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Papers, Web Tip-Oft NCAA Madness

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Papers, Web Tip-Oft NCAA Madness

Article excerpt

The 64-team NCAA men's basketball tournament promises to be a historic juncture in the battle of the Web and traditional print media for the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of sports fans.

At a time when sports Web sites are more popular than ever, and newspapers are looking at special events to bolster readership and revenue, the three-week, national playoff is a key opportunity for both mediums to promote themselves and serve fan needs.

"It is really on the upswing," says James Jackson, who operates the official NCAA tournament Web site, www.finalfour.net.

The tournament began on March 11 in a handful of cities and ends over the March 27-29 weekend with the Final Four in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The NCAA site -- presented by Host Communications and Total Sports -- includes a Final Four history page, live coverage of each tournament game, statistics, an online shopping area, and audio highlights, Jackson says. He says that Web site activity, which saw 109 million hits over the tournament s three-week period last year, is expected to increase by 40% to 50% this year.

But more Web offerings don't frighten newspaper veterans such as Tim Allen, marketing services director of the The News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C., which covers former NCAA champion Duke University. Allen says newspapers that provide consistent, quality coverage can beat down the Web competition, especially if their home teams are in the finals.

"I still think the newspaper has the depth and analysis you don't get online," says Allen.

The News and Observer, which also serves nearby tournament participants the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and UNC-Charlotte, is already preparing for a special extra edition to be sold if Duke wins it all. Allen says that the newspaper's 9-year-old Web site, News-Observer.com, is offering coverage through a new alliance with Nando.com, which serves other McClatchy newspapers with similar sites.

At The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., whose readership spans five tournament teams -- including the 1998 champion University of -- Kentucky the tournament means at least several larger press runs, according to marketing manager Lynn Allen. She says the 250,000-circulation newspaper bumped up its run by 20,000 copies the day after last year's finals win and did the same thing this year after the 1999 tournament pairings were announced last week.

The Louisville newspaper also added NCAA coverage to its Web site, CourierJournal.com, says Allen, who is not worried about Web interest depleting print readership. "We look at it as two different mediums, and we use the Web site to get people to pick up the paper," she adds.

In St. Petersburg, where the Final Four will be held, the first of five 12-page special sections by the St. Petersburg Times was published on March 8, the day the pairings were announced. …

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