With the high school football playoffs almost on us and prep basketball about to tip off, now is about as good a time as any to consider again about how to beef up your online sports readership.
And while it may seem sometimes you’re having to rob Peter to pay Paul when it comes to developing your online presence or preserving your established print product, here are some digital strategies that with the resources you probably already have can help you make inroads to both. Think of it as having your cake and eating it, too.
Reinvent your game coverage
First thing, consider using your social media coverage as your mainstay on game night. Weeknights or weekends, your readers are going to be coming and going, and whether they’re at the game, on the road, or partying down, you can keep them engaged with your social media coverage of the games. Some suggestions:
- ●Don’t do play by play. If they’re at the game, they saw it. If they’re at home, they may be listening to radio. If they’re partying or waiting on their spouse to finish paying the tab somewhere, PxP may not grab their attention.
- ●Do think analysis and context: Give them what they can’t always get from watching live or listening, much less waiting in line somewhere. Make your observations significant. Think of your role as that of a radio analyst, and give them what your competitor may not be able to: if the girls’ point guard just made a nifty pass for an assist, or the receiver had to outleap a defender to snag a pass, tell your reader “Lindsay Baskins’ threads a pass to Ashley Robbins for a layup. Lady Tartars up 42-30 at 2:13 in the 1st QTR,” or “’Dillas’ Ray Renfro outleaps a defender for a 15-yard gain to the Wampus Cat 10-yd line, ‘Dillas up 10-7 late in the third.” Or tell us the coach is getting heated, stamping her foot or throwing his towel after having to bench a player for foul trouble or a holding penalty negates a gain. That’s detail the broadcast may miss, and it’s stuff many radio competitors won’t or can’t deliver anyway in a stream. Make it worthwhile for your reader to follow.
- ●Do get the greatest saturation by combining some social media platforms. Most of your readers have Facebook; fewer use Twitter, but those that do will likely rely more on it that Facebook. And you can do both simultaneously by combining your accounts so that what you post to Twitter pops up in your Facebook posts. A tip: choose the Twitter-dominant route so that your posts will be short and sweet, and there are likely other social media combinations you can explore. Here’s a how-to link for posting Twitter to Facebook: https://support.twitter.com/articles/31113
- ●Do have the final score ready immediately at game’s end, along with some context – “The ‘Dillas 27-24 win over Itasca puts them at 10-1 and headed to the first round of playoffs against Cairo or Attapulgus on Nov. 12.” You might even mention – briefly- who the star player was, but that’s all you need. Click “send,” head for sidelines or locker room for post-game interviews, and then head to the house to cool your heels. Yes, take a break. Here’s why:
- ●Don’t worry about publishing a late-night or next-day story online. Readers who haven’t listened can go online and find the score, your summary, and the important stuff in your social media thread. And tell them to be looking for additional coverage
The game story: Out with the old, in with the new
For most weekly, twice-weekly or bi-weekly newspapers, your publication cycle won’t dovetail smoothly with traditional game story coverage. Worst case scenario, your paper hits the news racks or the front lawn smack dab in the middle and you’re faced with the prospect of publishing an account that’s days old when its hot off the presses. That’s still a must read for parents and grandparents but the interest from many of your readers will be fading. So what’s a body to do? Ask a staff that’s already stretched thin to write multiple accounts? That doesn’t go over so well, so here’s a modest proposal:
- ●Take a features approach to your published game story, and hold its posting until the evening before or the day of distribution. After you post the social media accounts, let them stand as your first-day coverage for those catching up.
- ●Focus your print coverage on a features approach that includes players’ and coaches’ reactions, how they’ll incorporate what they did or didn’t accomplish into the next contest, or, if the season’s over, how they reflect on how it’s all come down.
- ●Do think features, not news, with alternative ledes that tease the reader and play down the time lag between the timing of the event and your coverage of it.
- ●Use your previous social media coverage as a tool in constructing your story. In it you’ve already got a timeline of sorts. Once you work the most significant pics or stats from the previous game into developing story, you’ve summarized what happened a few days ago and also offered readers a fresh slant. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have the opportunity to use that approach for a great advance story for the upcoming contest.
- ●Make that story your sports centerpiece and post it online to coincide with the print edition. You can generate additional buzz by posting it the evening before distribution.
- ●Do make sure you continue to promote that coverage through your social media and house ads in the paper.
Old news can be good news
If you’ve got a digital whiz in your shop, you can use your old digital files to your advantage by hyperlinking to previous coverage that allows readers to pursue their interests and beef up your readership.
- ●If you’re telling a story about the season’s highs and lows, provide hyperlinks that allow readers who missed the earlier stories to pursue them.
- ●If the ‘Dillas’ Renfro, who earlier outleaped that defender for the 15-yard gain, has been highlighted in previous games, give digital readers a link to that story and embed the link in his name, which should be highlighted: “Renfro outleaped a defender for a 15-yeard gain late in the third to keep the Dillas’ drive alive.” If you’re talking playoff prospects, and the ‘Dillas have already played Attapulgus, give readers their rein to revisit that game: “The ‘Dillas 27-24 win over Itasca puts them at 10-1 and headed to the first round of playoffs against Cairo or Attapulgus, which they defeated earlier in the season, on Nov. 12.”
- ●Be sure, if their opponent has been determined by press time, to update the story, but that extra reporting should be minimal.
In the end, you’ve got limited resources but greater expectations by contemporary readers, particularly younger ones you want to engage for the long haul, and many of whom expect or will appreciate timely and convenient coverage. These strategies will require some newspapers to re-think and alter their traditional approaches, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. But these are steps that can help you attract emerging audiences with the resources you already have on hand.