Tips: Trouble for GCI and HighSchoolSports.net?

[Friday night lights: Carmel High School players celebrate victory last night over Center Grove High in Greenwood, Ind.]

Gannett bought a controlling stake in HighSchoolSports.net in October 2007, adding the Ohio company to its small portfolio of technology start-ups in hopes they will generate more digital revenue. The company and its corporate parent — Schedule Star LLC — target high school coaches, students and their families, providing game schedules and related information.

But nearly a year later, readers tell me the relationship between Gannett and Schedule Star has gotten tense. At least one group of newspapers has been chastised for not using all of HighSchoolSports’ features, a reader told me late last month. Thursday, another reader said: “I heard that Gannett and HighSchoolSports had some sort of falling-out. Does anyone know?”

A third reader ventured an answer. “My understanding (not being in the sports dept.) is that, after working on HighSchoolSports for the last 6 weeks or so, everything was still so f’ed up that Corporate decided to abandon it,” the reader wrote. “And now that PrepsFactory is no longer supported either, our sports guys are back to typing agate by hand over the phone. What a joy. Jim, can you dig up any more dirt on this? Seems like quite a screw-up.”

All sports editors, ad-sales and IT folks: What’s going on with HighSchoolSports.net? Have you used it? Are you having problems? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.


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  • Company said investing $8 million in Cozi

[Photo: Sam Riche, The Indianapolis Star]

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17 Responses to “Tips: Trouble for GCI and HighSchoolSports.net?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    PrepsFactory has plenty of issues that need to be fixed in their own right. PrepsFactory, though, worked well in comparison to HighSchoolSports.net. Getting boxscores onto the site is a mess. It’d be easier all around to type in boxscores by hand over the phone, then put them on the HighSchoolSports.net site, if you could get it up there.

    I also have a problem with allowing coaches/parents to put in linescores themselves on that website. You’re making a big and unrealistic assumption that each boxscore on that site is input by someone who is careful to accurately report the results and takes care to be fair to both teams. Too often, that is NOT the case. For those of you who have taken linescores over the phone, how many calls have you gotten where the caller did not have the other team’s scoring information, or that “we get our stats off of film on Monday” or even “the other team can call in their own damn stats”? You’re also assuming that coaches and parents will be completely honest each and every time, when anyone who’s taken linescores or dealt with coaches for any significant length of time knows has run into coaches who will flat-out lie to you.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    To add to 12:30 p.m.’s comments:

    Corporate’s expectation is that coaches, statisticians or athletic directors will put their game information into HighSchoolSports.net, light editing will be done by sports desks and all that will go directly into the print edition via what is called reverse publishing.

    The main problem, apparently, is that reverse publishing isn’t working to anyone’s satisfaction.

    Once reverse publishing is fixed, however, Corporate’s expectation is that HighSchoolSports.net be used to its full capabilities.

    As 12:30 p.m. says, that opens the door for problems with accuracy, fairness and reliability.

  3. Jim Hopkins Says:

    An anonymous reader sent this to me as an e-mail; it appears below, in full:

    This poster's comment is mostly accurate: My understanding (not being in the sports dept.) is that, after working on HighSchoolSports for the last 6 weeks or so, everything was still so f'ed up that Corporate decided to abandon it,'' the reader wrote. "And now that PrepsFactory is no longer supported either, our sports guys are back to typing agate by hand over the phone. What a joy. Jim, can you dig up any more dirt on this? Seems like quite a screw-up."

    The truth: HHS.net & Schedule Star were developed by people who obviously had no idea how sports departments collect, manage and publish data. It was a disaster from the start, and just days before kickoff for many regions of the country, at least one right-thinking person in corporate told sites to punt until the tool can be fixed.

    With no more GMTI support for PrepsFactory, which wasn't a whole lot better, editors had to scramble to decide how they were going to take games and get them onto the Web and in the paper. The problems with Schedule Star were numerous and insurmountable for this season.

    The tool was really designed for high school athletic directors to manage their schedules, but somebody at GCI decided it would be terrific if coaches/ADs could be convinced (and in some cases bullied) to use the tool to report its game information to GCI properties (thus, no doubt, allowing publishers everywhere to trim personnel from their sports depts.). Problem is, most coaches/ADs/scorekeepers can't be bothered to call their local newspaper, let alone log on to a computer and deliver accurate game info on deadline. So, the strategy was flawed from the start.

    To make it worse, the tool is a disaster. The flaws are too numerous to list here, but here's one: If someone from a subscribing high school enters a game summary, it locks the game, preventing others — including sports editors — from making any changes. And that's just one of dozens of issues that couldn't be resolved in time.

  4. Jim Hopkins Says:

    A reader at a Midwestern newspaper, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent this to me in an e-mail; it appears below, edited to protect the writer’s identity:

    We have tried to use HSS.net — emphasis on the word “tried.” But three weeks into football season, the project remains mired in software and technical glitches.

    And, to be honest, the overall push we’re putting on for student-produced video has been a failure. What video we have posted from that is of poor
    quality and, in my mind, does little to enhance the reader’s experience on our site.

    But then, what do I know? I’ve only worked here nine years and am seldom invited to meetings which determine the strategic direction of our sports content. Management clearly has no clue about valuing the input of employees who have their hands on its product every day and just might know something about making it better. It’s a good thing I really love the work I do.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I am not sure who is in charge of this product, but it is clear that our sports desk is fed up with this tool. Obviously, the Schedule Star group has no clue about developing a media property. There is a big difference between a scheduling tool and a sports section.

