Sports coverage is changing. More than ever before, we’re finding that leagues, clubs, associations and event organizers are taking control of their own content. Organizers can be federations, teams, leagues, tours, individual events and the agencies that represent them. For the purposes of this article, let’s oversimplify and refer to them as “leagues,” knowing that they self-identify and can be organized with great diversity.
When we ask why leagues are producing so much more than before, we see a variety of inter-related factors driving this trend. When you look at them together, it’s hard to imagine how every league in the future wouldn’t have a unit that works and functions a lot like a multimedia sports newsroom.
Below are some of the catalysts we found to be driving this movement:
- Leagues spent millions to capitalize on social. Over the past five to 10 years, every league has needed to invest in and develop a social strategy to capitalize on the popularity of sport on those platforms. Many developed content strategies that were social first but have realized that actually it’s not everything, and now seek to make the most of those investments through broader and more diverse distribution of that content via more traditional channels.
- Leagues are plugging the holes created by the shrinkage of independent newsrooms. Sports desks are not immune to the pressures to reduce costs in the face of falling ad revenue. Leagues are stepping in to create coverage of their events to ensure fans can follow all their action, not just the events independent newsrooms can justify covering.
- Gaming revenue is growing. It turns out that gap is widening from both sides as integration gets tighter between leagues and the gambling industry. Leagues have greater incentive to serve that constituency, often with events that don’t warrant mainstream coverage but pull their weight through the gaming audience. Again, the leagues find themselves incentivised to create coverage themselves.
- Sports fans want more personal, authentic content that only leagues can produce. Modern fans want to see athletes sharing personal stories, inside jokes and having real conversations. They have an aversion to watching the traditional press conference, which too often feels staged and choreographed to be as inauthentic and “safe” as possible. Event organizers have found themselves in a unique position to capture or create more fun, off-the-pitch content that Gen Z sports fans want, and news organizations can’t realistically produce at scale.
- Leagues are seeing a bright light at the end of the online tunnel. Traditional TV sport distribution has developed organically over the past 80 years into a very lucrative but also ungainly web of rights deals. They come with restrictions that can limit innovation and very shallow audience data. Increasingly organizers are finding the more predictable, controlled and transparent business OTT and online platform partnerships offer them are more satisfying. These services are most successful when games are supplemented with news coverage, interviews, etc., which the leagues are producing for them. It will be awhile before those gargantuan and complicated broadcast contracts take a back seat to digital distribution for top leagues, but if this trend continues it might not be quite as long as you think because …
- Leagues are making it a priority to get to know (and cross-sell to) fans directly. Front offices are combining customer data from ticket sales, merchandise sales, online viewing and social engagement to develop CRM systems that aim to categorize and keep track of all fans. Data from content consumption can be a key piece of this puzzle (see #5). With better data on fan behavior, leagues can cross-sell their services more efficiently and create content that is measurably better at achieving specific goals.
- Most leagues have global expansion plans. Breaking into a new market, often across a language barrier, to a land where news coverage does not generally prioritize your sport is a lofty goal shared by almost all leagues. This creates an incentive for leagues to create content fans in these regions can use to stay connected.
- Sponsors expect a lot more than just a bit of signage. They want to see their products being used organically in the context of the sport. They want to activate in creative ways, especially on social, and they want to measure everything they can. As the sponsorships continue to become more valuable and complex, sports bodies will be under pressure to find new ways to prove those sponsors are getting value for their money. The news content created by leagues provides another platform for sponsorship activation that can range from simple to innovative.
If most of these trends continue, leagues will have incentive to develop more comprehensive files of news style content for their fans and I fully expect those newsrooms to start surpassing some more sophisticated broadcast and digital news publishers on the maturity curve, at least in their chosen domain.
In these trends, there are new opportunities for traditional media companies to partner with leagues in new ways. At Reuters, we’ve expanded what was a more regional sports agency globally —Action Images—to help leagues benefit from our traditional media know-how to create, monetize and distribute their own news content globally.
If you’re at a sports desk and this new competition is making you queasy, don’t reach for the Alka-Seltzer just yet. There is one big catch for the purists out there. Everyone knows this content is always going to at least come with some perceived bias. The leagues will openly admit they have an agenda in creating this content; the fans know it instinctively. We won’t read many negative opinions on questionable coaching decisions, bad behavior off the pitch by athletes, the latest front office scandal or labor disputes in league-generated content. That’s still squarely the role of independent media, and readers will always seek and value balanced coverage for the competitions they love most.
Rob Shack is vice president of Reuters Sport.
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