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Site Stuff: A new, hard focus, entirely on the pros

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MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Well, this was supposed to be the day of our very big, very happy announcement. But, for reasons beyond our control, it’ll have to wait a little longer.

Which just might be for the best, to be honest. Because part of that announcement might be a downer for some of our readers, and the very happy stuff, in turn, might have gotten drowned out. That wouldn’t have felt right.

So, let’s just get the other part out of the way this week:

Effective immediately, we’re all about the pros. That means a near-complete focus on the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates, as well as their minor-league systems, drafts, league-based issues, off-the-field fare, you name it. The goal is to be the definitive home for such coverage for Pittsburgh fans, and we’re confident you’ll feel the same way once you experience it.

That also means, obviously, that we’re discontinuing all college coverage. Effective immediately.

There are three principal reasons for this:

• College coverage consumed 18 percent of our annual budget, yet accounted for 1.9 percent of our total readership. That’s a devastating imbalance for any business, it’s one that’s burdened us for 4.5 years, and this final attempt we made in 2018 at reversing that didn’t come close to succeeding.

• Every penny we’ve put into the Steelers/Penguins/Pirates collective comes back to us in profit. (Yes, the Pirates do well, too, as our readership numbers actually grew on that front in 2018.) And when we’ve put even more pennies into those three teams, the return’s been that much greater. But colleges have handcuffed us from being able to apply those extra pennies. Now they won’t. Ironically, this move likely will cost us even more in terms of money, but it’s still smarter and safer because we have history to prove it’ll come back.

• The very happy — and now-delayed — portion of this very big announcement also plays into this, and significantly so, but that part will have to wait until the actual announcement. Simply put for now: We wouldn’t have been able to continue with colleges, anyway.

I’d rather not hide behind that last one, though.

Because this was still the hardest decision we've made since we started. Because I, my wife Dali, and all of the various people involved on the staff over the years put an awful lot into the college coverage, not least of which was significant financing, the same promotion we did on the pros, the same passion … and I — that’s me alone — was wrong in thinking it would work.

My wife told me it wouldn’t work. As she’ll attest below, she tried like a maniac, as the director of operations, to convince the mule-headed owner/founder to drop colleges. And it was the mule who persisted in not only keeping them but even expanding them in the past year in our one last attempt.

Dale Lolley, our editor in chief, told me it wouldn’t work. He’d been pushing the same way. You’ll also hear from him below.

I even heard this from some of our business partners, from some of our subscribers and, on a personal level, from friends and family who were worried that colleges were forcing my wife, Dale and I to spread ourselves too thin in overseeing it all.

OK, they were right. I was wrong:

No company anywhere would continue what's up there.

That said, there are no regrets. If we hadn’t tried as hard as we did on colleges, I’d always wonder if it would’ve worked. As it was, in addition to the investments made, we did get to tell great stories involving great people at great institutions. Heck, I was handling Pitt and Duquesne myself when we launched, and I’ve got exceptional memories from that, particularly as related to Jamie Dixon, Pat Narduzzi and, of course, the two media relations titans at those schools: E.J. Borghetti at Pitt and Dave Saba at Duquesne. I’ll appreciate their professionalism forever. Same goes for Marty Galosi at Robert Morris.

Speaking of great people: Our plan is to have Matt Grubba, Jarrod Prugar and Matt Welch, our three college writers, switch to coverage of the pros. That hasn’t been mapped out yet other than that Jarrod, based in Altoona, will contribute reports on the Curve, the Pirates’ Class AA affiliate, throughout baseball season.

One other thing: In the imminent future, we’re hoping to make available something truly special — and free — to our college readers as it relates to coverage. But here again, I can’t go further on this yet.

As ever, I’m here to answer any questions you might have down in comments.

Before that, though ...

FROM DALI KOVACEVIC

My husband's founding vision did sound insane to some people, but I truly believed he was right. I believed there was a need for this product. So I got behind it 100 percent … until he decided to be all things to all people and cover college athletics.

It was clear to me -- and many others -- that it wouldn't work here. But the same conviction and tenacity that make him an excellent columnist can also make him the worst collaborator. He was charmed by the alumni numbers in the area, and there was no talking him out of it. He had given you something, and he didn’t want to take it away. So we stuck with it.

For it to work, we didn’t need people to just read the college coverage, we needed them to subscribe for it. Not to subscribe for the Steelers and read Pitt on the side. We needed them to subscribe for Pitt, for Duquesne, for Penn State. That didn’t happen.

