You're charged with increasing audience size and engagement metrics to build more advertising inventory for your sales team, but your content budget gets slashed after every management meeting.
What do you do? If you're like most newspapers, at present, you're spending your cash highly --inefficiently, which provides a wonderful opportunity for swift and substantial growth.
With some basic marketing knowledge and an open mind, you can turn things around. Here are some tips to help you do it:
1. Become a data-driven sports desk.
Discover a new found respect for website analytics.
Do a post-mortem on every article you produce. Look at clicks, time on page and bounce rate to figure out exactly what your audience likes and doesn't like.
Take detailed notes. Learn lessons. Adapt.
2. Understand that all teams are NOT created equal.
Content about certain teams in your market radically outperforms content about other teams in your market.
You probably appreciate this to some degree, but I doubt you're aware of the degree of disparity between the fan base sizes of major teams in any given metro area.
For example, in most metros in the U.S., online NFL content outperforms online MLB content by 3 to 5 times in terms of click-through rates, regardless of seasonality (Boston and New York are exceptions).
If you're in the Midwest or the South, college football is an orthodox religion. College basketball is surprisingly niche.
3. Really, forget about breadth of coverage.
It's highly overrated. You cover the local high school teams, and unpopular college sports because you want to have an appeal to as many fans in your market as possible.
The number of fans that will read about these niche teams is miniscule. The money you spent paying stringers or, God forbid, staff writers to create these unproductive articles could've gone towards generating more content about the teams that your audience really cares about.
You can NEVER, EVER produce enough opinionated content about the popular teams in your market. EVER!
In San Francisco, if you produce one article about the 49ers, one article about the Sharks, and one article about the A's, most readers will read the 49ers article, and then leave your site to read more 49ers stories on other websites. If you produce three 49ers articles, the same readers will read all three 49ers articles, and look for a fourth.
I'm not saying that you should completely give up on other teams in the market, but know where your real constituency lies, and make sure they're fed early and often.
4. Create lots of stimulating, debate-oriented content.
Observe that certain types of team coverage perform much better than other types of team coverage.
In general, fans are far more interested in reading about which players their team might pick in the upcoming NFL draft than reading about a player who missed a workout. Speculation about who's going to make the opening day roster is more interesting than a spring training game recap.
Reporting the news as stand-alone content isn't good enough. Focus on coverage that stimulates debate and discussion.
5. Package the content into compelling formats.
Remember, this is a business, and you need your readers to stay on the site, and view ads.
Don't undermine the company's credibility, but remember that at the end of the day, it's your job to entertain an audience that you badly need to remain loyal.
We live in a multi-media world. Sports fans love images and video, and they really, really love lists and slideshows.
You can integrate fun, creative formats to package high-quality analysis in really compelling ways. That same analysis won't perform nearly as well in a dry 600-word essay.
To be successful in this digital media age, you need to be as much a quick-to-learn, creative marketer as a highly experienced editorial mind. Go get 'em.