Nov. 25, 2008
By Larry Watts
When you say Wisconsin, you've blogged it all!
If high tech were a sport in the Big Ten, those blogging Badgers would be setting the pace. Over the past year, director of web site services Tamara Flarup and her staff has taken the university's athletic site to a new level in their quest to keep Badger fans as up-to-date as possible on their favorite teams.
What first started as a blog for athletics director Barry Alvarez has mushroomed into one of the most interactive web sites for college athletics in the country.
"Barry was so busy that he couldn't keep up with a regular blog, so we began reaching out to other people,'' Flarup says.
Athletes, coaches, members of the communications department and even a couple of play-by-play announcers have answered the call. Badger fans can now go to www.uwbadgers.com/blogs to read the thoughts and wit of over 25 bloggers covering nearly every sport. There are even four bloggers for rowing!
By far, the most popular blogger is John Moffitt, the center on Wisconsin's football team. According to Flarup, the number of hits on his weekly blog entries has averaged from 2,500 to over 7,000.
"John has such a self-deprecating style and the fans really like that,'' she says. "When the players make contributions, I think that lends a whole new insight.''
According to Moffitt, the important thing for a football player-turned-blogger to remember is "write down an idea as soon as it occurs, because with so many hits to the head every day in practice, the memories fade fast.''
"It's just me saying ridiculous things,'' the sophomore center says. "It's crazy how this has become so popular, but I think that's only because I play football for the University of Wisconsin. If I didn't have this platform, I'd probably be some random blogger and nobody would read it.
"This started out as just something I was supposed to do for three weeks of summer camp and it was to end before the first game, but I guess it just kind of snowballed.''
That last thing a coach wants is for a player to give away team secrets or post bulletin board material on the Internet. One former Big Ten coach carefully suggested to one of his players that it might be in his best interest if he shut down his web site after the player posted his teammates' 40-yard dash times.
"I'll run the blogs by coach (Bret) Bielema first because my goal is not to give away team secrets,'' Moffitt says. "I'm not trying to be ridiculous and coach has a good sense of humor. He gets a laugh out of it, I think. Maybe not.
"I just try to keep them (the blogs) PG. With 120 guys on the football team, there's always lots of stuff, but the ideas are getting thinner and thinner. Most of the time I just make fun of myself for being fat and scaring girls.''
"These blogs have been a great way for us to reach out and let Wisconsin fans know who we are and it's a great way to get feedback from them,'' Flarup says. "Every Sunday at 7 a.m., I take my dog for a walk and then come home to do my blog entry -- "50 things to see on Badgers.com.''
While weekly updates from coaches and athletes have been nice, Flarup and her staff began taking the blogging to a new level with "live blogs'' during the 2007 football season.
"It took people awhile to realize we had those live blogs,'' says Brian Lucas, assistant director of athletic communications. "Then it started catching on and building up to the football game at Minnesota.''
Because many Badger fans did not receive the Big Ten Network, the Wisconsin web site provided them with another source to follow the game. According to Lucas, the live blog for the Minnesota game drew over 14,000 hits.
"I was actually following the game by television over in the Kohl Center and doing the blog because I had a basketball game that night,'' Lucas says.
"Last year we experimented with a live blog from a women's tennis match and that was a big success. It's amazing the niche of fans you can attract. And I was surprised at the number of wrestling fans out there. We had a large number of Iowa State fans coming over to our live blog when he hosted them.''
Wisconsin is now doing live blogs on a regular basis for football, volleyball, softball, wrestling as well as both men's and women's basketball and hockey.
Until just recently, the best measure of feedback for the live blogs was through e-mails. But on Nov. 15, "Cover It Live'' application was added to the live blogs, giving fans a chance to interact with the blogger. During the course of the game, the blogger could field questions and also conduct polls.
"Our first football game with "Cover It Live'' drew over 2,500 hits,'' Flarup says. "Fans no longer have to hit the refresh button on their computers and this actually gives us a more accurate count on the number of fans we are attracting.
"Of course, we do have to screen the comments and questions before we post them because you have to remember this is a college and you can't invite all fans' actions. You don't want anything negative to have a bad effect on recruiting, but we definitely invite discussion.''
Along with free live streaming of games, Flarup says the web site now provides a one-stop service for the fans. All stats are updated during the course of the game.
"Between Aug. 30 and Nov. 17, our page has already received over 216,000 hits,'' she says. "Cover It Live is going to add a whole new dimension to these blogs.''
"Since we started the live blogs, we've been hearing from fans in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, Cedar Rapids, Amsterdam, China, Japan and Ireland,'' Lucas says. "This really shows you the grasping reach of the Internet. I guess wherever there are Badger fans, we can reach you on the Internet.''
Applications for the live blogs should work on most PCs. Mac users should use the browser Firefox.