CSN Extends Local Focus to Digital With CSNbaltimore.com

Each of Comcast SportsNet’s regional sports networks prides itself on offering the most comprehensive local coverage of its home city, and each RSN’s digital strategy is following suit. Just in time for the start of the Baltimore Ravens’ 2010 training camp, CSN Mid-Atlantic has launched CSNbaltimore.com, a comprehensive, locally focused site that provides exclusive coverage of area sports, featuring the Ravens, Orioles, and the University of Maryland Terrapins.

All Part of the Plan
CSNbaltimore.com emulates the format and design of CSNwashington.com, which launched in July 2009. Since its inception, CSNwashington.com has seen continuous double- and triple-digit monthly gains in traffic.

“The plan since the launch of our digital strategy has been to launch locally focused sites for our two major markets, Washington, DC, and Baltimore,” explains Mark Lapidus, VP of digital media for Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic. “We wanted to get the DC site off the ground first, make sure we were doing things the right way, and watch fan behavior to make sure we were putting the right things out there. Once we were happy with that, we decided to branch out into our second market, Baltimore, which has its own teams, character, and fans completely separate from the DC market.”

The People Want Video
Using the DC site as a reference, Lapidus was able to see where fans dwelled most — and least — on the local-sports site, and used those statistics to build out the new Baltimore site.

“They clearly want video,” he points out. “They want opinion from our writers. They want to see the outrageous behavior from the stars of the teams, highlights from different activities, and they also want a social community, where they can express their own opinions. That’s what we’ve constructed.”

The new digital portal will feature plenty of original content and interactive elements, including live chats and event streams not available on the television network. For example, games of the DC women’s professional soccer team, the Washington Freedom, are streamed exclusively on CSN’s DC site. On the Baltimore side, finding exclusive video is never a problem.

“This is the advantage of having cameras everywhere,” Lapidus says. “We have an extensive newsroom that is part of the most extensive newsgathering operations in the DC region. The Baltimore Bureau was out at a charity golf tournament where [Ravens safety] Ed Reed started talking. I don’t think he intended to say what he said, but we captured it and had it online within an hour. Our fans love it.”

Firsts in Baltimore
The new CSNbaltimore.com features local-team pages, college and high school coverage, national sports stories, real-time scores and schedules, and a “Word on the Street” section dedicated to developing reports and rumors. Fans can also e-mail articles, comment about anything a writer puts on the site, and even share videos, features that will debut on CSNbaltimore.com and be extended to CSNwashington.com.

“On the Baltimore site, we have a way of sharing video where the video can actually go up on Facebook,” Lapidus says. “All of your friends can see the videos that you like, and they can also be shared through Twitter. Those features are on the Baltimore site only and will be activated on the DC site within the month.”

Strength in the Local
In addition to an extensive team of videographers and newsgatherers, CSNbaltimore.com hired John Eisenberg as its lead writer and Ravens insider. Eisenberg, who was with the Baltimore Sun for 20 years, has written seven books and covered teams for major daily newspapers for nearly 30 years, 25 of them in Baltimore.

“Our true strength is in the local,” Lapidus says. “Our reporters live in the communities that we serve and often have long relationships with the teams. The other strength we have is in the quantity and quality of video that we create. We create more than anyone else, both video made for our linear channel and repurposed for our digital platform and also video that we make specifically for digital. We have intense local-sports coverage that it might be hard for others to replicate.”

In addition to using content from the linear network, CSNbaltimore.com forged a content-development partnership with PressBox, a Baltimore-based sports-media company. The exclusive partnership will allow CSNbaltimore.com to regularly feature original content from a variety of local PressBox writers.

Lapidus is aware of other media giants’ making forays into the local scene, but he says the launch of CSNbaltimore.com has nothing to do with the inevitable coming of ESPNBaltimore.com: “We would have done this regardless of whether there were competitors were coming into the market.

“We want to be where the fans are,” he adds. “The fans are online and on mobile, and we want to be able to serve our content up to where the fans are, and the reaction we’ve been getting so far is thrilling.”

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