A scouting subscription service for a newly independent basketball writer
Frank Burlison has written about and reported on basketball for most of the last five decades. Based in Southern California, his coverage of college basketball recruiting helped shape the field in the days before the Internet.
Frank’s accolades include an appointment as an inaugural member of the McDonald’s All-American Selection committee and induction into the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame.
He’s built quite a reputation in the industry, especially with college basketball coaches, who trust him and rely on his expertise.
But in June 2011, after many years at the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Frank was laid off from his job as a sportswriter, like so many others around the country this decade.
He had been working full-time there for a long time. Relocating out of the region or state to work for another newspaper wasn’t something he wanted to do.
But what to do instead?
Frank and I knew each other from a basketball scouting class he taught.
After consulting with me and other colleagues, he felt that he could lean on his relationships with college basketball coaches and start his own independent scouting service.
It was worth a try. Plus, he wanted to keep writing for the public.
Doing all that meant he needed a website.
Frank hired me to set up an online platform that would meet his needs.
And he needed it built quickly, because summer grassroots basketball was in full swing and we had just a few months before the start of the next high school and college basketball seasons.
The project included a few key priorities:
- Offer a platform for Frank to publish a steady stream of basketball coverage.
- Make known his stellar reputation in the industry, so that we could build a steady supply of readers and paying clients.
- Get his scouting service fully up and running by making it as easy to pay as possible, so college coaches could sign up and get Frank’s premium scouting reports.
- Make it simple to use and navigate in multiple aspects: for Frank in writing, editing, and publishing content; for readers looking for news; and coaches looking for information about the scouting services.
Let’s go into each of these priorities individually.
The news platform
Frank covers high school and grassroots basketball events that he attends.
His reports typically straddle the line between game recaps and scouting reports.
He rarely uses photos, as getting the rights to photos can be an unnecessary hassle, so the emphasis here was going to be on written content.
We prefer a clean aesthetic for the platform, with an eye toward simplicity and readability.
If people aren’t reading the stories, we’re not doing our job.
Originally, I used the then-popular Headway framework to set up a custom design using WordPress. Later on, we ported the site to the more modern Genesis framework.
We favor nice, easy-to-read fonts of sizes big enough for anyone to read. Studies show that larger font sizes tend to keep readers engaged and on websites longer.
Here’s how we show stories today.
Make Frank’s expertise and reputation clear to new readers.
In addition to Frank’s public recognition as a writer, he’s also well-respected by basketball insiders for his scouting acumen.
For starters, well-known coaches such as Lute Olson and George Raveling welcome Frank’s input.
Then there are NBA general managers like Gar Forman and Neil Olshey.
On top of all that, NBA MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook both credit Frank as being the first scout to identify their talent from a young age.
We knew we wanted to feature them.
Frank came in with many of these written endorsements, so then we integrated them into the design.
We included the endorsements not only on the scouting services sales page, but on the sidebars throughout the website.
We wanted to make them hard for anybody to miss.
Get the subscription scouting service up and running.
The scouting service was the impetus for the whole project, so we had to get this part right.
Making it easy for Frank and his clients was important. A complicated online portal or convoluted payment system was undesirable. So, simplicity!
We decided on a simple one-field PayPal form that college coaches could fill out before putting in their payment information.
Payments would then get relayed to Frank, and new subscribers could be added to the client list accordingly.
Crucially, we had to do it in compliance with NCAA regulations. They’re the agency that controls the whole process, so if we don’t follow their rules, we don’t have clients!
There was a little trial and error involved at first. The NCAA rule book is quite large, so we had to do our homework on what kinds of services we could offer.
For instance, we learned that every participating NCAA school must be charged the same price and receive the same reports, regardless of whether they’re an East Coast school that generates $60 million in athletic department revenue or a tiny West Coast school that can’t afford to buy new shoes.
So we had to get that part right in order to not only operate, but to earn people’s trust and grow Frank’s client base.
Easy to use and navigate
One of the early things I did was work with a contractor to design Frank’s logo. (I didn’t do graphic design at the time.)
Having the logo also helped us solidify the black and orange color scheme that we still use today.
The easy to read navigation bar comes in handy, along with the search form at the top that we introduced later on.
Including archive navigation in the sidebar also helps people find the content they’re looking for.
People can easily go back and read about the high school exploits of numerous current NBA players.
It was also crucial for the site to be easy for Frank to use. He admits to not having much technical knowledge, so putting together a system he could use was a key part of the project.
Frank’s online archives now encompass almost nine years of work and nearly 1000 articles.
He has a steady stream of traffic to the website, with social media playing a big role.
Frank’s scouting service clientele continues to grow over time with the platform. He works with many of the top college basketball programs around the country.
In early 2019, we launched an updated design for the website, one designed to be more colorful and easier to read on mobile devices. We also made some tweaks so that the site can be more easily printed for reading on the go.
Frank has referred me for other projects, including Global Sports Management.