If you visit Philadelphia on an NFL game day, expect impromptu public chants of E-A-G-L-E-S. And know that if you aren’t wearing a green jersey, you’re breaking the dress code. Everyone watches the Eagles games, whether at the stadium, in a local bar with friends, or at home in front of the TV.
So in the summer of 2021, when Inquirer sports editor Michael Huang made it a priority to test an engaging, in-game experience for Eagles fans, we knew it had to be second-screen. We decided to call it Gameday Central.
But the product we soft-launched in the 2021 NFL regular season’s Week 1 — a basic page for checking box scores, tweets, and recent team news — looked vastly different from the product we launched in full in Week 7 with a pregame show starring Inquirer sports reporters EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino.
Through months of constant iteration, data analysis, study of the competitor landscape, and deep dives into the needs of users through interviews and usability tests, we developed and validated our guiding hypothesis, which was:
Gameday Central’s unique offering to Philly fans is insider access and interaction with our beat reporters and a place to hang out and chat with other Inquirer readers. By cultivating this kind of intimate community space, while providing the stats and play-by-play necessary to follow the action, users will spend their afternoons online with us while they watch the game.
The product continued to evolve through Week 18, the first round of the playoffs, when steady, week-over-week audience growth peaked at three times our Week 7 totals, and robust, in-game fan and reporter conversation totalled over 500 comments, with users averaging more than six minutes spent with the product.
Here’s a snapshot of that week-by-week evolution:
- Week 1: Soft-launched a basic page and shared it with our social media audience.
- Week 3: Secured advertising sponsorship.
- Week 4: Began promoting the product to our Inquirer.com homepage and newsletter audience.
- Week 5: Launched a commenting section for fans to chat during the game.
- Week 7: With support from the ad sponsorship, piloted the pregame show on Gameday Central.
- Week 8: Synced with Inquirer photographers and built workflow and functionality to pull in sideline photos to Gameday Central display on the homepage and Sports section front.
- Week 9: Our reporters began engaging in the comments with fans during the game.
- Week 10: Added play-by-play updates through the Stats Inc. API to a tab on Gameday Central.
- Week 11: Created more cohesion between the pre-game video and fan comments, promoting fan comments on the show and asking fans to respond to “hot takes” from our reporters.
- Week 13: Added polling feature and questions for users to share opinions, netting over 300 votes per game.
Dozens of our Inquirer colleagues from the sports desk, design (Beth Flynn), engineering (Dan Caldwell, Priscilla Huff, and Elena Nova), live video, advertising, marketing and our creative studio had a hand in Gameday Central’s week-by-week evolution. The live video group in particular, led by Renee Ifill and Angelica Irizarry, built and refined an approach to filming on-site — under complicated logistical circumstances — that was seamless by year’s end.
The 2021-22 Eagles season was just the beginning. We want to build Gameday Central into a multisport platform that serves not just Eagles fans but also Flyers, Phillies, Sixers, and Union fans on Inquirer.com, as well as the Inquirer mobile app.