New ventures expanding school sports coverage: Players large and small converge on growing niche

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High school sports coverage, once found only in the back pages of local newspapers’ sports sections, is now spawning new Internet and print businesses.

The players involved range from large public companies and professional sports franchises to small entrepreneurs.

The effort to score with high school sports coverage appears to be driven by a growing number of advertisers interested in the diverse audience attracted to scholastic events.

In recent months, High School Sports The Magazine

debuted in central Indiana, Emmis Communications Corp. launched a full-service Web site dedicated to covering high school sports, and the Indianapolis Colts unveiled, which focuses on high school and youth football. The Colts site could expand to spotlight cheerleading, band activities and other sports.

Emmis this month announced a partnership with the Indiana High School Athletic Association to operate, a site that will include live and archived video and audio coverage, scores, video interviews, written news content, game schedules and features such as coach and player of the week write-ups.

In addition, there will be video of a central Indiana Game of the Week during the regular season for boys basketball and football. During the tournaments, teams outside central Indiana also will be featured.

Emmis’ full-blown entry into high school sports coverage has been in the works more than a year, said Chris Campbell, Emmis’ director of interactive media.

“This is a consumer-driven site aimed at the high school sports enthusiast,” Campbell said. “So there is a revenue upside for us.”

But Campbell said the wide demographic appeal of high school sports also overlaps its local radio stations WIBCAM 1070 and youth-oriented WNOUFM 93.1, giving Emmis ample opportunities for cross-promotions.

Emmis sales staffers have already been able to sell packages combining the radio stations and new Web site, Campbell said.

Though the Web site is still in its infancy, Campbell expects Emmis and the IHSAA to earn six figures from the endeavor in its first year.

Emmis also has been able to entice to the site advertisers who want a connection to educational endeavors. For example, Dial One Hour, a local heating and air-conditioning services provider, has signed as a sponsor of a scholarship giveaway program done in part through the new site.

“We do get brand awareness from this, but this is about supporting the community and the kids,” said Tom Gehle, Dial One market manager. “We want to support local schools, so we wanted to be part of this.”

Other sponsors, said Phil Temple, CEO and publisher of High School Sports The Magazine, are attracted directly to the growing fan base of scholastic sports.

“People are really tired of the bad news surrounding many of our professional athletes,” said Temple, who prints 20,000, 68-page magazines monthly. “Our research shows that our readers range from third-graders to grandparents. That’s a powerful attraction for advertisers.”

Since launching last spring, Temple has already signed advertising deals

with Marsh Supermarkets,

AT&T, HHGregg, Verizon

Wireless and St. Francis Sports Medicine, among others.

Since starting, the Colts have signed deals with Chevrolet, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Herff Jones as site sponsors.

The explosion of the Internet has given rise to more high school sports fanatics, said Pat Coyle, Colts director of database marketing and e-commerce.

“The Internet allows more niches to find an outlet,” Coyle said. “It turns out that high school sports has a very strong niche. It’s also the last bastion of commercialization.

“Companies now realize it’s practical to reach this audience, and with the medium of the Internet, sites like ours can make it very cost-effective.”

Sponsors are increasingly drawn to the grass-roots marketing associated with high school sports, Coyle said.

“We think this site has tremendous potential,” he said. “The sponsors see that, too.”

The Colts are working with representatives from more than 60 area high schools to expand content.

High School Sports The Magazine has tapped well-known sports writers Bill Benner, who writes a sports column for IBJ, and Mike Beas, a former Indianapolis Star sports reporter who is now sports editor for the Anderson Herald Bulletin, to aid with news content.

Emmis has 15 staffers working on its site.

“We’re taking this initiative very seriously,” said Emmis’ Campbell. “I haven’t seen buying signals this strong in the five years I’ve been working for Emmis. If this works out here the way we think it will, this could be a model for us to launch similar sites in other markets.”

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