Audience Engagement Reader Revenue
3 mins read

Scoring with subscriptions: How Advance Local leveraged data to target high school sports

Advance Local is one of the largest media groups in the United States, reaching more than 55 million people per month with quality journalism and community engagement through websites, podcasts, newspapers, magazines and video. Media groups include Advance Ohio, Alabama Media Group, Advance Media New York, MassLive Media, MLive Media Group, NJ Advance Media, Oregon Media Group, PA Media Group, and Staten Island Media Group.

Advance Local wanted to boost its subscriptions using high school athletics as a niche. In 2021 it had already sold about 6,200 subscriptions but wanted to refocus its efforts in 2022.

It developed a content-first strategy and used BlueConic as its customer data platform to efficiently target likely subscribers – on site, via email and in social media. It promoted daily high school sports newsletters in all markets to drive regular engagement. It also used the platform to evaluate whether free print-quality photo downloads for subscribers only would drive uptake.

“We knew from years of experience that we had a large audience for high school sports content, and we had a strong surmise that the audience most likely to pay for access to it were parents of high school athletes. What we didn’t know was how to identify and target them,” says Lamar Graham, Advance Local’s VP of Content for Digital Consumer Revenue.

That’s where our customer data platform, BlueConic, came in. By being able to build audience segments around an affinity for high school sports, plus an interest in education content and other related subjects, we were able to zero in quickly and efficiently on our best prospects.

Lamar Graham, Advance Local’s VP of Content for Digital Consumer Revenue
  •  The campaign had one critical KPI: sales. For 2022 they set a goal of 7,122 new starts. 
  • Advance Local newsrooms sold 8,942 new subscriptions attributable to the high school sports content. This was a 43% increase over 2021 and 26% above expectations for 2022. 
  • Subscribers downloaded nearly 4,300 high-resolution photos in October and November alone. In 2023, it plans to improve photo UX and promotion of this feature.
  • To drive greater engagement, in August it heavily promoted free, local, daily high school sports newsletters. By season’s end, it had doubled signups, to 66,000 from 33,000.
  • Advance Local also saw big gains in BlueConic reader profiles associated with an interest in high school sports, from 368,000 in August to 466,000 (+27%) by Christmas — a real bonus for audience segmentation.

“Like most publishers, Advance Local has a direct relationship with its readers and a rich set of data on subscribers,” said Grace Murray, Manager, Core Account Management at BlueConic. “But without a centralized solution for unifying and activating that data, it was hard to access and use it at the speed and scale in which they needed. With BlueConic, the company is now able to capture and store high-value  attributes for every individual in unified customer profiles – and use that data to quickly build and activate robust, multi-dimensional segments across multiple channels in ways that weren’t possible before.” 

“High school sports has been a huge acquisition success for Advance Local,” Graham says. “We’re approaching the end of the 2022-2023 school year now, and sales have already topped 15,000 new subscribers. And the more we sell, the more we learn. We’re hoping there’s still a lot of upside left in being able to identify paying customers among sports that haven’t traditionally captured as much of our resources, like swimming, lacrosse and golf.

We’re already setting even more ambitious goals for the ’23-’24 school year. One of our big objectives is to be able to tailor our marketing messages more effectively through even more refined audience segmentation.

Lamar Graham, Advance Local’s VP of Content for Digital Consumer Revenue