The Future Of Sports Content Online

The online content space is evolving quickly as new models for creating, distributing, and monetizing content are being iterated in real-time.

Yahoo's acquisition of Associated Content, Demand Media's quick rise and impending IPO, and AOL's doubling down on content with have all been at the center of a raging debate about content's future. Some refer to these new models for demand-driven content as "content farms," while others predict that they signal the future of media creation and consumption.

However, sports operates by its own set of rules, both from the consumer's point of view and for marketers angling to reach the sports fan demo. What do sports marketers need to know about these new content models and the changing habits of sports fans in their consumption of online content?

1. Local Is Still King

While national stories ebb and flow through the 24-hour sports news cycle, fandom still begins and ends with local team affiliations. Fans crave as much content about their local teams as they can get their hands on, and the demand has only been driven higher with the advent of the real-time web.

So where do fans go for their local content? Our studies of sports fans' media consumption habits show that while print circulation and readership are small and getting smaller, fans are still frequently visiting their local newspapers' web sites. However, the newspaper site is usually just one of many stops in the search for the local sports content they crave. While virtually every major daily paper has adopted blogs to provide more regularly updated coverage of local teams, fans have also turned to blogs, social media, search, and newer digital publishers for their local coverage.

2. Sources Matter Less

The days of sports fans getting all their news from one local paper, nightly newscast, sports radio channel or cable network are long gone. As more and more content is created all over the web, consumers are seeking out their sports news from a wider variety of sources than they ever have before.

And while quality is always the ultimate arbiter for what keeps fans engaged, factors like SEO, social sharing, and distribution are more important than ever for initially grabbing a reader's attention. Once fans arrive, successful publishers give them every incentive to stick by providing a one-stop shop for content about their teams -- that means both great original content as well as curated links to the best related content from all over the web.

The publishers that are winning greater share of sports fans' time online are the ones who stir up the best mix of original content and smart management, and ensure that all is optimized for search, social sharing, and broad distribution via multiple outlets. This is the strategy that has vaulted the Huffington Post from a fringe left-wing political site to one of the top mainstream news destinations on the web. Publishers in the sports category adopting the model are seeing similar gains.

3. Breaking News Is a Commodity

In an era where sports news increasingly breaks first on Twitter, either from a reporter's tweet or, oftentimes, directly from an athlete or coach's page, breaking news does not hold the same cachet that it once did. Sure, it can cause a temporary boost in traffic and prestige for the publisher that breaks it, but that is soon lost in a cacophony of me-too stories as the entire sports media world rushes to report the news.

Much more important and consequential in reaching sports fans is what happens after the news breaks. Once news is out, publishers must engage fans that expands beyond mere regurgitation of the who, what, why, where, and when. This is where analysis, opinion, speculation, and entertainment come into play. The publishers who can take a breaking story, and¬ -- in real time -- turn it into an evolving and mounting collection of engaging content, can cut through the commoditized clutter to truly capture the attention of fans.

As the sports content category undergoes significant changes, the winners and losers will be determined by where fans choose to direct their attention. Marketers that follow these trends closely will have great opportunities to ensure their brands stay top of mind with the most engaged sports fans.

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