Tracking a Record Run Throughout the Season
Helping sports fans track whether Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray will break a record
John Hancock, interactive storytelling editor at the Dallas Morning News told Source about the planning and development of an interactive to track the progress of Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray on breaking a record this season.
Beginning the Project
Q. How did the idea for this project come about? Could you also describe the significance of this record?
John Hancock: Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was off to a hot start, and as a result, the Cowboys were 5-1 and doing vastly better than what was predicted for them before the season started.
When I first had the idea to do something on Murray and began working on the project, he had rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his first six games, tying what was then an NFL record of most 100 yard rushing games to start a season. Some quick math showed that, while at the time Murray wasn’t on pace to break the single-season rushing record, he was close. In addition to that, the Cowboys had shown they were committed to making Murray the focal point of their offense, and thus, it was conceivable that he would have a chance to keep putting up good numbers throughout the season as long as he stayed healthy. Given that, Murray would have a chance at the record that’s been held by Eric Dickerson (2,105 yards), for 30 years.
Q. Who was part of the team that created this interactive? Did it follow a similar process to other interactives or was this a new approach?
The team that worked on this consisted of Damon Marx, Assistant Sports Editor and Cowboys assigning editor, Todd Davis, Sports web editor, Jon McClure, News Application Specialists, Troy Oxford, Interactive Graphics Editor and myself.
For many of the projects my team handles, an assigning editor will approach me about a story their team is working on, and we’ll go from there. However, this project worked a little in reverse. I used to do design and layout for our print Sports section before moving into my current position, and I’m always looking for things we can do graphically and interactively with the numbers and stats that make up the sports we cover.
Designing the Experience
Q. Was there anything you had to create technically, a new library or framework?
I wouldn’t go so far to call anything we did for this project a new library or framework. The foundation of the project uses our in-house interactives template, which is a collection of code blocks and styles that help us quickly put together special digital presentations. The scripting that drives the project isn’t anything terribly fancy or complex and is tailored fairly specifically to this project, but with a little re-working could be reused for similar projects.
Q. What powers the stats trackers? How are those updated? How did you decide which stats to feature and how to display them?
The stat trackers are powered by a Google spreadsheet that provides a JSON feed to the project. Almost all the numbers involved in the project are already known variables except for Murray’s future statistics, so all 16 weeks of data is provided for each player except Murray. To limit our data to just the weeks that have already happened this season, we insert a blank row after the latest week, which ends the JSON feed. Each week, once the Cowboys game is over, the blank row is removed, Murray’s numbers for that week are entered, and a blank row is inserted before the next week’s data.
In addition to tracking current and projected yardage, which are essential to the purpose of the project, we also wanted to track number of carries, yards, and touchdowns week-to-week. The number of carries was important because, in addition to being close to the pace for the single-season rushing record, Murray is also on pace to have one of the highest number of carries in a single season. Weekly yardage totals were interesting as well, since Murray was having a fairly consistent, even season, week-to-week. If you look at the other five players, you’ll notice that each of them experienced a peak and valley at some point in the season that Murray hadn’t thus far.
Q. How have readers been interacting with the piece so for, do you see people coming back week after week to see if the status changes?
The piece has only been live for about three weeks thus far, and over that time, about 12% of the traffic it has seen has been repeat visitors. It’s seen some traffic on social media channels, and part of the concept of the project itself (the average yards needed to remain on pace and the answer to the initial question) are designed to be quick reference material for users returning week-to-week.
Q. I really enjoyed the combination of the charts with the striking photos. Have you found that readers have different expectations for sports interactives than for other types of projects? Did you have particular needs of that audience in mind as you were designing this?
I don’t think that the readers are expecting something different visually from sports interactives versus other types of projects. Instead, I think readers of our digital projects are expecting dynamic and high-quality visual elements regardless of subject matter, especially as higher and higher resolution screens become available. However, sports fans, and especially Cowboys fans, are generally more passionate about the team and players themselves, which is why we chose the color/black-and-white treatment to make Murray the sole focal point of the project.
We did want to insure that this project (along with all of our interactive projects) was just as accessible on mobile devices as it would be on the desktop, so we used the Picturefill.js library to serve responsive images based on screen size and resolution.
Q. Is there anything you would do differently next time? Any lessons you would share with teams working on other similar projects?
This is probably already common practice for teams working on these projects, but I stress that it’s important to involve others outside the development/design team. People who are closely tied to the content can and will often offer important suggestions on how or what should be presented that a designer or developer may not think of and that would give the project greater context.