Online Esks keeps fans connected

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Websites are everywhere. Professional sports leagues and franchises have had them for years. High-profile players even have their own now. Heck, curlers even have them. Check out the www.ferbey4.com sometime if you don't believe it.

But figuring out how to use a website for the enjoyment of the fan and the benefit of the franchise is the trick. The Edmonton Eskimos have gone to work on how to make www.esks.com a working force for both.

In the past month www.esks.com has brought a great many people to the site who had never been there before. That's due to the Alberta Centennial celebration vote of the all-time Eskimos team, done in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Centennial and the all-time Roughriders team.

"We had a significant increase of the hits we usually have on the website," said Dave Jamieson, director of communications and marketing with the Eskimos. "It brought us a lot of new visitors."

The timing of the poll coincided with the upgrade of www.esks.com to become more of a go-to site for fans to get involved with the team.

Team news, including all press releases and announcements as they happen, are found under 'top stories.' There's a time-clock countdown in terms of days and hours to the next Eskimo game, notification of upcoming player appearances and other things Eskimo. Hit Team, Schedule, Tickets, Team Store, Fan Zone, Cheer Team, Community, Sponsorship and Media and you have connections to separate sections of the site which also include a poll, photo gallery, standings, statistics and message board.

New to the site this year is an opportunity to join The Eskimo Insider. That feature brings many of the normal website features directly to the fan's e-mail.

The You've Got Mail feature includes all Eskimos releases and advisories at the same time as the media. Check the appropriate box and you will also receive pre-game notes and post-game reports. Another check in another box and e-mail contests, merchandise and special offers from Eskimo sponsors will be forwarded to the fan.

Another check in another box and you'll receive via e-mail the Telus/EE Newsletter. And that's where the most dramatic change has taken place on the site.

"Instead of the fan constantly checking the site, it comes to you," says Jamieson. "You're the first to know about a trade. For a normal fan it takes it to a new level. It gives you more information.

"To know five minutes after we've made a trade or a move certainly gives you a leg up at the water cooler."

As a side effect, of course, the hope is that a website well-used by the fans will help push the franchise closer and closer to the goal of one day filling Commonwealth Stadium's 60,000 seats on a game-in, game-out basis.

"It really is untapped potential. We've certainly scratched a lot deeper this year. And it's gone a long way to improve our customer service.

"Now you can print off a ticket on your home computer. If you are a season-ticket holder and you can't make it to a game, you can e-mail it to a friend without having to drive clear across town to get it. It has a code. You print it, and you're going to the game. We think it will mean a lot more tickets not being left in a drawer. That brings more value to the ticket.

"We've had great response to it. But it's still a learning process for the fans."

Jamieson said football is a strange business compared to most - even in the sports business.

"One of the great challenges of a football schedule is that your store is open for business 10 times a year.

"Reminding fans when a game's played is as important as who's playing. An e-mail to those signed up to be insiders not only gives them access to all sorts of information, it also acts as a reminder of when the games are scheduled.

"In the off-season, it can be hugely beneficial when football is generally off the sports pages. In the off-season, it keeps the fans informed and involved."

The message board section acts as a year-round open-line show with the added benefit of being a place the fans can toss some ideas at Eskimos management.

"It's a place where fans can visit - win, lose or tie - and exchange thoughts and opinions with fellow Eskimos fans.

"We get ideas from our fans from that message board. Fans told us they wanted our gates open 90 minutes before game time. That sort of thing. It gives us a great opportunity to listen to them."

It's win-win for the fan and for the franchise.


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