By: Jay DeFoore
Recent surveys have shown that, big surprise, people flock to online news sites when major events happen.
For Statesman.com, the Web site of Cox Newspapers’ Austin American-Statesman, no news or sporting event has ever been bigger than Wednesday’s Rose Bowl victory for the hometown University of Texas Longhorns, which delivered the school’s first national title in football in 35 years.
In the roughly 20-minute interview this reporter conducted with Statesman.com General Manager Jim Debth and Assistant Managing Editor/Internet Tim Lott on Thursday, the site served up more than 100,000 page views, bringing the site’s mid-day total from 2.534 million page views to more than 2.667 million.
Debth said the site was expecting to top 3 million page views on the day after the Rose Bowl victory, a new record for the site and 10 times a normal day’s payload.
“Our audience is very hyper interested in Texas football,” Lott observed, in perhaps the biggest understatement of the day.
“If there’s one thing I’d like to emphasize about our coverage,” Lott said, “it’s the true embracing of convergence ? the many different ways we can deliver information to our users and the ways the users can deliver information to us.”
By convergence, Lott means more than 20 videos, including a chaotic view of the post-game celebration on the field, podcasts from the Statesman’s longtime humor columnist John Kelso, 143 game action photos (which the Wall Street Journal called “ridiculously comprehensive“), articles from the day’s paper, and Web-exclusive analysis on the game provided by the sports staff as well as bloggers.
Planning began in earnest more than a month before the big game. Lott, the former sports editor at the paper, said, “you try to choreograph something like this as much as possible.”
Page mockups with the Longhorns alternately winning and losing were ready to go by halftime. Within 12 seconds of the clock hitting zero, the Statesman.com homepage featured a gigantic, 600-pixel wide photo from the game with the headline proudly proclaiming the Longhorns “National Champions” (Lott timed it).
The game ended late, but still users all across the country flocked to the site to soak up the coverage and post comments on the blogs. Within minutes, one fan of Ohio State, a tough team the Longhorns barely beat in the second game of the season, wrote in to congratulate the Austin fans on their upset victory. Debth says that between midnight and 1:00 a.m., the site served up 85,000 page views. The normal amount is between two and three thousand for that hour. By mid day Thursday, the site had served up roughly 400,000 page views on the photo gallery alone, as well as 13,000 video downloads.
Austin is one of the most wired cities in the U.S., and Debth estimates that 87% of the site’s users have broadband Internet connections, “so we have no hesitation to do video,” he said.
In all, the Statesman sent 17 staff members to Los Angeles for the game. Kelso, who is known as a bit of a lovable curmudgeon, completely embraced the idea of podcasting, Lott said, even though he only learned how to record his pieces the day before leaving for L.A.
“Kelso is always willing to try something new,” Lott said. “He looked at it as an adventure.”
An adventure it was, especially after Kelso lost his instructions on how to phone in the podcast (the Statesman uses an 1-800 number to record podcasts and then edits the audio in-house). An online content producer was able to connect with Kelso by phone and walk him through the process.
According to Debth, much of the expense that went into producing the coverage will be recouped, and then some. The Statesman team sold a sponsorship for the photo gallery, and partnered with Sports Illustrated to drive magazine subscriptions through the site with commemorative Longhorn gear as incentives. A merchandise company is offering items such as a book and T-shirts bearing the paper’s front page through the site and splitting the profits with the paper.
“Yes, we’re hoping to generate some fairly significant revenue that the Rose Bowl coverage has provided,” Debth said.
Full Disclosure: The author of this article graduated from the University of Texas in 1999, interned at the Statesman shortly thereafter, and become a rabid Longhorns fan some time after moving to New York City in 2000.