Carroll Varsity: High school sports done right

May 6, 2014

By Denise Franken
Director of Marketing | Presteligence

Covering 10 schools and 14 sports, Carroll County Times’ approach to high school sports delivered a record-breaking audience for the small, community-driven newspaper.

The 2013 fall sports season met, the dedicated high school sports website for the Times, with a new underbelly, new design, and new features. Hosted under Presteligence’s My Team Scoop platform, the service provides a website, mobile site, mobile apps, CMS, real time score updates, and streaming and on-demand video.

“Using My Team Scoop gave us a huge upgrade in the look and function, and the numbers are there to prove it,” said Bob Blubaugh, sports editor for the Maryland weekly. Analytics show a 2½-time increase in page views from September 2012 compared to the same month in 2013 and more than four times increase from October 2012 to October 2013. Where monthly usage previously dwindled as the season progressed, it increased by 30 percent with the new look.

Along with live blogging, reporters posted up-to-the minute score updates engaging fans to visit the Scores and Events pages of Carroll Varsity. Friday night football fans stayed on the Scores page (a page that auto-refreshes) for an average of more than five minutes, and more than 50 percent were using mobile phones.

Social media played an important role too. Eighty percent of CV’s social referral traffic came from Twitter. Even though the reporters were proud of their Twitter following, they whole-heartedly embraced the idea that scores and content should drive viewers to the site.

By downloading Carroll Varsity’s mobile apps, fans followed their favorite teams and players for updates via push notifications, texts and e-mails.

“The immediacy of score updates on game nights and the way we can report the plays is awesome,” Blubaugh added. Carroll Varsity is one of the only sites in their area posting scores in real time.

Carroll Varsity reporters utilized Game Tracker at every football playoff game they covered. The football version of Game Tracker records time of possession, penalties, rushes, passes, touchdowns, field goals, punts, downs, and more and allows readers to consume visually pleasing play-by-play accounts of the game from their phones, tablet, or desktop computer. It accounted for 45 percent of their traffic the first week of playoffs. The paper promoted the play by play through e-mail marketing and Web ads.

Wendy Study, mother of an assistant coach, was able to follow her son’s away game by watching the play by play of a playoff game on her desktop computer. She was awed by what she found.

“It let me follow along with the game—every single play—just like the NFL.”

Not all media companies are taking advantage of high school sports as positively as Carroll County Times. The market for high school sports can easily be compared to classifieds from the early 2000s when media companies felt they had a stronghold of the classified market. But soon companies such as Craigslist and Monster challenged that domination and won, costing newspapers billions in revenue. Similarly, national websites and software companies are pursuing high schools and offering free websites and advertising revenue in return for scores, schedules and rosters. In effect, the schools’ websites become the authority of high school sports content rather than the local newspaper—ultimately causing a loss of revenue and audience.

Football isn’t the only focus for Carroll Varsity. The weekly saw success with basketball and wrestling and it currently uses the lacrosse version of Game Tracker for their boys and girls varsity teams. Now that the Times has successfully captured the high school sports audience, its primary focus for the next school year will be to nurture and increase it.

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