By Christina Johnson |
LITTLE SILVER – For three years, broadcaster Rich Chrampanis and a small team of multimedia journalists have been documenting high school sports in Monmouth and Ocean counties for his online startup, Shore Sports Zone.
Now his unique brand of professionally produced scholastic sports coverage is going statewide, thanks to an investment from a new partner. Jersey Sports Zone announced on Sept. 1 it will now cover the high school sports scene everywhere in New Jersey, including the often overlooked southern and western sections of the Garden State.
“We’re going to be the most dominant digital media in the state, when it comes to high school sports,” said Chrampanis, 47, of Little Silver. “On Sunday, we had 110,000 organic Twitter impressions in one day. That’s a lot of people looking at your website – and we’re only 17 days old.”
Covering all of New Jersey is an ambitious goal for Chrampanis and his roving team of three fulltime multimedia reporters and a roster of freelancers who brave the heat, rain and snow hoping to capture great moments in sports. There are more than 500 school districts, and a multitude of different varsity sports, and nearly all of those sports have a girls’ and a boys’ team. But for starters, Jersey Sports Zone will be focusing on where the most interest is, and that means football, soccer, hockey, basketball, wrestling, baseball, softball and lacrosse. Other sports, like field hockey, swimming, golf and others will also be covered, he said, as well as coaches and college recruiting news.
The new principal owner of Jersey Sports Zone is Dale J. Florio, an attorney and well-known Trenton lobbyist, who serves as an assistant basketball coach at the Hun School in Princeton. Chrampanis is the company’s chief operating officer. He is also the sports editor at The Two River Times, where he oversees the newspaper’s high school sports coverage for the Monmouth County weekly.
Jersey Sports Zone’s immediate goal is to tell the story of what happened at the game last night, narrated with video highlights of the most talked-about plays, crowd reaction and post-game interviews. The stories are produced directly after the game, in sessions that can last until the early hours of the morning so the recaps can be posted by 6 a.m. on YouTube.
There also are the feature stories, where reporters capture the players off the field to learn more about their motivations, hopes and dreams. The company slogan is “Go Beyond the Score.”
For Chrampanis, his job is a dream come true, and the natural result of his career path. He grew up in Middletown, attended Christian Brothers Academy, and graduated from St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, New York. For the past 20 years he has been a TV sports director and on-air sports anchor for network affiliates in places like Iowa, Maine and South Carolina. Unlike here, high school sports were covered in those TV markets. Chrampanis produced a popular Friday night high school football show in Myrtle Beach that rounded up results from 15-20 games and actually pre-empted “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
“They take it very seriously. It’s a very big part of their communities,” he said. Nothing like that exists on air in New Jersey, due to the traditional dominance by and priorities of the New York and Philadelphia markets, he explained.
As digital media grew, Chrampanis took stock of his role in TV broadcasting and realized things were changing fast. He and his wife, Dianne, and kids, Luke and Carly, decided to take a risk to move back to Monmouth County and build their own high school sports news digital media company. His local competition was Shore Sports Network, which has since been purchased by Townsquare Media, and the Asbury Park Press.
“We found an audience immediately,” said Chrampanis. In the first year, Chrampanis, his wife and a few helpers hustled to cover six to eight games on a Friday night, and four to six games on a Saturday. The athletes shared the videos on social media; parents were excited to see the shows and word of mouth grew. By its third year, Shore Sports Zone has earned 3.5 million views on the website, and 2.5 million on YouTube. Local and corporate sponsorship supports the site.
“It never gets old, it’s great,” said Chrampanis, whose passion comes through in the video narration. “I get as much satisfaction watching some of these best kids in the country as watching a local team win its first game in two seasons.”
He enjoys documenting the early starts of the up-and-coming players, raising their profiles and introducing them to working with the media. He was among the first to hand a microphone to Ranney School basketball superstars Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine, and has enjoyed watching them grow in the past three years. “These kids from Ranney are going to be household names across the world in about four years,” he said. He was also there to watch Frankie Tagliaferri of Colts Neck grow in her soccer career. He expects she could make the World Cup team.
As for what comes next, Chrampanis is close-lipped but hints there are initiatives in the works.
“We want to perfect the Jersey Sports Zone model and see what happens,” said Chrampanis. He said the site would always remain fee-free and advertiser supported.
He said he won’t forget the athletes, fans and sponsors who gave his fledgling idea its boost in the beginning, citing support from The Two River Times’ publisher Domenic DiPiero, and the Red Bank Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven communities.
“I’ll be forever indebted to the kids in this area for supporting us before we were a household name,” said Chrampanis. “The kids at RBC and RBR, I certainly am not going to turn my back on them. We’ll be at their games,” he said.
This article was first published in the Sept. 21-28, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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