College football photo contest drives $18K for paper


At the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the sales director, Jolene Sherman, and sales rep, Michael Slawin, were looking for a new business sale with Mizzou Athletics. Mizzou, a college located in Columbia, Mo., is just a couple short hours away from their target demographic in St. Louis.

Mizzou Athletics had worked with the paper in the past, but knew it needed a new, unique idea to rejuvenate the partnership. The advertiser was looking for an opportunity to grow its fan base and sell tickets. The timing couldn't be better: Following the departure of St. Louis' pro football team a few months prior, local fans were left without a home team.

Along with the traditional ad buy, the paper pitched the idea of the "Mizzou FANtastic Fan Photo Contest." While the paper's staff knew the contest had the potential to be a huge hit with Mizzou's target fan base, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch hoped it would also drive revenue, collect email addresses for its new Mizzou sports newsletter, and increase reader interaction and page views for the paper's website.

Mizzou Athletics loved the idea of the photo contest and couldn't wait to see the results.

While the photo contest was a major part of the deal, it was paired with a special section to run in the Sunday paper the week prior to the school's first football game. The Mizzou Tigers special section included:

  • Back page full-color ad featuring the Mizzou Tigers schedule and single ticket/package prices.
  • In-house ad featuring the details of the Mizzou Tigers contest.
  • 250,000 impressions on ROS ad.
  • 100,000 impressions on's special Mizzou Sports site.
  • Email to the opt-in database of 300,000 +/- recipients featuring messaging from Mizzou Tigers and "look for special Mizzou Tigers Section" in the Sunday paper.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also wanted to optimize the fan photo contest to provide as much value as possible to Mizzou. As part of the photo contest sponsorship, the staff included the following:

  • Logo/Link on contest entry page.
  • Email opt-in on contest registration page.
  • Optional Facebook Like box and Twitter Follow link on contest registration page.
  • Title/Logo on ROS digital ads promoting contest.
  • Two email blasts including logo and link and big ad to Post-Dispatch marketing database.
  • One email blast including logo and link and big ad to the contesting database.
  • Logo on ROP in-paper page ads promoting contest (2-3 per week, including Sunday and color, as space allows).
  • Tagged STLPD Facebook Page post(s) promoting contest.
  • Tagged GO! Entertainment Facebook Page post(s) promoting contest.
  • Tagged @STLtoday Tweet(s) promoting contest.
  • Tagged @Weatherbird Tweet(s) promoting contest.


A valuable prize is key to ensuring lots of entries and engagement. Mizzou Athletics provided a fantastic grand prize that would definitely draw in Mizzou fans:

  • Four VIP tickets including an exclusive pre-game experience.
  • A night's hotel stay.
  • $200 gift card to the Mizzou Tiger Team Store.
  • Winning photo featured on the paper's website and on the Mizzou video board.

The paper leveraged social media to encourage increased engagement and promoted directly to all of its St. Louis Post-Dispatch social media pages. While the paper's own posts received a lot of engagement, there was even more engagement by the community sharing the contest to their own Facebook Pages. Entrants were often posting to request votes and the Mizzou Alumni Association even posted to its Facebook Page.


The contest was a resounding success. After a two-week submission period and one-week voting period, the contest collected 146 photo entries and brought in more than 1,300 votes.  Plus, at the conclusion of the contest, the paper did a full-page spread publishing the winner and the two runners-up.

This campaign – including the revenue from the photo contest and ad space from additional advertisers in the special section – led to $18,000 in total revenue for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper was thrilled and can't wait to run the next photo contest.

Matt Coen is the president and co-founder of Second Street, a leading provider of private-label online promotions platforms and partner success services for media companies based in St. Louis, Mo. He can be reached at (314) 880-4902 or


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