None of the changes that followed made a difference. The financial loss from the college coverage was preventing investments in the successful areas of the business, from editorial to tech to travel.

We owe it to ALL of you to keep strengthening and growing our little company. It’s time to focus on doing what we do best, and then do it even better. Better that you’ve ever imagined, actually. Just wait.

FROM DALE LOLLEY

We all like college athletics. I watch them all the time. But, apparently, we don't all like to read about them, at least not as much as we have a thirst to learn about what's going on at the professional level.

Some of that comes from the access involved. Collegiate sports, for better or worse, quite understandably don't make their athletes as readily available as their professional counterparts. The kids, after all, do need to concentrate on academics. Because of that, it's a tough nut to crack. Sure, there are great stories available. But there is a big difference between a pro town and a college town.

Pittsburgh is a pro town. We've got three professional franchises that have each garnered a huge following. It's something Pitt, Duquesne and even the outlying colleges have had to fight for years. This isn't Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the Crimson Tide are the only game in town.

We tried keeping colleges viable. But, as Dejan noted, we couldn't afford to continue to spend that much of our budget on something that just didn't generate an equal -- or even close to equal -- amount of readership. It's something our friends in the newspaper business are dealing with all the time.

Where do you prioritize coverage? To the areas that readers want the most. And you've told us -- by your reading habits -- you want as much coverage of the pros as we can deliver.

That's the plan.

NEW METRIC SYSTEM

As arose from a dialogue with readers in this feature last week, we're going to be presenting some different metrics for our business on a weekly/daily basis.

The subscription count, as I've been writing for years now, has perpetually been a mess since we had to do three total database transfusions over our lifetime. Basically, we tried like crazy to build an accurate total with the last transfusion a week ago, then kept count from there. As I type this, we have zero idea how many actual subscribers we have. And we might never. As a result, it isn't reflective at all of how our business is going.

So we'll switch effective immediately to a verifiable, reliable and critically important metric: Active app users.

That tracks the number of people who use both our Apple and Android apps over the past full month. Being that we're an app-based company, we feel this shows how we're doing, how often you're using/reading, as well as whether or not we're growing. Again, this is usage. If the app's just sitting dormant in a device, it isn't counted.

Current daily average over the past month for active app users, per Google Analytics: 12,170

To complement that, because we've got way more readers than just those who use the app, we're listing another verifiable, reliable and critically important metric: Page views. You'll see those displayed daily on the ticker, but also here in Site Stuff on a weekly basis.

Current daily average over the past month for page views, per Google Analytics: 75,819

That's the new math, the new bar. -- DK

WE'RE LISTENING

• We've insisted on having the new login/alert system in place by Christmas. It happened. Now it's a matter of Apple and Android releasing both. Should be Monday, Tuesday or something like that.

• We'll be changing the app buttons on the bottom row as part of that change. The five buttons will go like this, in order: Home, Steelers, Penguins, Pirates and the lightning-bolt Live Feed. The menu button will move to the top right, and we'll eliminate the Teams and Multimedia button.

• All of our team pages were given a slightly fresh look, with a bigger display for the main article on that page. Really makes them leap out.

• We've cleaned up a couple of awkwardly overlapping elements on the 'My Account' portion of the app. Most probably never noticed, but hey.

• We've heard from a handful of readers lately saying they're having trouble getting videos to play on the app. That's new to us, and we can't replicate it here at all. But if it's happening to you, email us at Help@DKPittsburghSports.com. And if you do, be as specific as possible.

• Can't stress this enough, but use the app. It's got the best version of our Live Feed, and it's free:

itunes googleplay

BACK TO BUSINESS

• Our daily active app users, averaged out over the past month, are at 12,170. That's +56 over the previous week.

• Our daily page views, averaged out over the past month, are at 75,819.

• Our most-hit article of the past week -- exempting live files -- was my column from New Orleans at 14,074. The Steelers accounted for 98,092 of our page views, the Penguins 61,210, the Pirates 13,468.

• We're at 29,329 (+17) page likes on Facebook, we're at 29,353 (+71) followers on Twitter, and we're at 9,218 (+44) followers on Instagram. These figures are just for our official company account on each platform, not for us as individuals.

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• We make mistakes. If you see one, email Typos@DKPittsburghSports.com.

• This is our media kit. If you're interested in connecting with our large, passionate following, email my wife at Dali@DKPittsburghSports.com.

• Anything you need, including lost/forgotten passwords, email us: Help@DKPittsburghSports.com.

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