Sports Illustrated’s Vault Rekindles Ghosts of March Madness’ Past

In 1987, Keith Smart hit a baseline jumper as time was winding down to send the Indiana Hoosiers to a 74-73 victory over Syracuse and Bob Knight’s last national championship. ESPN.com wasn’t there to cover it.

In 1983, Coach Jim Valvano sprinted around the floor looking for someone to hug as North Carolina State pulled an upset for the ages over Houston in the National Championship. Yahoo! Sports didn’t send a beat writer.

In 1966, Coach Don Haskins and Texas Western scored a victory against racism – and the University of Kentucky – as his Miners team started five African American players and defeated Adolph Rupp’s all-white Wildcats squad. Nobody, not even Deadspin, live-blogged the game.

Sports Illustrated was there, though. Sports Illustrated has been there since 1954 and, starting with the opening of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, Sports Illustrated will have the online archives to prove it.

On Thursday, Sports Illustrated launches The Vault, a new section of SI.com that will contain a full archive of every article the magazine has ever published, in a fully-searchable database. Certainly, it’s a nice feature for a longtime subscriber such as myself, a chance to read the classic articles of George Plimpton and Frank Deford and to experience first-hand accounts of historical events as captured by the national sports publication of record. Sports Illustrated, after all, was there.

Just as important, though, is the impact that The Vault will have on search engines. By publishing this content in a searchable, non-password protected form, Sports Illustrated increases its overall relevance.

Today, the first page of a Google search on the name of baseball great Willie Mays currently shows, among other things, a Wikipedia entry, a few baseball almanac stats records, a YouTube video of The Catch and, yes, an ESPN.com retrospective article. Not a single reference to Sports Illustrated, who actually covered The Catch as it happened.

The Vault should change this, of course, as decades of content are opened to potential search traffic. Michael Jordan appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated 49 times (and counting?). According to Google, Sports Illustrated is completely irrelevant.

Sports Illustrated projects that The Vault could add up to five million monthly readers to the site’s traffic. And where eyes go, advertising revenue follows.

(It is a nice coincidence that this story has been most-robustly covered by The New York Times. As documented by my colleague Steve six months ago, the Times adjusted its own tactics only recently, abandoning the success of its subscription-based TimesSelect service to open the entirety of its content to search.)

Mining the archives is a great way for any publication that existed in the pre-Internet era to increase content, relevance and, therefore, search traffic. If you are a content publisher, consider whether you have back articles worthy of posting online. (Hint: It’s all worthy.) In most cases, this content likely exists in some form on a hard drive somewhere; it is merely a matter of taking the effort to post it in a user-friendly, spider-able fashion.

As a longtime Sports Illustrated reader, I applaud Time-Warner for its decision and look forward to devouring decades of history.

As a search marketer, I anticipate following the impact that The Vault will have on Sports Illustrated‘s online traffic.

And as a longtime college hoops dork, I anoint Tennessee as the official pick of StraightUpSearch. Over Texas. In the orange-est National Championship game ever.