SBJ/July 28-Aug. 3, 2014/Colleges

Silver Chalice arm goes to college

A Boulder, Colo., digital agency is launching its first university website this week with the intent to challenge the two longtime leaders in the industry, CBS Advanced Media and NeuLion.

SportsLabs, a technology arm of Silver Chalice, struck a deal with the University of Arkansas earlier this year to manage the Razorbacks’ digital rights, including the school’s official athletic website, an array of mobile applications, content and social media extensions. While SportsLabs has worked on a number of projects in the college space, Arkansas represents its first full-service university client for the college-focused agency.

Most evident on the Aug. 1 relaunch of ArkansasRazorbacks.com will be the complete overhaul of its traditional look, which is being traded in for a design that will feature a single photo occupying the entire browser.

SportsLabs is launching its site for the University of Arkansas this week.

Mike Waddell, the Razorbacks’ senior associate athletic director for external operations, said he wanted to break away from the traditional college website, which mostly has the same look and content from one school to the next.

 “I wanted something completely different,” Waddell said. “We’ve got all of this great HD photography and we need to use it.”

Arkansas, which previously had a digital partnership with NeuLion before switching, liked the new ideas pitched by SportsLabs to
shake up the website design and give it more of a mobile or tablet look with oversized photos and minimal text. Roughly half of the traffic on ArkansasRazorbacks.com comes from mobile.

The Dallas Mavericks’ official site, mavs.com, served as an idea starter for the new design, Waddell said, although SportsLabs does not manage that site.

“The marching orders from Arkansas were to be different, to be cutting edge,” said Eric Foote, SportsLabs’ vice president of business development. “We thought mobile first, not Web, and that really took us to where we are. Big imagery, great photos, that’s the focus.”

Inside the site, SportsLabs has totally revamped the player pages with more photos and easier-to-read text. Each team page will have that consistent look with one dominant photo across the screen.

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College writer Michael Smith and Assistant Managing Editor Tom Stinson discuss the increased competition in the college multimedia and licensing space, why it's happening and what it means going forward.

Additionally, SportsLabs this week will unveil a full suite of mobile apps for game day in football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball, as well as apps for other sports.

Since acquiring the rights at Arkansas, SportsLabs also has picked up the digital business for the College Football Playoff, while also working on Notre Dame’s WatchND platform and other digital products for Virginia Tech, the ACC and Mountain West Conference.

John Burris, president of SportsLabs, said the firm will continue pursuing university digital rights, putting SportsLabs in direct competition with CBS, NeuLion, Sidearm, Presto and other digital businesses in the college space.

“We’re not just looking to partner with a school and put up a site,” Burris said. “We’re jumping in at Arkansas to show off all of our strengths, from responsive Web, apps, content, social. Our intent is to grow, and build a business in this category.”

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