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Sporting goals

Sporting goals

Major sports 'brands' like the All Blacks are turning their websites from simple information sites to professional portals with essential cash-creating e-commerce.

Rugby is more than just a game for the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU). The Wellington-based body employs 80 staff and enjoys an annual turnover of $93.6 million, thanks largely to sponsorship deals with News Corporation and Adidas. Earlier this year, NZRU relaunched its www.allblacks.com website, replacing an earlier site it had operated with Telecom New Zealand.

NZRU online manager David Barton-Ginger says the body took full control of the site as part of its online strategy, realigning the content directly with its overall marketing and communications around its teams and competitions.

"Doing it internally means we can sell more merchandise, have more communication with the fans. We can be faster and more nimble,"says Barton-Ginger. Once the NZRU board assessed the business case of bringing the website under its own control, its IT team of three then split the business problem into two areas - migrating the site to a new host environment and getting the content it wanted, believing the old look was "very out of date and not conducive to ongoing change."

In March 2004, Barton-Ginger was appointed as project manager to run the project, working with NZRU IT manager Chris Hope. Barton-Ginger had overall responsibility for the portal project, but he worked with Hope on what was feasible given the resources of the NZRU, its relations with vendors and the technologies available.

Extra challenges

The NZRU gave itself the challenge of getting a new site operational within four to six weeks, initially with a site that had the same information as the old one.

"All work apart from project management was done externally by a development department (ZeroOne) who we commissioned for the work. We did not have the expertise in-house to complete the work and it is not our core business to hire people to do this," explains Barton-Ginger.

In April and May, ZeroOne re-hosted the site with the old look and integrated this with the new content management system.

In June to July, there was a further redesign for the look and feel of the site. The new site went live on July 17. Since then, new features have been added, including new sections on the Air New Zealand NPC and the Rebel Sport Super 12.

In redesigning the site, Barton-Ginger says the NZRU had a fair idea how it wanted www.allblacks.com to look. It researched other websites in New Zealand and oversees for ideas, looking at the technologies these sites used.

The NZRU wanted a site with good easy-to-use 'portal' navigation,' that could easily be extended, offset with a dynamic look and feel that sat nicely with essentially a 'news'-based site.

The portal structure promised simple navigation; and the need for durability was settled through service level agreements with ZeroOne.

"We made very clear at the outset of the project what our concerns and expectations were and that we expected those to be met. With the time constraints we have had, this has not been as good as it could have been but we are well on the way to making the site more durable - especially when there are traffic spikes, which on a site such as ours, can give us challenges from time to time.

"These spikes come about a couple of times per year and are larger than almost any you would receive on any other site in New Zealand. An example of this is when we name a new All Blacks squad, which will appear first on allblacks.com," explains Barton-Ginger.

Security concerns

Security was reviewed jointly between the hosts (ZeroOne) - together with our IT department within the NZRU, he continues. The portal currently has no e-commerce functionality as its online shop works through supplier Champions of the World.

The latter handles fulfilment, thus details such as credit card information are not handled directly through the site. However, the portal does have privacy provisions in place around the handling of other data such as the subscription information for online newsletters and updates. Furthermore, the board will shortly introduce a new e-commerce function mainly around the sale of images and photos.

ZeroOne CEO Bruce Trevarthen says the use of readily-available Macromedia products allowed time frames to be met while ColdFusion programming allowed robust, scalable and fully customised content management system (CMS). "By creating functions centrally, which are then referenced and used throughout an application, it is more evident where to look to investigate any possible bugs, or to extend any existing functionality," he states.

"ZeroOne was able to bolt on new functionality without affecting the core of the data structure or the CMS framework itself. The design was then applied to the templates and, being a heavily graphical design, it was important that the site structure was kept modular so that parts of the site that were common throughout were not duplicated but rather called into the mix when needed."

Trevarthen says this created a site the NZRU totally controls, with more up-to-date content that grows on a daily basis. "The system has also provided a revenue stream via complete control over dynamic banner and advertisement placement, and reporting on impressions and click-throughs. This is crucial, as advertising is the website's primary source or revenue."

Trevarthen says the multimedia gallery, with audio and video archives, as a major attraction, uses Macromedia Flash Player. Since this player has much market penetration, most users don't need to download additional plug-ins to view videos on the site.

Using Flash Communications Server, he continues, also allows streaming over a range of bandwidth speeds. Flash integrates easily with ColdFusion, the main server-side development platform that was used.

Flash Communication Server can also detect the optimum bandwidth a visitor is capable of and adjust the video streaming as appropriate.

Together, these changes helped the new site increase traffic by a third from an average of 15,000 a day, to the current 20,000 visitors a day. Average daily page views are also up from around 120,000 to 166,000 up to 233,000. Barton-Ginger says the site has performed "very well", but more time for initial testing and design would have been welcome.

For other organisations looking at creating their own portal, Barton-Ginger advises to check out other such sites and make notes about what they like or don't like about them. "Have a clear image in your mind about what you want. Be as specific as possible when completing your scoping and business requirements. Be as flexible as possible in costing, timelines and detail."

Then there is the need to keep content up-to-date, he says. "As the saying goes, 'Content is king!' I cannot stress this enough."

Learn:

How organisations are making websites pay

Why websites should be integrated with the rest of the business

What tools can be utilised to ensure heavy traffic to the site.

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