By: Joe Strupp
UConn’s upset victory was major for its local paper
As the country’s major newspapers piled on coverage of the University of Connecticut’s upset victory in the NCAA Final Four last week, with extra editions, special sections, and high-priced columnists, The Chronicle of Willimantic, Conn., became the little engine that could.
Despite having only two full-time sportswriters, an 18-page news hole, and a credit card that at one point required an emergency spending limit increase, the 10,000-circulation paper ? located just seven miles from UConn’s campus ? produced some of its biggest coverage ever.
“This was a major thing,” says Chronicle publisher Kevin Crosbie, who put half of his 14-person reporting staff on the coverage, sent a reporter traveling with the team, and put out 1,000 extra copies with a special four-page wraparound the day after the victory. “This was very expensive for us, but it was a real local story because they are national champions, but local heroes.”
Crosbie, who says the paper’s usual weekly budget increased by more than 10% for the extra coverage, claims it was worthwhile. “It was a big deal,” he says.
For other major newspapers and Web sites, the UConn victory also meant stepped-up coverage.
The Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s largest daily newspaper, passed out 500 copies of a special four-page edition to fans at the game just moments after it ended. Back home, the Courant, owned by Times Mirror Co., added 7,500 extra copies to the newspaper’s regular 211,000-copy press run the day after the game, with a four-page wrap placed around 30,000 papers.
Courant spokeswoman Kathy Andrews says readers will receive a special 80-page glossy-covered magazine in their April 18 edition, with a review of the entire championship season.
In St. Petersburg, where the Final Four was played, both local newspapers ? the Tampa Tribune, owned by MediaGeneral, and the independently run St. Petersburg Times ? kicked off the weekend with special preview tabs. The 240,000-circulation Tribune offered a 48-page fan guide in its March 25 edition, while the 342,000-circulation Times distributed a 76-page magazine preview on March 26. Each newspaper also handed out four-page commemorative editions at the end of the final game.
“The revenue we generated from our extra sections was over our goal,” says Times spokeswoman Anthea Penrose, who declined to cite specific numbers. “We sold extra copies in the tens of thousands.”
Tribune spokesman Michael Kilgore says the paper saw a $200,000 ad revenue increase during the tournament coverage, which ended with a 16-page special section the day after UConn’s victory.
The news staff logged more than 150 hours of overtime.
At the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer, however, the game’s disappointing outcome for nearby Duke fans forced editors to scrap plans for celebration coverage, according to sports editor Steve Riley. He was ready to publish a 10-page special section about the team’s season in the March 30 paper but had to dump the stories and replace them with coverage of upset and surprised fans.
“We threw away a hell of a lot of work after this happened,” Riley says. “But you don’t have that much choice; you have to be ready.”
Web sports sites also reported heavy activity as the final games were played.
At FoxSports.com, spokeswoman Stacy Finkel says activity on the site jumped by 300% over the 1998 tournament, due in part to more use of Fox’s on-air talent on the Web pages.
(Hartford Courant hawkers push copies of the newspaper’s UConn NCAA victory coverage.)