I have been enjoying the articles and pictures that BeaverFootball.com has been putting out over the past couple of weeks showing and telling us what has been going on with the Beaver football team this spring. Most Beaver fans do not live near enough to Corvallis to attend practices and most do not live close enough to attend scrimmages. However, this does not mean that we are not interested in what is going on with our favorite team. These articles and pictures have really got me pumped up for the upcoming football season and have made me think about the value of fan sites to collegiate sports.
Fan websites are a fairly new phenomenon. In the past, there were news blurbs put out by athletic departments, the print media, radio, television, and that was about it. Fans had to rely on those outlets to get information to find out about the team(s) that they support. The Internet has changed all of that, for the better.
There is a proliferation of fan websites to be found today. There are fan websites for sports teams, for musicians, for movie stars, for just about anything that you can think of. There are thousands of sports fan websites alone.
Fan websites are a valuable addendum to existing informational outlets. Most of the sites have information not readily available for most fans. Many fans aren't interested in working hard to get information about their team. Fan sites collate and condense the information fans want so it can be easily found. For example, by clicking on BeaverFootball.com, you can find out how to purchase tickets for upcoming games, how to buy Beaver merchandise, which teams the Beavers will be playing next, the Beavers' standings in the PAC-10, and much more. Fan websites collate articles from various news sources so fans don't have to go all over the web, or subscribe to every newspaper and magazine, to see what the media has to say about their team.
Unlike traditional media, fan sites offer the opportunity for fans to offer up their own opinions on their team. The fan website message board is the opportunity for fans to have their voices heard by likeminded people. The message board is also a valuable tool for fans to plan get-togethers, exchange information, and even to exchange tickets.
Fan sites have other advantages over traditional media too. A fan website does not have to be unbiased and it can be focused. There is no need for a fan website to treat all teams the same or to give equal coverage to all of the local teams. Heck, biased unequal coverage is one of the things a fan website is all about. Another plus of the fan website versus traditional press is that fan sites are rooting for the team and will work with athletic departments to promote and build up teams and programs, not tear them down as can happen when the traditional press gets hold of a juicy story. For example, a fan site may inadvertently publish information that might be construed as detrimental to the team. But, working with the athletic department, the webmaster/writers can fix the problem and see that the problems don't occur again while still providing fans with lots of useful information. This is a win-win for the website, the athletic department, and, ultimately, the fans and the team.
Focus, gives the fan website a leg up on most universities' websites. The fan website, unlike a university's website, doesn't have to give coverage to all sports. There are Oregon State fan websites that cover gymnastics exclusively, football exclusively, and so on. Those who are interested in gymnastics can go right to the gymnastic website and not have to wade through unwanted information on the football program and visa versa. Also, fan sites can offer information on recruiting that, by NCAA rules, a university's website cannot.
So, how university athletic departments deal with this new phenomenon? First off; I feel that fan websites should be viewed as a valuable addition to existing media. Fan websites provide information for the fan, and the fanatic, that generates excitement about a team. BeaverFootball.com gets over a thousand hits a day from Beaver fans and those interested in finding out about the Beavers. This gets fans excited and makes new fans. This excitement leads to increased ticket and merchandise sales, increased magazine subscriptions, television viewing and radio listening. Athletic departments should embrace fan websites and work with them as allies, not view them as a threat. Any entity that generates interest in a university's athletic program should be viewed as an asset.
Fan websites, like the Internet, are not going to go away. It would behoove NCAA University Athletic Departments to figure out how to partner with these websites for the good of the universities, for the good of the athletic programs, for the good of boosters, and for the good of the fan. Often, the fan is the forgotten person in big time college sports. But without the fan to pay the bills, there would be no big time college sports. Fan web sites are for fans; we want to work with our teams' athletic departments, not against them. Just give us the chance.
In Defense of Fan Sites
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