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Gene's Blog: This Tommie 'traffic' jam is a good thing

Gene's Blog: This Tommie 'traffic' jam is a good thing

Most professional, college and high school sports have been on hold over the last 12 weeks due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

With competitions having ground to a halt, this lengthy off season would at first seem to present challenges for those of us in charge of content for our university athletics web pages. 
 
We quickly realized, though, that challenges like this become opportunities. As we took time to uncover them, we're reminded that there's no shortage of good stories that exist on our campuses.

Media outlets as large as the New York Times and as close by as TommieMedia are still reporting on sports, too. Everyone is looking to keep pages interesting. 

As a Star Tribune subscriber, I've appreciated the newspaper's "pandemic" sports section. Their team continues to generate a variety of interesting stories and opinion columns in the absence of regular-season and playoff games. Readers are getting creative takes on the Vikings, Twins, Wild, Wolves and Gophers, and also see coverage across the entire spectrum of pro, college and high school news and issues. 

In a new sports-section series the Strib recently added, its editors and beat writers answer questions submitted from readers. Tuesday's editions included this revealing answer to a question to sports editor Chris Carr:

Popular reading

Q What's a story that got a lot of web traffic that surprised you that it did so well?

Erik H.

A Every story involving St. Thomas' athletic program in the past 14 months has been tremendously popular with readers — from the early talks of the Tommies' ouster from the MIAC last spring, to its current plan to leap to Division I. Those stories jump to the top of our readership charts, something I would not have predicted. Small college sports stories don't often draw a wide audience; this one sure has. When we noticed this early on, we dedicated more reporting time to the story line, and I'm really happy with how we have tracked the St. Thomas news.

Chris Carr

 

A quick search on the Star Tribune website lists 30 bylined stories over the last 15 months involving St. Thomas athletics. 

A few are tied to the pandemic, with a few focused on specific games or teams. Most stories have reported on our future and a potential move to Division I as we search for a new conference home by summer 2021.

Eight different Strib sportswriters, columnists or editors and one photographer have called, come to campus and/or had bylined stories talking about the Tommies. 

Among those story themes:

  • the May 2019 involuntary removal from the MIAC; 
  • our fall 2019 invitation to the Division I Summit League; 
  • Tommie-Johnnie games, including the football clashes in 2019 Allianz Field and the announcement of the 2020 game moved from Collegeville to U.S. Bank Stadium; 
  • 23 stories alone over the last 14 months that quoted or referenced our AD/Vice President Phil Esten.

The Twin Cities sports market is dominated by six pro teams and the Division I Minnesota Gophers. For context, to land in a sports section with the Star Tribune's regional reach, consider that a D-III university like St. Thomas would typically celebrate if it could be part of five bylined stories in one school year.

 

Best of Both Worlds

Sports editor Carr's comments in the Tuesday story are a good sign for the future. My interpretation? The Tommies -- and other Minnesota college sports not named Gophers -- have a deeper following and appreciation than most folks realize. Interesting stories involving local teams and local student-athletes will continue to attract an audience. 

The marquee Twin Cities professional and Division I athletes and coaches will always get the most eyeballs across traditional media and social media. Fans will continue to turn to ESPN, other major networks, and other national outlets for the big picture. But local sports will always be relevant.

Our region is blessed that the Star Tribune has strong local ownership. Today, considering the loss of advertising revenue that has drained media company coffers over the last 10-plus years, the Strib remains well staffed. The challenge in the future will not be a shortage of interesting stories or a shortage of teams to cover. The challenge will come with the threat of fewer media outlets and fewer employees to cover the sports scene.

Universities continue to evolve on the media front, too. We continue to look for ways to tell our story through our own channels. It's our direct link to connect with prospective students, students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and fans. That will only grow in the coming years.

But we also understand the value of appearing in traditional outside media -- whether in print, TV, radio, magazine or online -- to amplify our universities to larger exposure.

At St. Thomas, our well of story ideas won't be running dry anytime soon.

It's exciting to think about where we have been... and where we are going.

We have strong leadership and vision starting at the top with University President Julie Sullivan and AD Esten. 

We continue to expand on our excellent academic foundation.

We have an alumni base that's 110,000 strong. 

We have a lively athletics tradition dating back 120 years. 

We have compelling back stories among our 700 student athletes across 22 sports.

We have diverse and accomplished coaches. You can count on some for the clever and descriptive quote. Others will deliver it short and sweet. I do know that whenever I interview our staff, coaches or student-athletes, I come away feeling smarter.

I would mention that our university has a cool mascot, too, but we don't want Tommy to get a big head.

No, really... his costume head can't afford to get any bigger, otherwise Tommy can't pass through doorways or fit into elevators.

Hey, that sounds like a story the Star Tribune might want to cover: Too Tall Tommy? Print that mascot tale, Mr. Carr, and watch web traffic spike again.

 

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Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is in his 26th season at St. Thomas and 32nd overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at ejmcgivern@stthomas.edu