I wanted to let you know about some decisions we've made about our high school sports coverage and invite your input on how we can best cover prep sports within our financial constraints in the future.
As you know, for the last six months we expanded our sports coverage by launching the Peninsula Preps Playbook email newsletter in hopes of building a larger and more engaged audience of prep sports enthusiasts. Starting in August, our sports editor, Rick Eymer, with assistance from sports writer Glenn Reeves, put together the newsletter with short updates and links to game and feature coverage on our website, announcement of our athletes of the week and some occasional commentary. To promote it, we ran extensive ads and other mentions in our newspapers, on all of our Peninsula websites, in Express (our daily news digest that is received by more than 35,000 people) and on our various social media channels, including more than $10,000 in Facebook advertising. We also sought help from athletic directors and coaches in getting the word out to their athletes. It was a significant marketing effort.
Our hope was to quickly grow the email list to 3,000-5,000 high school athletes, their parents and other sports fans throughout the Midpeninsula by the end of the winter sports season and to then ask as many who could afford it to become paying members, with a minimum goal of 500. This would enable us to financially cover the expense of covering high school sports.
Unfortunately, in spite of these efforts only 1,700 have signed up to receive Playbook, far short of what is needed to build a viable membership base of support.
Last month, we sent all 1,700 recipients a survey seeking to understand their views on Playbook and how we might improve it. Fewer than 5% (77 individuals) completed the short survey, far fewer than other surveys we've conducted. It was a discouraging result.
Those who did respond were almost all parents of athletes and showed an insatiable appetite for more of all kinds of high school sports coverage. They wanted more games covered, more coverage of less popular sports, more features of athletes and coaches and more stories about issues facing high school athletics. In short, they liked what we were doing but wanted more, more, more.
Our takeaway from this is that there is a small but passionate group of parents who appreciate our longtime commitment to high school sports, but not enough to be financially viable given all the pressures on local journalism.
We are therefore going to suspend our sports coverage for the next few months and explore different, less expensive models. Since game results, highlights and schedules are generally available through sports websites like MaxPreps, high school websites or on social media, we expect to focus on feature content — interesting stories or profiles of athletes and coaches, issues facing high school sports programs, league controversies, etc. — and stop trying to cover a sampling of games or matches each week.
We are also interested in exploring whether the local high school journalism programs would like to partner with us to publish their sports reporting on our website. These student journalists, who are already working hard to report on sports at their schools and often posting it on student websites or on Twitter, could repurpose their game stories and features and reach a much wider audience. We could even have side-by-side game stories of the same game written by sports writers at opposing high schools. This idea has appeal in part because it would give young high school journalism students a professional platform beyond their own school to publish their work but would bring youth voices and perspectives into the coverage, something we have long wanted to do. Who knows, it could become a model for high school journalism programs partnering with local news organizations, exposing students to the rigors of daily online sports reporting for the broader community.
You may very well have more and better ideas. We'd love to hear them, either by responding to this message or joining us for a Zoom meeting at noon on Monday, March 14. We'll invite parents, coaches and athletes to offer their suggestions on how we can ensure that high school sports continue to get the attention they deserve.
We know that most of you will be disappointed by this news. Rick and Glenn have been fixtures of the local sports scene for many years and we are immensely grateful for their hard work and great reporting. We hope you will be interested in helping find a solution that allows for continued online coverage of local sports at a cost that we can afford and sustain.