11 March 2014

By Ken Payne

The sport marketing machine is working overtime now with the NCAA Tournament just around the corner and automatic-bid teams completing their conference championships. We all know the perennial powerhouse teams have the money and clout to command massive media attention, but what of the lesser programs now on the national stage? Will they use the tools and technology available today in an online newsroom that allow even the smallest universities to play in the media big leagues?

TEKGROUP decided to shine a media light on this group of first-to-the-dance programs by holding the first (ever!) Online Newsroom Madness Challenge. The rules were simple enough – we looked at the university’s home page (.edu) for coverage of their team’s accomplishment. Then we tried to drill down a bit into just about anything that looked like a site or department dedicated to online media relations – usually a link off the home page such as “News” or “Media.” If we found an online newsroom lurking in the background we did our usual online newsroom analysis looking for the top 20 elements everyone should have in the online newsroom.

We gave awards to the top three finishers, and a maybe a bit of unwelcome advice to the other contenders. So without checking the instant replay, let’s tip this thing off:

Ivy League: Harvard (26-4, 13-1 in conference)
Harvard defeated Yale to clinch the NCAA’s first invite to the big dance. However, their university site and online newsroom could not keep up with their talented team. In fact today, more than a week later, there remains scant reference to the win or the NCAA Tournament bid on either home page. Harvard site designers score a three-pointer for the use of responsive design for all their web properties, but the media relations team looses in a rout to other auto-bids in the group with more refined and defined online media relations programs. Better luck in the tournament to the Crimson.
Big South: Coastal Carolina (21-12, 12-5 in conference)
The Chanticleers have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993 – that’s 20 years for the math challenged like myself. Unfortunately, the same time has passed since they’ve updated their online newsroom. Their university site and online newsroom make no home page mention of the team’s good fortune – in fact the Events scroll on the university’s home page mentions softball, women’s tennis, an art exhibit, and a Winter Coral Concert – but no reference to a trip to the Big Dance. And with the best team nickname in college basketball, that’s really a shame.
Missouri Valley: Wichita State (34-0, 18-0 in conference)
The Shockers shocked no one this year – they simply beat them all. They finished the regular season undefeated, won the Missouri Valley Conference crown going away, and will probably be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And I had to get all this information from a source other than the university’s home page or online newsroom. To their credit, there is a banner link on the university home page to a slideshow of the big win, but the lack of an online newsroom link leaves one to just assume good things happened to the team. The university relies heavily on the athletic department to carry the team’s news load, but that’s not where some important information seekers land when Google searching for Shocker updates. Probably means nothing to the selection committee, but Wichita is not getting our #1 seed by a long shot.

Atlantic Sun: Mercer (26-8, 14-4 in conference)
The Mercer Bears bested last year’s Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast to win the Atlantic Sun Conference’s auto-bid to the tournament, and they have the picture to prove it on their university web site home page. They even managed to throw the NCAA March Madness logo in there for good measure – nice assist! But unfortunately that’s about all one gets in terms of news and information about the game. Without a dedicated online newsroom stories of the big win scroll off the home page with the posting of the next news item, leaving season ticket holders without a place to put their popcorn and soda. A click of the big photo takes information seekers to the athletic department’s web site, but like the Shockers that’s out-of-bounds for this online newsroom match-up. Mercer is big news in Macon Georgia, and a functional online newsroom could get them to the big dance in style.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference: Manhattan (25-7, 15-5 in conference)
The Jaspers are no strangers to tournament play, upsetting fifth-ranked Florida in 2004. This year they make the trip by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship in a nail-biter over Iona. And their university web site helped with the celebration by posting a picture of the wining team on the home page. But like so many other contenders, a click of the picture whisks the viewer off to the athletic department for more information. Now don’t get me wrong, the athletic department does a decent job of things with more information, social media links, and the opportunity to purchase the picture on the home page. But a review of the university’s online newsroom reveals nary a mention of the big achievement – something one would suspect might be of some importance to alumni, donors, journalists, students, and Manhattanites.
Ohio Valley: Eastern Kentucky (24-9, 13-5 in conference)
Take one look at their university home page and let there be no doubt – Eastern Kentucky is dancing! The Colonels beat OVC powerhouse Belmont to advance to March Madness, and they are making a very big deal of it. One very interesting thing about EK’s online newsroom – there isn’t one per se. In reality they’ve structured their entire university site to look and feel like an online newsroom with a photo blog, video blog, events calendar, a news tab, and links to every imaginable social media property - a very interesting strategy that could serve them well late in the game and good enough for third place in our challenge. Keep your eye on the Colonels!
Southern Conference: Wofford (20-12, 11-5 in conference)
The Terriers are making a habit of winning their way into the NCAA Tournament – 2010, 2011, and now 2014.  With a win in the Southern Conference final over Western Carolina, the team knows how to act like they’ve been there before. Fortunately, the media relations team at the university has been there too with home page links to their online newsroom complete with a cover story of the big event.  And in a stunning upset over more deep-pocket programs, Wofford’s online newsroom wins big with links to faculty bios and achievements, social media guidelines, a social media marketing strategy, fast facts about Wofford, downloadable logos and images, and student/faculty blogs. A robust search feature, news archives, and links to their social media properties round out the package nicely. It’s a close call, but Wofford can be proud of their second place seeding in our online newsroom competition.
Colonial Athletic Association: Delaware (25-9, 14-2 in conference)
The Blue Hens needed six points with 1:20 remaining to deny William & Mary their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament – they got seven! They also got their online media relations game-face painted and went to work. The university’s home page simply beams with team news, a feature photo, and clear links to stories below. UDaily, their branded version of an online newsroom, picks up a full-court press from there with more team news, media contact lists, and links to social media properties where fans (and donors!) can relive the big win. A scrolling Twitter feed complete with #GlueHenPride, #BlueHens, and #tournament hashtags works the shot clock as time runs out on the competition.  The communications and marketing team of Delaware will be cutting down the nets this year as the clear winners of our Online Newsroom Madness Challenge.

Go Blue Hens! And best of luck to all the auto-bids in our challenge.


Steve Momorella

Online Public Relations
Email: steve@tekgroup.com
Phone: 734-945-7790

Ken Payne is a TEKGROUP research and content marketing consultant, and an associate professor of public relations at Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting who lives at the intersection of technology and tradition. Ken is PRSA accredited, an active member of AEJMC, and would someday like to work as a ski patrol volunteer (free season pass!).

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