South Jersey Sports Digest took third place in the Philadelphia Press Association's "Best Website" competition
There are 82 high schools and five athletic conferences within the borders of New Jersey’s lower seven counties, but there was not one website that provided comprehensive coverage of the region’s prep sports, at least none that Chris Ferrari could find.
“I did a lot of research over the years,” Ferrari said “There was just nothing there.”
Then came the "ah ha" moment that drove Ferrari into action.
“I kind of saw the need was there,” said Ferrari, who decided to fill the void by creating a website that not only provided scores, standings and schedules but also game and feature stories, videos and photo galleries for all varsity teams from all schools in South Jersey, the area nestled in the lower Delaware River valley just south and east of Philadelphia.
Launched in April 2014, South Jersey Sports Digest (SJSD) has become the online hub for high school athletics, and also offers coverage of several colleges and various recreational sports in the region. In less than a year of operation, sjsportsdigest.com has established itself as a major player in the youth sports scene, a position it solidified earlier this month after earning recognition from area media members as one of the area's top websites.
Ferrari found out in early June that SJSD had secured six honors in the Philadelphia Press Association’s 2014 Media Awards competition, including third place in the “Best Website” category, where it finished behind more-established sites from the South Philly Review (first place) and The Jewish Exponent (second).
“Third-best is really big because we were up against not just sports websites,” Ferrari said. “Any site could have been submitted, including fully integrated news sites.”
Stories written by SJSD reporter Mike Shute took first and second in both the “Sports Coverage Website” and the “Website Writing” categories, while Shute and Kyle Miller earned top honors in the “Website Video” category. (Click here for links to Shute's stories)
Serving the region since 1945, the Philadelphia Press Association (PPA) is comprised of current and retired members of the press and works to promote public trust and regard for the reporting profession by promoting high journalistic standards. The PPA’s annual awards competition spotlights the best of the Delaware Valley’s print and broadcast journalism.
“I think (the recognition) really says who we are and what we’re about to be able to get these kinds of awards out of the gate,” Ferrari said. “I think it validates us a lot.”
LACK OF INFORMATION WAS THE INSPIRATION
Ferrari started South Jersey Sports Digest to shine more light on the accomplishments of the high school athletes who dedicate time to balancing personal lives with school and sports.
The website’s About Us page lists four guiding principles which includes a promise to represent student-athletes “positively and consistently report on their achievements, stories and performances.”
It’s a pledge born from hours of mining the Internet for even the smallest nuggets of prep sports news.
“I was trying to get information and you couldn’t get anything,” Ferrari said.
Not even on the websites of the region’s largest newspapers, which have scaled back high school sports coverage due to shrinking budgets, Ferrari said.
“All the newspapers in our region and surrounding regions have just done a horrible job covering high school sports over the years. And each year it gets worse and worse,” he said. “The coverage has gotten poor and what you can get from in our area is really scarce.”
To keep relevant content flowing, SJSD employs 13-14 freelance reporters to keep tabs on hundreds of varsity teams, Ferrari said. By comparison, competing sites might use only two or three reporters, he added.
There are also three to four freelance photographers who update the site with fresh pictures and videos, a key strategy in SJSD’s game plan.
“We kind of feel that the video component, those five- to six-minute videos, pique interest,” Ferrari said. “And I think it can pique more interest than a written piece a lot of times.”
The SJSD Weekly Show and the Virtua School of the Week are just two examples the video content found on the website, and both can be accessed from a prominent location in the top navigation bar.
Ferrari admitted the entire process has been a tremendous undertaking, but said Sport Ngin’s platform has been a big reason for his site’s success. The software permitted SJSD to combine written content with videos and photographs, while also providing automated standings and automated tweeting of game scores.
“In all the research I did, that was the only platform that allowed us to bring everything onto one site,” he added. “That’s been huge for us.”
Ferrari also said he loves the simplicity with which stories, videos and pictures can be uploaded and game scores and statistics can be entered on the back end of the content management system.
Stories, photos and videos are tagged by sport and conference and displayed not only on the corresponding landing page but also on the home page using Media Slider, News Aggregator, Photo Gallery or Streaming Video elements.
Site visitors can also easily search for stories and standings by school, sport or conference using the top navigation bar. And fans can access all this information via SJSD's free mobile app for Android and Apple.
The public has joined the local media in taking notice of the site, which has had more than 223,000 page views since July 2014. And last fall, SJSD averaged 1 million Twitter impressions every 28 days, Ferrari said.
There were a lot of people who thought we would never do it, never pull it off, never be successful or never last. And we're through our first year and going into Year 2."
South Jersey Sports Digest founder Chris Ferrari
The site's growing popularity has Ferrari racing to expand coverage.
For the upcoming season, SJSD has plans to include more videos and stories and add an internet radio station that will broadcast sports roundups from around South Jersey and topical programming from several sponsors.
There is also a site redesign in the works, Ferrari said.
And Philly Sports Digest is set to launch this fall. Its scope won’t be as expansive, with just 30 schools in the Philadelphia area, but residents on the lower Delaware River valley's west side can expect the same commitment to comprehensive coverage that made South Jersey Sport Digest a success, Ferrari said.
“There were a lot of people who thought we would never do it, never pull it off, never be successful or never last,” Ferrari said. “And we’re through our first year and going into Year 2.”
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