Twenty years ago, sports fans were more or less dependent on a copy of their local newspaper for the latest updates on their favorite sports teams. With the advent of the internet, the last decade has seen an explosion in sports news, analysis and chatter, with dedicated fans continuing to devour as much as they can get. There have never been more sources providing that information. Of course, there are journalists from traditional newspapers, websites and television; however independent bloggers, fans, and the athletes themselves are breaking their own news via sports related websites, and through social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
With this explosion of information, however, come profound questions for the sports media industry and those who rely on it for news and entertainment. Technology has massively disrupted online sports journalism, bringing fans an unprecedented range and volume of content choices while simultaneously altering legacy business models in sports media. At the very least, sports journalists will continue to face powerful new competitors with unbeatable access. And one way or another, their old prerogatives will be challenged.
Journalists now have to be efficient at making sense of everything that’s going on with the hybrid between new media and old media. Values, sources, and substance are still a priority regardless of the medium used to break news. Dinn Mann, EVP of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, regards breaking news in today’s sports media landscape as “a bear of a challenge” while speaking to the layers in journalism that have been eliminated due to the array of sources and endless content choices that disseminate information. Mann was especially perturbed by the lack of investigative journalism surrounding the relationship and death of Manti Te’o’s purported girlfriend, a national news story as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was amid a renaissance campaign for BCS National Championship. He marveled at how not one journalist thought to seek out and document Manti’s girlfriend’s gravesite. “The [Manti Te’o] story is an indictment of our whole industry,” Mann said.
One of the most interesting developments in online sports journalism in recent years has been the emergence of distinctly unique sports content generation models. Incumbent news media organizations are now in competition for readership with respected online outfits. Teams and leagues have entered into the content business themselves. “Community” generated content bubbled up from blogs and user submissions receive millions of monthly page views, and a new crop of innovative technology companies have devised ways to generate compelling sports content in an entirely automated fashion.
Jim Bankoff, Chairman and CEO of Vox Media, an American global internet media company that has editorial brands, SB Nation, The Verge, and Polygon, describes how these and similar platforms are an example of a major overhaul and redesign in sports content generation models so that the audience gets consistency across all platforms. The advent of vertical integrations, as opposed to horizontal platforms like Twitter, eliminates the noise that makes it difficult for viewers to get value. SB Nation for instance, has more than 300 separate web sites maintained primarily by part-time contract writers who put together posts, facilitate dialogue and interact with commenters. Game threads are a way that SB Nation facilitates the dialogue and fan engagement. “Game threads give the environment where fans are all together to talk about the team. They all care about the same things,” said Bankoff.
As of November 2012, ComScore reports that there were 130 million people in the U.S. who accessed sports news online in October. ESPN’s 45 million unique visitors still towered over SB Nation’s 9.4 million, but the two sites are headed in opposite directions. ESPN lost 5 million visitors year-over-year, while SB Nation grew by 20%. Glaring statistics like these substantiate how technology has dramatically impacted the world of online sports journalism, and will continue to change what the future looks like for journalists, sports media organizations, as well as the sports fans themselves.