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From AJR,   February/March 2013  issue

A Web Site Powered by Passion    

Philahoops aims to make its mark with saturation coverage of Philadelphia’s college basketball scene. Wed., February 20, 2013.


By Brooks Welsh
Brooks Welsh (lwelsh12@terpmail.umd.edu) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     

Philahoops is all about the passion. The passion for Philadelphia college basketball.

Aaron Bracy, 36, a longtime Philly college hoops junkie who grew up across the Delaware River in Willingboro, New Jersey, launched Philahoops.com in 2010. He did it because he felt there just wasn't enough reporting on the six division 1 college basketball teams in Philadelphia, known as the City 6.

"Just looking around the landscape, I noticed there was kind of what I felt like was a lack of coverage," says Bracy, who has been a sports journalist at the Trenton Times, the Trentonian and the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. "If you know about Philadelphia, professional sports really get the bulk of the coverage from the newspapers and the other outlets. I felt like there was an opportunity to do a little more with college basketball than what was being done."

The City 6 includes Drexel University, La Salle University, the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Villanova University and Bracy's alma mater, Saint Joseph's University.

During the site's first year, an aspiring writer and former cross-country runner at La Salle, Joe Fedorowicz, got in contact with Bracy via a La Salle fan message board. After initially working as a staff writer for Philahoops, Fedorowicz transitioned to his current position as the site's head of operations and technical director.

Fedorowicz, 27, who grew up outside of Philadelphia, has become a major part of the site and its growth by leading upgrades in 2011 and 2012 that took Philahoops from a simple WordPress blog to a full-fledged Web site. The facelifts resulted in a new look, statistics databases and customized team pages. According to Fedorowicz, Philahoops used to receive only about 20 unique visitors a day; today that number is about 1,600.

Bracy and Fedorowicz are proud of the content and credibility Philahoops has had from the start. But the site's revenue base has been slower to develop. One of the biggest disappointments for Bracy and Fedorowicz is the fact that no local advertiser has stepped forward as an exclusive sponsor. Today, the site's advertising revenue basically covers its costs, which include travel expenses for the staff to cover games. No one on the staff is paid.

"The problem is, trying to beat the streets to try to knock on doors and meet local business owners has been troublesome with covering games and having our lives outside of the site," says Fedorowicz, who works full time as an IT professional and shares the ad sales responsibilities with Bracy.

Bracy, who works full time as a teacher and is married with three children, says that their shared love of the site has carried the duo through the more stressful and taxing times. Bracy says he has a "very understanding and supportive wife," who lets him work after hours to cover games and keep the site up to date in the evening; Fedorowicz handles the majority of the site upkeep during the day.

Philahoops has a roster of college students who cover the games. "What we really envision is giving college students not just writing experience and exposure, which we're doing now, but also the opportunity to earn credit," says Bracy who wants to develop an internship program.

Philahoops has expanded in the past year, adding PhilahoopsW, which covers the women's teams of the City 6 as well as Penn State, Rutgers and Delaware. It's run by longtime women's basketball writer Mel Greenberg. And last November marked the launch of PhilahoopsHigh. Bracy hopes that site's recruiting coverage will drive traffic to Philahoops during the offseason.

Fedorowicz sees PhilahoopsHigh as an important avenue for expanding Philahoops' reach. "The real lifeblood of [PhilahoopsHigh] is that people like seeing kids they go to school with in the area, the best players in the area and even not the best players in the area, on YouTube videos doing interviews and giving good quotes," he says. "I would say outside of the occasional student, most of [Philahoops'] readership comes from the diehard alumni that go to every game, own season tickets to the games and want to do nothing more than talk about it on a message board or read about it in a story."

Philahoops features two fixtures in Philadelphia basketball coverage. Greenberg worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer for more than 40 years and is considered a pioneer in coverage of women's basketball. Jack Scheuer, a former Associated Press staffer who covered Philly college hoops for more than 40 years, writes a weekly column for Philahoops during the season.

Bracy and Fedorowicz believe the future is bright for Philahoops and that they've only scratched the surface of its potential. Their goals include continuing to add readership, a heightened presence on social media and a steadier stream of advertising revenue.

Bracy, who is a self-described dreamer, says he wants to build the site piece by piece and hopes one day it will pay off.

"I don't know if this can ever be a full-time job for me," he says. "In my head, I think it could turn into that someday, but it's going to take figuring out what it is that could really make this profitable."