The benefits of school athletics extend beyond instilling the lessons of teamwork, athleticism, and sportsmanship in the players and coaches on the roster. Your school or district’s sports program has the unique ability to rally your community around the thrill of competition and fuel school spirit — athletics can engage current families, faculty, and students alike while inspiring donors and spurring a little friendly competition amongst surrounding communities and towns.
With special attention to your school’s digital athletic presence, you have the chance to recreate the magic of what happens when you're there in the stands — the excitement, the school spirit, the roar of the crowd, and the cheers of the fans (all without the smell of the locker rooms.)
Here’s how to hit a grand slam by building athletics pages that engage your school community.
Creating the best athletics pages
With multiple teams across multiple divisions (varsity, junior varsity, Grade 6, etc..), creating a consistent and intuitive navigational experience for families is key. As users browse different teams and navigate across pages to find schedules or read the latest recaps, you’ll want a navigational structure that allows them to easily find their way back to main pages and access key areas of content.
When Trinity-Pawling launched a website redesign a few years ago, one of its biggest challenges was the configuration of the old athletics section. “It didn't look like the rest of our site, and unfortunately, it was not a great user experience,” explained Emma Quigley, website and digital marketing manager at Trinity-Pawling School, adding that a cluttered navigation and buried content made it difficult for users to find what they were looking for.
When restructuring and redesigning the athletics section of Trinity Pawling’s website, Quigley utilized Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, to restructure content and rethink the user experience. “I aimed to create a more cohesive and unified look on our website so that users didn't feel like they went off onto a different site. I also completely overhauled our sitemap and removed old information that we really didn't need anymore. I streamlined our content and pulled it into more intuitive places to really make it easier to navigate and more user-friendly in general.”
Quigley also utilized header videos and image buttons to keep the design clean and organized. Strong imagery spruced up the pages and made them look a little more modern and a little more exciting for users.
“When we began the redesign process, we looked at our website as our digital viewbook,” added Quigley. “Our website is the first impression of any prospective family that is coming to find out what Trinity-Pawling is like, so I took that approach when mapping out our new navigation for the athletics section and thought about everything that makes us stand out athletically, such as our sports medicine program, our live streams, and our athletic hall of fame.”
When looking at your school’s sitemap, keep all of your multiple audiences in mind. Consider what they might want and need access to like scores, coach contacts, and live stream links, especially while using a mobile device (more on that later!)
Creating the best team pages
Creating a consistent team page experience across your school’s athletics pages will create a more uniform, intuitive experience for your users.
“When I started the redesign process, I sat down with some of our coaches and asked them about the specific types of content they’d like to see on their team page,” said Quigley, adding that it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all response for all their 12+ varsity level sports.
“I knew it was going to be more time-consuming, so I made the decision to build a template for myself within Composer for a varsity team page and then a lower teams details page which functions more dynamically.” Image buttons, our directory element, and header images or videos all make the pages look more dynamic and engaging.
For each varsity team page, Trinity-Pawling features a header image with a tabs element to fill in all of the information about that specific program. A custom directory element showcases the coaches with a hover function to view their profiles. Offering team-specific calendars on team pages, upcoming games, and today’s lineups on main athletics pages offer users multiple ways to stay updated on key matchups. Powered by Finalsite Athletics Manager, schedules with the teams’ results and scores are pulled right into the page.
“Athletics Manager is still the MVP because I can still pull in information from that module to build out those specific pages,” explained Quigley. “This allowed me flexibility for varsity sports and also allowed me to use more of those custom elements that Composer offers.”
Playing nice with system integrations
Some schools find themselves using external platforms such as Blackbaud, Veracross, or Schedule Star, to manage their athletic schedules, team rosters, and game recaps. Whatever system your office does use, you’ll want to ensure it integrates with your content management system and not hyperlinks off to a separate platform. Rather, integrate your data to keep your audience on your website for a seamless experience.
