For Newark, New Jersey, March 24-27 was a special time as the city hosted its first major National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sports event, the Eastern Regional college basketball tournament. For our international colleagues, think “World Cup.”
In the United States, the NCAA basketball tournament season is referred to as “March Madness.” For the resurgent city of Newark and the much maligned and misrepresented state of New Jersey, it was an opportunity to challenge perceptions and shape a new image. For those of us at The Star-Ledger, it was also an opportunity to shape a new image — we continue to be a great newspaper, but we have grown to be so much more!
We began laying groundwork months in advance. Of course we did everything a newspaper would have done five, 10 or 15 years ago. We met as a team, and our newsroom, advertising and circulation departments coordinated plans for two terrific special sections. A “Welcome Guide” provided a marketplace orientation for the thousands of fans expected to arrive. The second section, a thorough overview of the four teams that made it through the preliminaries to compete in Newark, was distributed on the morning of Friday, March 25, with the games beginning that evening.
Newspapers for both days were over-run, sold in bulk to the local organising committee, and distributed at the airport, train stations, hotels, hospitality centers and the Prudential Center, the venue where the games were to be played. The content was also robustly presented online at nj.com, supplemented by breaking coverage of the weekend's events along with video features, blogging, and tweets from a dedicated news department.
After the tournament, NCAA officials asked The Star-Ledger for a complete compilation of the coverage, remarking that we had set a new standard for comprehensive, around-the-clock coverage both inside and outside the arena, in print and online. It was a great tribute, and well-earned. But it was not the whole story.
Our business departments did not sit back and let the newsroom have all the fun.
Event marketing: On the first day (Thursday, March 24), the NCAA traditionally invites the public to watch the tournament teams practice. Knowing this, we negotiated, needled, cajoled and finally got permission to programme the Prudential Center concourse.
The Star-Ledger’s education account executive worked with her clients to present an NCAA College Fair, attracting more than two dozen colleges. We reached out to the high school population and packaged school visits, ultimately bringing nearly 1,000 college prospects to the arena that day. Our college clients were thrilled.
On Saturday, March 26, the day between first-round and final games, The Star-Ledger’s events team moved to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and teamed up with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) to present an all-day food and wine festival, inviting fans to “Sip, Taste and Discover.” Evening attendees interested in a change of pace in the midst of their sports weekend enjoyed a special bonus — their tasting tickets included complimentary tickets to the evening’s NJSO concert performance.
Specialty media: Working with the local organising committee well in advance of the tournament, The Star-Ledger’s restaurant account executive and sponsorship manager sold and prepared a beautiful, glossy pocket Restaurant Guide that was first introduced for the tournament attendees. A special “Hot Deals” supplement offered incentives for visitors to explore Newark’s restaurants that weekend. A more general Visitor’s Guide, also in the glossy pocket format, was also produced and sold. The content for both was presented on a specially hosted Web site in both interactive and PDF versions.
Ultimately, this event was a success for Newark, New Jersey, and The Star-Ledger. Our marketplace eclipsed expectations and benefited from a stream of favourable media visibility. In post-tournament celebrations, a significant amount of the credit for this success was attributed to The Star-Ledger. The best promotion and brand-builder we have had in recent years resulted from our skill at being our community’s most passionate promoter.
And for The Star-Ledger, our efforts are paying further dividends. The number of inquiries we have received regarding our event management, specialty print and digital design work, and social media strategies have already led to two new clients and tens of thousands of dollars in new revenue.
We achieved our success by being a great newspaper and online news product, then taking it all to a new level as a full-service marketing partner.