    I have even heard the corporate digital people are just as fed up with this tool.

    Does anyone know who mandated this crappy tool?

  6. Anonymous Says:

    9:04…we have the same experience at our tv station. It has been painful and it appears even corporate’s hands are tied. I heard from a good source that Schedule Star is controlling this product. Our station is holding off migrating to it.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Hah, I remember looking at HighSchoolSports.net when Gannett bought it and thinking: One of the largest newspaper companies in the US can’t develop something better than this amateurish-looking site on its own? It has to buy it?

    This is also a very competitive space, with better sites out there:

    http://www.maxpreps.com/ (CBS Sports)

    http://www.takkle.com/ (Sports Illustrated)

    It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder if Gannett management really has a clue about what it takes to compete online.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t know why Gannett is investing millions in other companies, especially the internet companies. Unless your Google or Yahoo, your not going to make the revenue you want to with them. Advertising on them is limited. I know that internet is where everyone is at…but it’s definately not where the money is at!!!!!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    This last comment was quite telling.

    The thing is, there’s not going to be much money in the core products, definately nothing like in the past. So I am actually happy the company is purchasing — and failing — with some of the new products. It’s a good thing, because trying and trying will ultimately uncover something that becomes “hot” and that’s where the money will be.

    Try 100 things, get one or two winners, and the tide will turn.

    So, guys and girls, fail away. That big win is coming.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    7:59 AM
    How many readers and advertisers might Gannett lose while groping around for what you’re calling “that big win?”

  11. Anonymous Says:

    The “try 100 things and settle for one or two winners” approach might actually work when there’s no many involved.

    But when you’re spending millions of dollars on clunkers (ShopLocal certainly comes to mind) that combine bad strategy with worse technology, you sentence more and more working grunts to the unemployment line.

    FWIW, the single biggest flaw with HighSchoolSports.com is that the business model requires participation by non-employees with no stake in its success. If I’m an AD trying to manage a school with 75 varsty, JV and modified sports teams or a coach putting in 500 hours a year for a $4,000 stipend, doing the newspaper’s work by doing data entry ranks as about as a low priority.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    I think most people have covered the core of the problems. But just to be clear … if you are expecting coaches, ADs, or whoever to enter data on deadline, after a night game, you’ll never see that data get entered in time for the next morning’s paper. And if you want your own staff to enter the data, good luck. The interface is a disaster.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    It really comes down to this: HighSchoolSports.net is an awful product, run by clueless people, but apparently adored by Gannett upper management. I’m sure some papers would be taking a step — perhaps several steps — backward by implementing it.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t believe it was ever intimated in any training or presentation that I attended – the expectation was for coaches/ADs to enter scores and stats themselves on game night for deadline prior to publication. It’s not in the realm of possibility.. now, this season, using currently available technology. The sports department would continue their methods gathering stats for deadline sports – i.e, Football. All other sports levels gender – coaches would have a log-in to add stats competition details ect. expanding local content dramatically. Coaches fibbing on stats – unfortunately an age old problem, from what I understand anything they enter is tracked and they can be called-out on it, this is better than “I neaver said that you must have gotten it wrong” I’ll guess everyone has heard that before.

    There are some tech glitches iwth the implementation. I’m not put off yet – believing this will be a step in the right direction long term.

  15. Jim Hopkins Says:

    This comment, by an anonymous reader, was originally posted on Sept. 14, on the daily Real Time Comments open post. I’m adding it here, because it’s related to this discussion. The full comment:

    Here is a rant from a highly placed insider in the field who has nowhere else to pose these questions:



    Now that we’ve just finished another weekend of the high school football season, is there ANY improvement in the HighSchoolSports.Net debacle? Last night and the night before, are papers getting their scores for online and print? Are photos and videos uploaded to BleachersTV getting through? Are the locally sold ad campaigns running on HSS yet? Over the last two nights, did HSS get any better at responding to support requests from schools and newspapers?

    

Does Gannett Digital realize what a total debacle HSS has been? If so, their communication to markets doesn’t make it clear that they do and that they realize they and HSS dropped the ball. This further erodes the waning credibility of a lot of people at Gannett Digital.



    Tangential sub-rant:



    Although the failings are on HSS’s part, what accountability is there for those at Gannett Digital ultimately responsible for this? (They vetted HSS, bought it, set the goals, were the interface between HSS and papers and were the ones who decided papers should abandon their pre-HSS systems.)

    

Are not the senior managers responsible for this deployment debacle the same ones responsible for other deployment debacles such as GO4, Pluck, Maven 1.0 and Rubicon? What (if any) employee names in Gannett’s senior digital management structure are common to the four aforesaid disasters and others of the last year?

    

IF (emphasis) the same people are responsible for all these missteps, are those senior managers immune from the standards that we are held to in the field? If I were responsible for one-tenth of the missteps made by Digital’s deployment group, I would have been terminated from my job a long time ago.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    I just don’t understand how some people at Gannett keep their jobs when they make these bad calls on software/web sites time and time again. After every launch there’s a period when real thinkers in Asbury Park, Rochester, Des Moines, Indianapolis, etc., take these products and make them usable by adding functionality and other improvements that should have been there before launch.

    And you know why these folks stay at their local jobs instead of going to work in the mothership? Because the corporate environment at Gannett would curtail every instinct that currently makes them productive and innovative.

    I don’t know how much faith I ever really had in Gannett, but I’ve almost given up on this company EVER being able to right itself.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Our retail store location in Detroit will include a Caribou Coffee stand with grab-and-go snacks and coffee drinks. Keep watching for the stock price to bounce.

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