When BostonGlobe.com was split off from Boston.com last fall, the most obvious new revenue source was the newspaper site’s new paywall. BostonGlobe.com, the new, handsome, straight-laced sibling, got all the attention and the accolades not just because of its design, but also because it promised to bring in new money.
Well, though perhaps to less fanfare, so will Boston.com. With its new distance from the newspaper brand, Boston.com is investing in e-commerce as a money driver, notably with its recently launched Boston.com Tickets, which sells tickets to Boston sporting events, even directly from a game preview story. From reading about Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens game to buying a ticket is now just a click. (Two seats on the 30-yard line, just $595 a piece!) The actual ticket vending is handled by Ace Ticket; Boston.com will get a cut of the sales.
The arrangement might cause moderate-to-intense eyebrow-raising among some journalists, who’d argue that a news site shouldn’t be helping sell tickets to games they cover. A number of other newspaper sites have a similar arrangement — here’s the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel selling Brewers tickets, and here’s the San Francisco Chronicle selling Warriors tickets. But many papers link out to a ticket-vending partner rather than sell them under their own brand.
But what’s interesting about Boston.com’s approach is that it’s enabled in part by the separation of the newspaper brand. Making BostonGlobe.com the primary home for newspaper-style journalism and reporting has left Boston.com to further explore its role as a pageview-hungry website — one that can try out revenue ideas that some newspaper brands might not be okay with, just as it presents a mix of content that wouldn’t be a perfect fit for the more serious BostonGlobe.com.
When I talked to Jeff Moriarty, vice president of digital products for the Globe, he said the bifurcation of the sites has created two new, distinct properties. “Boston.com is more about fun, practical information. Finding a car, finding a home, finding something to do,” he told me. “The Globe is journalism and what is going on in Boston from a journalistic perspective.”
Which is not to say that Boston.com is going to drop its ethics off in a dumpster. Moriarty told me one of the areas they struggled with was the placement and branding of the ticket service. While they didn’t want it to blur the line between commerce and journalism, the goal, he said, was to make it clear to people they could buy tickets they’re reading about. “It’s really about surfacing tickets that are valuable tonight, or the game that you’re looking at,” he said.
Even before the spin-off last fall, Boston.com was a prime example of the idea of news site as information portal, a place where newspaper stories mingled with entertainment listings, local services, and other information. Now Boston.com is doubling down on that idea, not just through the tickets service, but also through their Groupon-esque offering Boston Deals, as well as an integration with Open Table to make restaurant reservations (see page bottom).
Chris Rattey, Boston.com’s director of product development, said creating the ticketing feature was a collaborative effort, not just with Ace, but within the Globe, as the editorial, advertising, and digital side all played a part in developing it. In order to figure out how they could best implement a ticket system, Rattey’s team got access to an API from Ace that allowed them to query different types of data from the ticket broker. That was important, he said, because in order for the system to be valuable to readers, they had to figure out what the most important information to display. Moriarty said they’re still experimenting with the system to see what people respond to, including A/B testing to see what drives clicks to the tickets feature and what actually converts sales.
But that may just be finesse to a certain degree, since selling sports tickets in Boston isn’t exactly tricky. In the last 10 years, the city’s seen a Stanley Cup, a Larry O’Brien trophy, a couple World Series wins, three Super Bowl victories, and a current run at another Lombardi trophy. The obsessive fan base here eats up sports coverage and snaps up tickets as soon as they go on sale. (I’ve seen the lines when Sox tickets go on sale. The word interminable comes to mind.) Coverage of the local teams drives consistent traffic to Boston.com, so it makes sense to add tickets to the site, Moriarty said. Sports is just a part of life, and, naturally, so are tickets. “It’s like the currency of Boston,” Moriarty joked.