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A Brief Guide to Covering Tentpole Events

Taking a look at the SB Nation coverage of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, we examine the 6 steps to covering and activating your tentpole event.

What exactly is a tentpole event?

Tentpole events are cultural topics or trending news that are highly popular among a large audience base. Traditionally, tentpole events were connected to the big movie blockbusters that would peak fiscal earnings for the studio each year. Now, new media companies use the term as a content programming strategy for events through the year. The events can be seasonal—Thanksgiving, Fashion Week, Superbowl—or newsworthy—political milestones, presidential campaigns, technology advancements—or they can be cultural—music festivals, movie premieres and sporting events.

Taking a look at the SB Nation coverage of the 2015 Women's World Cup, we examine the 6 steps to covering and activating your tentpole event.  Here are the steps:

1. Identify: Identify a tentpole event that is relevant to your audience. SB Nation is one of the fastest-growing online sports property rated by comScore. They have over 300 community sites that cover everything from baseball to MMA. There are hundreds of sports events happening every day.  SB Nation had to cut through the noise and identify the Women's World Cup as an event that would be relevant to their largest audience base and be of interest to an entire country.

2. Develop a Programming Calendar: Find the right approach and angles to highlight your content. There will be a lot of coverage on major cultural tentpole events. To capitalize your audience base and to stand out from crowd, it is important to develop a strategic approach to your programming calendar. Coming off of the men's 2014 World Cup, SB Nation was able to utilize the same programming game plan with a few minor tweaks. SB Nation pinpointed their focus on the US team; in addition they brought in strong freelancers who were experts on women's soccer. Following the model of success from the men's 2014 World Cup, SB Nation was able to identify the coverage opportunities from pre-event to post event.

3. Pre-Event Coverage: Tapping into their expert resources, SB Nation editors and writers spent time studying the field during the pre-tournament matches and "friendlies."  SB Nation was able to break and cover some of the most important pre-world cup news. Out of the gate, SB Nation had established their coverage as the authoritative destination for the Women's World Cup news. SB Nation's Brian Floyd points to Kevin McCauley's piece "USWNT Coach Jill Ellis Created a Problem She Can't Fix," citing it as an early asset that help establish SB Nation as "the most informed [Women's World Cup] coverage on the internet."

3. Repackage: Find the content that has already been an audience success surrounding  the tentpole event.  It could be footage or coverage from the year before or in the case of the World Cup, it could be content surrounding the returning players for the previous 2011 Women's World Cup.  Repackage and can help with pre-event coverage. SB Nation, profiled the returning players and also, used the historic points of the 2011 World Cup to enrich the coverage of the 2015 games. The USWNT got revenge for the past and a blueprint for a dominant future.

4. Social: The whole idea of a tentpole event is that the audience is talking about it.  Jump into the buzz and conversation.  Make sure you are being active member of the discussion.  Do not just try to blast content all over social.  Find the discussion that everyone is chatting about and report on it.  SB Nation did not just cover the game.  When Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers reunited to do their old segment "Really!?!!" to call out anti-Women's World Cup supports, the video clip instantly went viral. SB Nation joined the conversation but creating meme's and covering the social conversation surrounding the clip. SB Nation used this opportunity to further highlight their Women's World Cup coverage.

5. Pull All Levers: Take a good look at what is in your arsenal. Newsletter? Influencer connections?  Syndication Partners?  Here is the time to tap into all your resources. It is important that you make sure you are getting the bulk and prime cut of your event content out in front of the right audience. Know what you can utilize as resource and customize those tools to leverage your event content.  Not to give away all our secrets but Vox Media synergy and cross pollination across all our brands is one of our most frequently used tools.  In this case, The Verge, another highly popular Vox Media brand, utilized the SB Nation coverage of the the Women's World Cup to leverage a piece on Japanese Robot fight.  In return, The Verge linked back to the SB Nation World Cup coverage, which helped stretch the SB Nation audience base across different verticals.

6. Post-Event Coverage: Game is over. Gold is won. Now, on to the next? No, everyone is still buzzing off the game, don't shut it down the once it's over. The audience has not lost their appetite.  SB Nation was able to  find ways to keep covering the event for  days afterwards.

How to Watch the USWNT's World Cup Parade

By following these steps, SB Nation was able to lay the framework to successfully stand out from the everyday Women's World Cup coverage and became the authoritative voice for the games. This guide is only one of the many ways tentpole events can be executed, however SB Nation found these stakes to be the most beneficial when covering a world wide event.