For nine months of the year, football fields sit restless in towns framed by far-as-

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Cover | Page 2 | Page 3 | Weekly gamer | Feature game

the-eye-can-see farm fields. But when summer leans into fall in the Sauk Valley, those fields come to life.

So we figured we might as well try to add to that experience. Thus, the weekly high school football tab was born. Probably not the first of its kind. Hopefully not the last.

It makes money. It’s reader-friendly. It’s simple to get started. It’s even simpler to keep going. It unclogs your regular Saturday section, too.

Below are some tips how to pull it off at your place. This idea could fly at papers big and small.

Getting started

■ Three summers ago, after meeting with advertising and higher-ups early in my first summer here, I put together a prototype of what the section would look like and gave it to our ad director. Our reps then showed those prototypes to advertisers.

■ That done, we started to market the heck out of it. House ads. Rack banners. Letters to subscribers.

■ Then it was off to visit the press guys, to try to make sense of how to best insert the tab.

Money talks

■ The first day the tab was inserted into the sports section, single-copy and rack sales increased by around 400 papers. Not bad for a paper our size (19,000).

■ I was told by our ad director that during the first week after the first tab came out, six or seven advertisers called us to see if they could get in on it – but we had already sold out for the season.

■ Our ad reps sold the first one as a season-long, package deal. We had strip ads across all bottom inside pages except 6-7. We also had rotating, full-page color ads on the back of the tab every week. Next year, we might try to sell color strip ads in the center of the tab, too.

■ The tab generated more than $20,000 in its first year. I am told that now we make $12,000-15,000 per season.

■ We continue the tab into the playoffs. Advertisers love this even more because now they can get on "their team’s page" even easier, making the sale that much easier. Readers took an immediate liking, too.

What we do

■ Each tab is 12 pages. We cover between 5-8 games per week.

■ Page 1 is a cover/poster type shot from the featured game with refers to other big games and an area scorelist across the bottom.

■ Page 2 is our leaders/standings page. Here we put the night’s top performers, with mugs, as well a list of others who had big nights.

■ Page 3 is our from the sideline column. Game coverage, even featurized like we try to do, is great. But we wanted to add something extra. These columns focus loosely on football, but a lot of times; the legwork is done ahead of time. For example, a student at one of our schools died in a car accident. She was close to many of the players. So we did a lot of interviews ahead of time, then went to the game for added color.

■ Pages 4-9 are reserved for game coverage. Typically, we have one game per page, average length around 15 inches. To get more headlines in, we’ll break out uncovered games and give them 4-6 inches with a breakout.

■ Pages 6-7 are color spots, so our games of the week go here. If it’s a big enough game, we’ll spread it over two pages.

■ Page 10 is where the roundup, how the top 5 fared and our state scorelist goes.

■ Page 11 is home to agate. People love their football boxes. We throw a photo on there now and then to fill space.

■ Page 12 is another money page. Perfect for color ads. If they can’t be sold, put another cover on the back.

How we do it

■ Each week during the regular season (and the first few weeks of the playoffs) we put out the tab on deadline. We don’t have a dedicated designer or copy editor, so we all pitch in when we return from covering our games. One or two guys usually take care of the design. We used to zone the cover, but stopped doing that once we collapsed our weekend papers into one Saturday edition.

■ The regular section is done, save a couple late pages, before we head out to our games.

■ To make the process easier, we do some work ahead of time (get standings page ready, fill in info boxes where we can). The design process is streamlined and we have standing elements on each page, such as breakout boxes, how the top 5 fared.

■ Plan. Plan. Plan. Work with other papers and even the teams themselves for photos, to make sure they report scores, etc. Be prepared to make changes on the fly.

■ Ad placement can be key. We work with advertisers the best we can to make sure they get on the page of the team they want. Doesn’t always happen, but when it does it makes for one happy advertiser.

Paul Skrbina can be reached at