Net Connects Sports Fans

November 22, 2006
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ROCKFORD — Early in 2006, Brock Konkle thought he'd try covering a few boys' basketball games, streaming live audio over the World Wide Web for his alma mater, RockfordHigh School

Now, as the year's end approaches, Konkle and his business partner, Paul Stabile, have found themselves with a Web site called michigansportsradio.com that's dotted with logos for 18 school districts, two local colleges and a slew of advertisers. Konkle said the site has recorded about 25,000 hits so far.

"We started with a three-game test and it exploded from there," said Stabile, a 10-year radio veteran who maintains his day job at Gordon Food Service.

Konkle said the Web site, which covers prep sports contests for Grand Rapids area districts and for DavenportUniversity, is just about breaking even and he hopes it will make money in 2007.

Advertisers get an audience with an intense local interest, no matter where listeners may be, Stabile added.

"I call it concentrated marketing, where our sponsors really get focused on during the course of the broadcast to their intended audience," said Konkle, of Rockford, who also owns a screen printing shop. Konkle played wide receiver for Rockford Rams football back in the early 1980s and is a former teacher and coach. His dad, Terry, is a local sports historian and a retired Rockford coach.

Advertisers can buy radio-style spots during a Webcast, plus a logo on the Web site that's clickable even during live productions. Michigansportsradio.com buys weekly advertisements in local newspapers to tout the week's Webcast lineup as well as the Web site's advertisers. Webcasts are being archived for two years, Stabile said, "which gives them another opportunity to experience what that advertiser has to offer.

"We support them through a multimedia effort," he added. "They're advertising with us; we're supporting them by taking ads out in other venues. But the real benefit is that it's interactive. They (audience members) are listening at their computer — some people get it on their (cell) phones, but more often than not, people have it streaming on their computers — and right there on the page they're staring at is the logo and they can click through all our sponsors and get a commercial any time they want."

There is no cost to the schools involved, and michigansportsradio.com is donating part of its proceeds to the athletic departments. They've covered girls' sports, football, basketball, soccer and even water polo, Konkle said.

The equipment involved is minimal, explained Stabile, a Sault Ste. Marie native now of Jenison, who worked as program director for several small radio stations in the northern part of the state. He said announcers try to bring microphones, a mixer and an iPod, which stores commercials, but in a pinch can Webcast a game via cell phone.

In addition to covering games themselves, Konkle and Stabile have lined up a stable of other announcers and brought in Heidi Haas-Shosten to handle marketing and sales. At most they've covered seven events at the same time.

Konkle and Stabile came up with the idea after hosting radio broadcasts of Forest Hills football games last year for SportsPlay — run by veteran local sports broadcaster Rick Berkey — which placed high school sports on a local radio station. When the Forest Hills project was cancelled, the two started researching Webcasting because they had fun covering high school sports and wanted to replace the chunk of income they'd lost.

"We complement each other," Stabile said. "Brock's got great business sense because he runs his own business. I knew how to put the broadcast together. Combine my creative side with Brock's business side, and we just fit together really, really well."

The site started out as "RamsRadio" but changed its name as more schools and even DavenportUniversity asked for coverage.

"Brock is one of our former athletes. In fact, he's in the Rockford Hall of Fame," said Keith Vree, athletic director for Rockford Public Schools. "When he approached me with this business proposition and the opportunity for us to be able to showcase our athletes, male and female, I thought it was a great opportunity."

Vree said he's received phone calls and e-mails from as far away as Alaska regarding the Webcasts.

"We've got a lot of families and grandparents and what not that don't live in the Rockford area or live out of state that now are able to have access to RockfordHigh School athletics," Vree said.

Haas-Shosten said michigansportsradio.com even carried a game in Fruitport, not one of their regular stops, because a man serving overseas in the military wanted to hear the play-by-play for his younger brother's team.

Although the audience of one was too small for advertising, the Web site covered the game, she said.    

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