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Newspaper Paywalls = Opportunity for Sports Franchises

Photo by James Cridland

While the year 2011 has already been designated as “The Year of the Tablet Computer” by many, it may ultimately be looked back upon as the “Year of the Newspaper Paywall.”

The few newspapers that have already taken the bold step of putting their content behind paywalls, meaning it is only accessible via subscription, will have a lot of company by the end of the year.

Many large newspapers in major markets, most notably The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe, will all rollout paywalls during the next few months as newspaper publishers desperately try to recapture revenues they lost by erroneously giving their content away for years.

This venture is doomed for failure for all but a few of the elite brands as content is unfortunately becoming commoditized and these publishers have conditioned readers not to pay for content on the web. However, this drastic shift in philosophy for newspaper publishers presents a tremendous opportunity for sports franchises and their web properties.

Newspapers are putting themselves on an Internet island because they need to generate a return from their content. Sports teams aren’t faced with the same situation– at least not directly. Sports franchises should be using content as a way to deepen their bonds with sports fans, which in turn become ticket sales, sold merchandise or TV ratings. This differentiation should serve as the impetus for sports franchises to put greater emphasis on generating original and compelling content for their web sites.

While newspapers cut off their content to the rest of the world, those millions of readers will go elsewhere for their information. If sports franchises don’t create the content to capture this readership, then ESPN, Comcast and Yahoo! will gladly do so.

Capturing the Market

Successfully capturing this emerging market will take a change in mindset for many franchises. The age of paranoia from sports teams trying to control the message that reaches the public went away with the emergence of digital media, even though most desperately cling to the practice.

For every team that still operates under a guarded cloak when sharing information, there are teams like the Phoenix Suns and Denver Broncos, who both excel at utilizing digital media to flood their fans with information. The New Jersey Devils recently announced the launch of Mission Control, an Internet and social media hub, which is an excellent example of leveraging content and access to strengthen the bond with their fans.

Between the emergence of social media as a real-time news outlet, the spread of gotcha journalism via smartphones and YouTube, tabloid websites like Deadspin and TMZ, as well as athletes themselves communicating directly with fans, there are few, if any, stories that won’t eventually become public.

There is no reason a sports franchise should be scooped by a story, good or bad. Sports franchises have the advantage of brand equity and access. Take advantage of that. When the Knicks announced the addition of Carmelo Anthony, they held a press conference and had GM Donnie Walsh conduct interviews. Why not have Walsh commenting on Knicks.com first, and then let him loose to the media a couple of hours later?

Beyond the Status Quo

Here are a few examples of how sports franchises can create compelling content, beyond the status quo that is already practiced by most teams:

  • If there is a search going on to hire a new head coach or key executive, make the process public. Let us know who you are interviewing and why and update us often. John Elway recently did a great job of this when the Broncos where seeking a new head coach and sports fans ate it up.
  • If there is an injury, break the news first. The NHL has gotten ridiculous with designating injuries by lower body and upper body. Paranoia!!! Instead, take us into the training room as the player receives treatment, or speak with the team doctor to update us on a player’s condition or educate us about a type of injury.
  • If the draft for your league is approaching and players are working out for your team, promote it. Interview the player(s) and coach or GM to assess the workout. We love lists. Have your GM break out the top players at each position, or analyze the top 5 players in the draft.
  • If your team is speaking to a free agent, let us know and interview the GM to find out the need that player will fill or some other insight. Get over the potential ego blow if that player signs elsewhere.

Most importantly, do a lot of this with video. A recent report by Solutions Research Group stated that time spent consuming video via interactive platforms is expected to triple to 2.9 hours per person per day by early 2013. This trend will especially take hold with the younger generation, or your future ticket buyers. Grab their interest early, and you will keep it later.

There are many more ways to create content, and sports teams are only limited by imagination and self-imposed limitations. Sports serve as the ultimate reality show, and with the exception of shows like The Ultimate Fighter, Hard Knocks and 24/7, sports properties have not embraced the wave of reality TV beyond its live events.

The community relations stuff, hospital visits and player appearances are nice to know about, but that information isn’t going to deepen the bond between teams and its fans. Get creative with your content.

Many teams now employ in-house writers to create content, many of whom are former newspaper reporters. Why not also hire former writers or editors, to serve as an editor for your web site and provide the skill of knowing how to find and create a story … having a nose for news. There are plenty out there. Take this out of the hands of the front office or mid-level worker. Most aren’t equipped with the skills to create intriguing content.

Capturing this marketshare is even more important for the three sports leagues that face, and likely will experience, a work stoppage during the next two years. Without live events, sports teams are moved to the background of the consciousness of sports fans, who have a plethora of other options to grab their attention. Now is the time to establish your web site as the go-to destination for information about your team and strengthen that bond.

If you don’t do it, someone else will.

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One Response to Newspaper Paywalls = Opportunity for Sports Franchises

  1. ChrisMcKinney March 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Nice work!

    Haven’t seen a paywall yet.

    Why do they call it a paywall? Fro the image it looks more like a freewall.

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