Integrations are all about reducing data management redundancies for your athletics office and avoiding having to manage the schedules and recaps in more than one place. With Finalsite’s ability to integrate with some of the biggest heavy-hitter student information systems and athletic management platforms, your athletics office can continue to use the system and still ensure you have accurate information on your site like scores, schedules, team rosters, and coaching staff.
If the event is canceled, postponed, or even deleted, the information is reflected on your Finalsite website with a 15-minute, automatic synchronization.
A mobile app for the win
For your parent community, a mobile app is the preferred means for getting information, as mobile devices are the primary means of navigating the web for the majority of users. Making your athletics information accessible via a mobile device is a great way to engage your families and friends on an equal playing field.
With the Finalsite Mobile App and using the C.O.P.E. mentality (create once, publish everywhere,) you can add your athletic content to your site, make the schedule updates or write the recaps once, and all the information and content is pushed out to your mobile app, giving that white glove experience your constituents are expecting. Parents won’t even have to access your athletics site — all the latest information and sports news are available through the app in one, convenient place.
Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy puts the latest game schedules and recaps at their users’ fingers with the school’s mobile app. Working on any iPhone or Android, the latest scores and even driving directions can be accessed without having to visit the school site — great for when families are on the go and can launch their apps with just a click.
Social media all-stars
Incorporating your social media game into your athletics communications is essential.
There’s a logistical aspect — sharing out the game day information, live stream links, or rain delay updates can reach a wide audience, but sharing content on social is another great way to utilize your athletic photography. Parents love seeing their students in action, and when they’re there in person, they’re focused on the game — seeing the action shots make it all that much more special.
Celebrating those big victories and achievements is always a great engagement tool, especially if you play in a competitive league. Your football team’s pregame ritual, the mascot’s halftime dance-off with the rivals, that three-pointer to win the game … there are countless reasons to have your audience like, comment, and share.
And sports teams are one of the few exceptions to having multiple social media accounts for your school— if it’s run effectively, specific team accounts can see better engagement with up-to-minute recaps, scores, and updates. Repost the highlights from your school’s official accounts and invite a wider audience to follow the action a little more closely each season.
With integrated social media feeds, the Cannon School pulls in posts from its Instagram feed and Twitter accounts straight onto its athletic pages. Schools that use Finalsite Feeds for social media integration get to automatically pull the latest social media posts — reactions, fan support, amazing photos, updates, and clutch wins — right into their website. That keeps the site’s content fresh with minimal effort!
Connect your fans with an online school store
Offering your school’s most popular merchandise and swag online is a great way to support the fan experience, engage communities, and help brand your school. Now, with Finalsite Store, you can offer your biggest fans a convenient, secure, and quick way to shop for their favorite gear, fully integrated right into your school’s website.
Think of the possibilities— branded foam fingers, noise makers, pom-poms, and your favorite cozy sweatshirts and ball caps. Your home crowd will be pumped up to have access to the latest store merchandise.
The Cannon School in NC puts the most popular sweatshirts, caps, t-shirts, branded gear, and more on sale in The Cougar Den, the school’s online store. With just a few clicks, families can add swag to their online shopping cart and check out, just in time for the big game.
Go live with live streaming
In this virtual era that we're living in, providing a live stream link to your team’s home games is one of the biggest ways to welcome more fans to your games without the restrictions of tickets or seating limits. For boarding schools, families can be halfway across the country or even the world, so providing a link to the action lets online communities tune in and feel like they are at their student's game.
Oakhill Day School in MO uses live streaming to connect community members with the latest matches on campus. Tune in at game time and don’t miss a moment— all without having to leave your living room. If you did happen to miss a game, a library of previous games puts everything at your fingertips so families can catch the action, or watch that buzzer-beater again and again.
When your current families are your biggest fans, your athletics pages can offer so much for students, coaches, and fans alike—the thrill of competition and the values of sportsmanship, determination, and teamwork. With the right content, site navigation, and user experience, your school’s athletic pages can hold the same value for an incredible and engaging digital experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.