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Can Youth Sports Coverage Pay Off Online?

Former Baltimore Sun reporter Lem Satterfield interviews a player after a high school football championship game for his new employer, DigitalSports.
Former Baltimore Sun reporter Lem Satterfield interviews a player after a high school football championship game for his new employer, DigitalSports. (By Zachary A. Goldfarb -- The Washington Post)
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007

On a cold Friday night last month, Lem Satterfield staked out his spot on the sidelines to cover a championship football game between two Maryland private schools.

The former Baltimore Sun sportswriter scribbled play-by-play notes and interviewed athletes and coaches, as he had done so many times in the past.

But this time -- instead of just writing one story -- he posted an article and photo on the Web at halftime and wrote more updates after the game. He even brought along two top high school football players in the region to serve as commentators for an online video report about the contest.

Satterfield is a reporter and editor for DigitalSports, an Internet upstart based in Columbia that hopes to wring profits from youth, club and high school sports. The company is part of a crowded field of newspapers, television stations and Web-based competitors with the same goal, all touting their comprehensive, multimedia-rich offerings.

The result has been a mini-boom in local sports coverage.

"This is what I want to do," said Satterfield, a nearly 20-year veteran of the Sun who said he enjoys the freedom of working on the Web. At the newspaper, he said, "I understand space and time are constrained."

Venture capital-backed DigitalSports offers a glimpse of how one company is going after the market. It is trying to combine the power of a national Web site, with a central system for managing content, and the speed and knowledge of local advertising sales staffs and editors. Leagues, teams, schools and states have their own pages on the site.

Chief executive Ed Kelley, who previously co-founded the big oil-change company Jiffy Lube, calls the strategy the "media entrepreneurial model."

DigitalSports's content comes from a mix of journalists who have left big media companies, including The Washington Post, and novices, as well as coaches, players and parents. Its full-fledged multimedia model has been deployed in a handful of places, including the Washington area. In most places around the country, its sites are just a compilation of stats and schedules provided by coaches, or nothing at all.

Some pages are much more polished than others; the site still shows signs of being a work in progress. The most mature features include a carousel of rotating content -- including videos, photos, blogs, headlines and resource centers, with information about training and other topics.

DigitalSports is the 63rd most popular sports site on the Internet, with 257,000 unique visitors in October, according to ComScore Media Metrix. That's compared with about 1.5 million visits per month for each of the leading high school sports Web sites, http://highschoolsports.net and http://maxpreps.com. Some wonder whether the potential audience for local sports will ever be big enough.

"The interest in some of these sports at the local level is marginal," said Kip Cassino, vice president for research at Borrell Associates. "It's basically down to the number of family members associated with the team."

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