Competitive amateur league landscape pushes NJABL to make great first impression
Atlantic City’s boardwalk casinos and seaside reality television shows have perhaps the most famous footholds in New Jersey. Although men’s amateur baseball leagues aren’t as abundant as poker chips or as glitzy as location shoots, their popularity in the Garden State can’t be denied.
Mike Mazzolla says there are about 10 leagues from which to choose in the state, and he and his buddies spent a decade playing in several of them before starting their own in 2013.
“They all left something to be desired,” Mazzolla said about his motivation to create the New Jersey Amateur Baseball League with co-founder Tim Ritchie. “We wanted to create a baseball community where everybody had a voice and everybody had a say in how we built it.”
Mazzolla said he was hoping for 12 teams to sign on for the first year. The league ended up with 52. The NJABL, which offers spring and fall leagues for players age 18 and older, had 74 teams last spring. That number is expected to increase in 2015. There are about 1,500 players split between the NJABL’s wood and metal bat leagues.
Continued growth, while nice, isn’t the biggest concern for Mazzolla and Ritchie.
“We don’t want to promise our players something that we can’t deliver,” Mazzolla said. “We want to deliver quality fields, quality balls, quality umpires. We want the overall experience to be the best it possibly can be.
“We want people to look at us as the model of baseball in New Jersey going forward.”
For many current and prospective players, their first interaction with the league is through the home page of its website. Recognizing this, Ritchie and Mazzolla were disappointed their site didn't make the top five in our rankings of baseball league sites on the Sport Ngin platform.
After talking to Mazzolla about the New Jersey's amateur baseball league landscape, the NJABL’s mission and the content it was producing, we set out to redesign the site’s home page. The goal was to showcase the league’s premier content while remaking the page as a launching pad to all the photos, statistics, standings and other content that sets the league apart from its competition.
A step-by-step look at how the New Jersey Amateur Baseball League's home page was transformed.
As a league entering just its third year in a competitive market, we recognize the importance of the NJABL to shout its message and mission statement at current and prospective players. However, there was simply too much text occupying too much valuable real estate on the old home page. We kept the first four sentences, topped it with the league's logo, and placed the elements in the bottom right corner of the page.
Sponsors are essential for any league looking to offset costs, and showcasing partners and affiliates can help strengthen legitimacy. We standardized the size and display of the sponsor and partner logos on the home page, then moved them to a horizontal presentation at the top for optimum visibility.
The NJABL does a a great job of keeping its scores, schedules, statistics and standings updated, so why not make it easy for viewers - most of whom are the league's players - to dive into that content? The page element we created also includes registration links.
We believed Mazzola's blog deserved a prime spot on the site. Because the NJABL is so active on Facebook (approaching 4,000 likes) and Twitter, we wanted those modules to occupy prime spots as well. The league blog received some custom CSS treatment, but the Facebook and Twitter elements were placed by simply using the Code page element. Both the blog and the Facebook module were buried at the bottom of the old home page, and there was no Twitter page element.
Mazzolla said the league takes more than 20,000 photos per year, and hundreds of the best photos are posted to the NJABL's Facebook page. To showcase those outstanding photos, we simply gave six of them identical crops and dropped them on the home page below a header. Each photo can be linked to its corresponding gallery in Facebook.
Statistics leaders are huge traffic drivers, and because the NJABL does a great job of quickly updating its stats, we wanted to showcase the leaders on the home page. We built the stat leaders using tabbed elements and widgets from the league's statistics page. As an added bonus, roster photos are loaded for almost every player in the league, enhancing the look of the leaders widgets.
The original version of the home page had player and manager testimonials scrolling through in a news slideshow page element near the bottom left corner of the page. We took three of the testimonials and placed them in a horizontal strip across the bottom of the page.
There is no cookie-cutter, one-design-fits-all solution for every site. Every league and association has a unique membership and audience, unique goals and mission statements.
Still, there are basic concepts that work for any site's home page. Content needs to be prioritized, then showcased in ways that will drive viewers inside for deeper information.
Mazzolla's goal, in so many words, is for the NJABL to be a league for the players, by the players. Hopefully, the league's home page serves as a reflection of that mission.