By Jim Lefko
San Antonio Express-News
In my previous job as sports editor of the Indianapolis Star, we fancied ourselves the “special section” kings of the country. With the Indy 500, Colts, Pacers, et. al. we hit a peak of 49 special sections in 2010. At the time, I was interested in seeing how many special sections other papers around the country produced and surveyed about a dozen sports editors. None came close to double digits.
Unlike other markets though, special sections were money makers in Indy.
By 2014, the Indy Star, like most other Metro operations in a digitally-focused world, was down to a handful of special sections.
Fast forward to 2015. I’ve been overseeing the sports operation at the San Antonio Express-News for almost half a year now. Attracted to the area in large part because of the passion South Texas fans have for their five-time champion Spurs, I thought my days of special section mania were behind me.
And then Spurs Nation happened.
Originally pitching the idea of a TV show pegged to the Spurs, upper management saw my opening bid and raised me. Why not add a weekly Spurs tab for basketball insiders? And while we’re at it, let’s beef up daily sports with two extra pages to advance each of the 82 regular season games. Digital is getting overhauled too, and eventually we will add cuts from the 30-minute studio show, which will be hosted by a new Spurs video reporter who is already producing near-daily Spurs videos.
I haven’t done the math because the number might scare small children – or an adult sports editor – but the plan is to publish no less than two dozen weekly Spurs tabs. Each will be 48 pages, with 12 pages devoted to “premium” advertisers and 36 for editorial.
The season preview issue appeared Oct. 25, with issue 1 of the weekly following on Nov. 2.
To fill the new product, what had been a 3-man staff of Spurs beat writer has grown to 5 folks. Add in columnist Buck Harvey’s contributions, and the E-N Spurs team is approaching 6 full-timers. That’s a lot of manpower but that’s a lot newshole too, on top of daily print and digital coverage, chats, blogs, etc.
The rationale for this seemingly retro idea in a digitally dominant era? The potential to positively impact the bottom line.
If all goes as planned, and the ad goals are realized, this has the potential to be a significant financial play. In this economically challenged environment for newspapers, that can be game changing.
San Antonio businesses are excited about the new products. And in an attempt to make them feel special, advertisers are limited to the 12 premium spots in the magazine, the ads that frame the 2-page daily print spread, assorted digital placements, and soon spots on the new TV show.
Will this work in every market? Certainly not. But it’s a calculated play in this city to capitalize on fan fervor associated with the arrival of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, as well as the return of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and the rest of the roster that has given San Antonians so many indelible memories.
While we are all eager to see how this plays out, I must admit to ambivalence in one respect. I just hope 48 pages/week is the ceiling rather than the floor.