PrepsPlus is Better, More to Do

Today is a big day. It's the first day of the High School football season. It's huge in places like Texas and Florida, but it's a pretty big deal in the Chicago suburbs. I live in a community that works up quite the lather during the season. The Lincoln-Way East Griffins are perennial contenders for the 8A title and they've won it 2 years ago. Across town in New Lenox, there's both the Lincoln-Way Central Knights (my alma mater) and Providence Catholic (another perennial contender annually).

Tonight, the L-Way East Griffins play their annual game against Providence, and that will sure be a great match-up. L-Way Central heads to East St. Louis to play the powerhouse tomorrow. Either way, the season will be off with a bang.

With the big games slated for today (weather permitting!), the Chicago Tribune rolled out an expanded Preps Plus section on the web. They're billing it as "Your Illinois Hometown Report". In a further attempt to go "hyperlocal", the Trib has created a "page" for each high school. Here's the page for Lincoln-Way Central. They're going to try to aggregate content around the teams on each of these pages. It's a great idea. One that they haven't totally executed on....yet.

They have a strong strategy and have a vision for where this should go.
We'll have football standings for the first time – updated as quickly as we can get the scores entered. We'll have photos we shoot – and photos you shoot. We'll have video we shoot – and video you shoot. We'll have the best high school sports forums around. We'll have headlines on as many local events as we can find. We'll continue to recognize Athletes of the Week.

I've looked around and all of those "citizen journalism"-type of tools aren't available yet. They're relying on either the schools or fans to provide much of the coverage and customization of the pages. The "rosters" are blank, the photos are placeholders, and the only thing that's baked in is the schedules.

One of the biggest issues is the layout and design. It's garbled, to say the least. It's terrible, but so is MySpace, so that doesn't matter much. The extent by which they feature/organize/highlight the user submissions is the most interesting part for me. If they are successful in gathering/aggregating the content from parents and fans of teams in the suburbs, they'll surely win.

Creating a hub site for, what I would assume to be mostly parents and superfans, would achieve the goal of getting the ChicagoTribune.com site in front of more people more often. They can expand the coverage and go head-to-head with portals like Rivals.com as they bring in more features like recruiting.

So...what would I do? I'd go out and get a big tent. Hire a few interns and send them to the "top game" each week like College GameDay does on ESPN. They won't be broadcasting, but they'll be telling people about the pages, encouraging them to upload their photos, write their stories, etc. Give away some schwag. Nothing goes better at high school football games than noisemakers. Get some printed up, give them away.

I'd also be sure to feature some of that "user generated" content front and center. Put it on the homepage on Friday afternoons or mornings. Get people excited about submitting stories, photos, and videos. What else would I do? Provide a blogging platform to a player from each team. Or a coach. Just give them the tools to tell their story. When you do that you'll create an internal "cheerleader" for the page who will help promote the page in and around the community.

With increasing competition from more "local" content providers, the Tribune is smart to start thinking about user generated content from a sports perspective. If they execute wisely, they'll earn a significant piece of the market and plenty of eyeballs.

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