Juraj Kavka: The Preparation of The Sports Portal for The World Championship Is Mainly About Quick Operational Solutions

For the fourth time, the portal sportnet.sme.sk managed by us will be informing about the upcoming ice hockey world championship too. During matches, the site reaches up to 30,000 unique visits at one time and the information on it is updated literally every second. How do programmers prepare it for such a big competition? We asked our colleague Juraj Kavka about this.

The date of the World Championship is usually known a year in advance. When do you start preparing the portal for it? 

We usually start preparing a few months before the start of the championship. Every year, we try to improve something on the portal to make the platform more attractive and adapt it to the latest UX and UI requirements. Last year, for example, we redesigned the match overview bar and this year we’ll probably focus on the subpage with the match details. We’d like to publish information about the results and players who scored individual goals at the beginning of this page, and to simplify and reorganise the entire overview for a better reading orientation. The redesign proposal is already done, it “just” needs to be completed 🙂

However, current data is probably more important than design. Where does the site get it and how is its flawlessness ensured?

Yes, data is key for us. We obtain them directly from the Czech Press Office (ČTK) through our own script, so they appear on the web automatically. Of course, during the first match, I carefully monitor all the numbers and compare them with the real state of the match to verify that everything’s working properly. The ČTK sometimes unexpectedly changes the structure of its data, and this can of course cause errors. Fortunately, besides me, there’s also a team of editors working on the website who also monitor this data, so I have additional checks. For some data, we also have another external source available to us, the onlajny.eu portal, against which we can additionally verify the data.

When you mention editors, what’s their role when the system downloads data automatically?

Sports editors are very important to sportnet.sme.sk. Although the data comes into the system by itself, it still needs to be nicely formatted, loaded into various widgets and properly linked. In addition, editors also create a lot of their own content, authorial articles and comments, they debate with visitors of the portal and also take care of sharing content on social networks, which is crucial nowadays.

Is there any extra programming work associated with sharing on social media? 

There must be a pre-prepared method of sharing in the system, with the possibility to choose a suitable thumbnail image and text. Moreover, the right texts are also very important for Google and SEO of the site in general. That’s why, a few years ago, we also introduced a method of generating structured data, thanks to which Google can create very nice reports of information over the search results themselves. I mustn’t interfere with this structure at all, so as not to break something 🙂 But I check it every year and it seems to still work great. 

Did you have to deal with a bigger problem during the 4 years of preparing the portal for the World Championship?

I don’t think we’ve had a real problem here yet. However, there was an interesting incident when footballers’ profile photos appeared on the portal instead of hockey players’ photos in the profiles of individual players at the World Cup. In our system, all sports are recorded in one database, so some players had the same ID, which caused confusion. However, the fix was quick and nothing terrible happened except for a few laughing comments.

Why are all sports in one database?

Due to data centralization. Through sportnet services, managers can view complete statistics of individual players, their sports history or even health records. Since everything is in one database, we can combine information into an overview faster. In addition, one larger database is easier to maintain than several smaller ones. 

What do you think is the most difficult thing about preparing the portal for the World Championship?

I think that it’s especially difficult to integrate third-party services, such as setting up streaming via the aforementioned onlajny.eu or correctly displaying data from the ČTK, and deploying ads. Advertising partners often have their own advertising conditions agreed, such as placing a logo at each match result or inserting a banner in each championship article, which must always be manually programmed after the delivery of graphics. However, it happens that the graphics come as late as on the day of the start of the first match, so I have to work really fast and deal with any complications operatively. The site is visited by literally millions of fans during the World Championship, so properly displayed advertising is very important for its operators.

One of the other external data sources is the sofascore.com portal.

How do you deal with sudden increases in traffic on the portal, which I assume are frequent, especially during the course of key matches?

The servers are set up to handle even a higher increase in traffic, and of course we have several automated tools in place to warn us in advance of the risk of failure. During key moments, however, we’re still on standby so that we can resolve any issue immediately.

One last question: Who are you cheering for during these championships?

That’s a pointless question. Slovakia, of course! 🙂

Thank you for the interview.