How Sports Digital Media Leaders Engage Fans With Content Live

Sports media pros are constantly searching for new and unique ways to keep fans and readers engaged throughout the year. In such a crowded, competitive space, even the largest sports organizations can’t afford to be complacent.

Take sports giant ESPN, which dominates and influences coverage in ways no other media entity can. And yet despite that dominance, the self-styled "World-wide Leader" still must constantly change its approach to engaging readers. 

That's the challenge for ESPN senior editor Matthew Lee. While ESPN has unmatched resources that allows it to produce a variety of content, he finds that focusing on the fundamentals of coverage is key.

We're competing with so many outlets and with so many technologies. I think our first priority is focusing on providing the fan with the best information on the teams they want as efficiently as we can, regardless of what device they're using. -- Matthew Lee, ESPN

At the same time, the methods by which that coverage is delivered to readers helps his organization produce fresh and engaging content:

Obviously, we feel that Scribble Live helps us stand out and deliver content in a unique way. - Matthew Lee, ESPN

Dan Woike of the Orange County Register has been covering the Los Angeles Clippers for a couple seasons now. As a younger sportswriter, his approach to engaging his fans is a bit more social-media oriented. But when it comes to finding ways to break through the clutter of NBA coverage, he's found it best to make things personal.

I think people want to know more than box scores. With so much content out there, offering insights into the locker room by giving people a taste of player's personalities seems to get a good response. - Dan Woike, Orange County Register

Games are different, though...

The lead-up to sporting events accounts for a huge percentage of sports news. Reporters and team media use traditional previews, features and chats to inform and engage their fans and readers. Coverage during the actual sporting event, however, requires a different approach. Harnessing the fast-moving flow of information can be akin to trying to grab hold of a slippery fish.

Someone who understands that is Craig Kanalley, who manages digital content for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres. Rather than make a futile attempt at passing along up-to-the-second minutiae to fans, he focuses on giving them a peek into the team's inner circle -- while still providing some context.

In-game, you try to amplify exciting times and maybe pull back a little more when things aren't going so well. Fans love behind-the-scenes photos or pics from great moments as close to real-time as possible. A large part of in-game is just keeping fans informed too and noting context they may have missed or may not be aware of. - Craig Kanalley, Buffalo Sabres

What about the little guys?

One reason for the never-ending need to differentiate in the crowded sports media space is the growing swarm of web sites, blogs and tweeters that inundate the internet with content. Today's boutique sports blog could become tomorrow's mega sports network. You don't need bells and whistles to drive reader engagement, just quality content.

Sports Illustrated editor B.J. Schecter has some simple advice for the smaller players in the sports media game: 

Break news. I don't care how small it is, it will resonate. And drive the conversation. People will want to be a part of it. - B.J. Schecter, Sports Illustrated

Ben Malcolmson of the Seattle Seahawks stresses the need to be unique. If 100 are red, go blue. Just make sure you do it well. If anyone knows this from experience, it's Malcolmson, whose rise in social media circles has been anything but typical.

We all should strive to be unique and uncommon, regardless of the size of our platform. Small sites can make a big impact by doing just that. People have enough of the vanilla stuff but the more unique you are and the better you are at it, the greater the influence you'll have. A site like ProFootballTalk started out as a little blog run out of a guy's home and he did such a good job with it that the site eventually attracted such a massive following and is the go-to source for everyone who loves football. - Ben Malcolmson, Seattle Seahawks

I don't set trends. I just find out what they are and exploit them -- Dick Clark

Copycat coverage might work in the short run, but it's not a long-term solution to keeping readers and fans engaged. They'll get bored quickly and look for new sources of information. That's why it's important to keep abreast of the latest trends. Knowing which ones to adopt and which ones to avoid can make a huge difference when it comes content creation.

For instance, Marc Cooper, the head of audience and content at The Football League is monitoring 
recent developments in high-tech sports apparel:

We're keeping on eye on wearable technology, as I'm sure everyone involved with digital publishing is. The format of content as 'cards' - Marc Cooper, The Football League

Less corporate. More fun.

Media types sometimes forget that people watch sports to have fun.

For me, I try to inject as much of my personality into my reporting/tweeting etc. without getting myself into any trouble. I think it helps readers connect with me, and my feeling is that if you follow me on Twitter or read my writing, you have a pretty good idea of the things I like, the stuff that makes me laugh and the things I find most interesting. - Dan Woike, Orange County Register

Be less corporate, be more fun. That's what people go to sport events for, isn't it? To have fun. We must make sure our platforms reflect that. - Marc Cooper, The Football League


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