ELKIN, NORTH CAROLINA — After earning his undergraduate journalism degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1993, Eric Lusk spent more than a decade patrolling small town sports beats at a number of newspapers across the state. In 2006, he got a job at the Elkin Tribune, which has a circulation of around 4,000. But just a year later the privately-owned paper was sold to a conglomerate, and, soon after, gutted, with a number of staff layoffs. Lusk remained, but by the summer of 2010 he was looking to leave, and he launched YadkinValleySports.com as a partial escape plan.
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The site has since spawned a thrice-yearly glossy, in addition to what Lusk says is its bread-and-butter: daily sports coverage of the hyperlocal variety, covering eighteen high schools in a seven county region in central North Carolina. Rather than giving up on journalism, that is, the now forty-year-old Lusk doubled down. He says he has few regrets. “I really see the hyperlocal model as being necessary,” he proclaims.
Lusk says he modeled the site after similar sites, like RepublicTigerSports.com in Missouri (which the NFDB profiled in August). There was a gap in local sports coverage after so many newspaper layoffs, Lusk says, and that’s where he saw an opening. Traffic now averages several thousand visitors a month (7,500 in October alone, according to the site’s own numbers). While Lusk writes the majority of the stories that appear on the site, he also hires five or six stringers to cover football games in the fall, some of whom take photos as well.
For much of the other sports coverage, Lusk is on his own. Typical of that coverage are things that Lusk carried over from the newspaper world, like a profile that ran Nov. 4 of a senior girls’ basketball and cross country star. Elsewhere on the site Lusk can be found doing more old-media type things, like a 1,000 word story about a local girls’ soccer team that was headed to a regional championship game in May, largely because of a revamped defense. Lusk says that his most popular feature, however, is what he calls “Monday Morning Quarterback,” a full-blown magazine that readers view not as a webpage, but in a Flash-based viewer. “I get probably 700 or 800 readers a week,” Lusk says, “and I think that has raised a lot of the traffic.”
The site has seen 49,000 unique visitors so far this year, but monetizing those visitors has been one of the ongoing challenges. Most of Lusk’s revenues come in the form of print advertising in the three magazines that he publishes as previews for fall, winter, and spring sports—the fall issues of which can run to more than 100 full-color pages. But Lusk says that online advertising has picked up as well, mostly with the help of a part-time advertising salesperson that he hired after the salesperson left the Elkin Tribune. Lusk eschews ad networks for direct sales—almost all of which come from local businesses. He also earns paid circulation from the print magazines, which are sold at convenience stores and are also available at the schools themselves. The fall sports magazine alone is 116 pages and has thirty-five pages of advertising. Lusk, who is married with two children, would only say that his revenues at this point are in the “five-figures.”
When interviewed, Lusk was still in the thick of football season, but he said that he would try to re-assess the site’s long-term strategy sometime next summer, after he completes this school year. He would love to eventually hire a few full-time reporters, but, with a family to look after, he’s being cautious. “I’ve always wanted to do my own business,” he says. “When you’re a small-town sports reporter, financially speaking, there’s just not a very good market.” But the success of Yadkin Valley Sports has Lusk thinking that it ultimately might work. “The key obviously will be if we can grow it financially,” Lusk says. “I think I can make it sustainable.”
Yadkin Valley Sports Data
Name: Yadkin Valley Sports
Revenue Sources, other: Newsstand sales for print supplements
Principal Staff: Eric Lusk, publisher and editor (and writer and reporter and photographer); Pam Lusk, business manager; Starr Poplin, advertising and sales.
Affiliations: Content Sharing: WIFM 100.9 radio and WXII12-TV
CMS: WordPress - Hosted (.com)