And the emphasis is on online operations in pursuit of the young folks.
Translation: This is a swell time to be a web designer or developer with a little flair and imagination. There's a big market for "cool" and "cutting edge" in the online world these days as newspapers court the young readers.
To that end, The Times Herald-Record in Middletown typlifies the "adapt or die" mentality this fall, having rolled out Varsity845.com <http://www.varsity845.com/> . It's a laudable effort that combines old staples -- roundups, game stories, states and standings -- with new strategies such as blogging, video clips, photo galleries and forums.
It adds up to a place in the top three of must-visit scholastic sports sites in New York, alongside Newsday <http://www.newsday.com/sports/highschool/> and LoHud.com <http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=SPORTS02> .
What makes the site superior? Start with the name. Playing off the area code for the Catskills/Hudson Valley region the paper serves, it's named so as to put a little distance between the new product and print product. Trust me. I spent 11-plus years at DemocratandChronicle.com in Rochester, so I understand how it's a lot easier to design a snazzy t-shirt with the Varsity 845 logo on it than it is to get creative with the Times Herald-Record name.
The site's design -- yellow type on a black background -- is attractive and effective, but that's relatively superficial stuff anyway. Where Varsity845.com really succeeds is its content:
* A simple, useful calendar
* Standings that are generally up to date and accurate
* Chat forums
* Results roundups and game stories
* Video reports and photo galleries
* Links to lists of players and coaches of the year in the respective sports as well as Section 9 champions
Additionally, the staff does the stuff that looks good but involves effort above and beyond what many sites are willing to do. Three bloggers contribute multiple entries each week and three nominees per day are highlighted for their Player of the Day voting.
Taken in total, it's superior to just about anything out there and positions The Times Herald-Record to defend against MaxPreps, Scout.com and other national players that are trying to make inroads into local markets. Publishers across the state should stop by to see how they should be doing it.