Publishers are constantly innovating and experimenting with their coverage of major sporting events, particularly as the competition for audience attention heats up during grand final week in Australia’s two biggest sports codes.
The support and engagement for the September finals build-up, particularly for last week’s AFL grand final and this week’s NRL decider, presents a unique opportunity for sports sections to attract significant online readership numbers.
This is supported by emma data that shows that 2.5 million Australians aged 14 and over attended an AFL game this year, and that this weekend’s NRL grand final will put two of the best supported teams against each other – the South Sydney Rabbitohs (520,000 fans) and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (305,000 fans).
Online sports editor for The Age, Scott Spits, said that the weeks leading up the AFL grand final –especially from the Brownlow Medal award ceremony the Monday before the game, through to the grand final on Saturday afternoon – are a critical period and continually produce boosts in web traffic and general reader interest. Mr Spits said that the newspaper aimed to provide comprehensive coverage for all audiences, but made a particular effort to target two specific reader archetypes.
“We try to make sure our coverage appeals to one, people that don’t have a TV or radio broadcast and rely on us for information and two, those that like to use a second device while watching the event and engage with the event through social media and the web – that is a growing trend we’re conscious of,” he said.
To target the second-screen audience, The Age ran minute-by-minute live blogs for the Brownlow Medal and the grand final, integrating social media, comment and analysis, statistics and data, as well as short form video content. For the Brownlow Medal, the newspaper built an interactive online database that contained summaries of every game throughout the home and away season and predictions on which players may poll votes – something that Mr Spits said required significant resources and input, but also resulted in positive readership returns, based on early figures.
Head of digital (news) at the Herald Sun, Nathaniel Bane, said that reaching the second screen audience is critical, particularly during events that attract such huge television viewership among a newspaper’s audience – the AFL grand final this year had an average audience of 3.7 million, including metro and regional markets, including an average audience of 1.31 million in Melbourne and a 96.4 per cent share in the timeslot of all television viewing in the city on Saturday.
“We live updated/live blogged the Brownlow, grand final parade and grand final, taking in reader interaction and ran a live feed of Brownlow votes and grand final scores,” Mr Bane said. “This second screen experience is crucial to offering an audience outlet/alternative during live telecasts.”
“We also instantly published selected photographs via social media before they arrived in the newsroom, to deliver additional content immediacy to audiences.”
For this weekend’s NRL grand final, The Daily Telegraph has made an effort to bring other sections into its broader online coverage of the week. Digital editor for the newspaper, Peter Brown, said that The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of Monday’s Dally M Awards was its highest rating yet.
“We featured a live red carpet stream hosted by Sydney Confidential’s Briana Domjen and Jonathan Moran, unparalleled social media coverage anchored by the Twitter Mirror publishing celebrity selfies through @SydConfidential, live rolling coverage of the awards ceremony itself and then a blanket coverage in the newspaper the following morning, including a double page spread of the best dressed WAGS, galleries and separate video snippets of celebrities and WAGs,” he said.
“Rugby league is the lifeblood of www.DailyTelegraph.com.au – our fans are dedicated and passionate. League drives our traffic all season long.”
As both leagues now have their own firmly established content hubs, at www.afl.com.au and www.nrl.com, mastheads also are having to deal with new competitors in the market. According to Mr Brown, the codes’ websites have grown in stature by adopting the models of their US counterparts, the NBA, MLB and NFL, and focusing on owning more of their digital content, particularly video. Though publishers can compete with these robust new media players by capitalising on their own distinct advantages, said Mr Bane.
“In some ways they [www.afl.com.au and www.nrl.com] have become more formidable with their digital rights advantages but they don’t come close in terms of hard-hitting independent analysis and news breaking,” Mr Bane said.
“The league and its broadcast partners have an advantage in the live match experience space, but with the Herald Sun offering a quality live match companion, an immersive fantasy game [SuperCoach], and the best coverage of the matches before and after, we are uniquely positioned.”
Mr Spits said that The Age recognised that the sporting codes themselves were now “competitors in the same market”, but said that independent publishers maintained a particular value to fans.
“In this case we obviously pride ourselves on our independence, because we do think we offer that point of difference, we do try and speak exclusively for the fans and to be their voice on a lot of issues,” he said.
“We like to take the approach that we think we can take on the league and keep them accountable for a lot of the decision-making, and obviously that’s part of our news coverage overall.”
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