The Evolving Digital Dynamics Of Sports Event Coverage

The sound bite coming out of ESPN's coverage of the first round of this year's NFL Draft seemed to make sense. Ratings for ESPN's prime time TV draft coverage fell 17% from last year's event. Chalk it up to the damper that the NFL Lockout has had on creating interest in the Draft, right?

Well, perhaps that played into the ratings dip, but in other media outlets significant upticks were seen in consumer avidity for the Draft. Notably, we recorded our highest traffic day in the site's history on day 2 (May 13) of the Draft, with day 1 on May 12 also one of the all-time most-trafficked days on the site.

Could the NFL Draft portend the future of how digital sports media complements -- or in some cases replaces -- television coverage of sporting events? I certainly wouldn't call this the end of sports television, but a few key trends seem to really be kicking in now that will boost digital media consumption around sports events.

Content Growth, the Search Imperative and Smart Curation

Never have sports fans had access to so much content about the teams and topics they care most about. From traditional publishers like ESPN and Fox Sports to next generation publishing platforms like ours, and all the sports blog sites out there, every angle of every move on -- and off -- the field of play can be turned into content for sports fan consumption.

Content growth also drives more than ever a "search imperative" for consumers. Relying on a single destination no longer ensures that you get access to everything out there about your beloved Red Sox or Texas Longhorns. Fans will continue to rely on great search experiences from Google and others to take them to the content they are looking for at the exact moment they want to consume that content.

In parallel with the search imperative is the growing trend of "smart curation" -- the ability for a publisher to bring together a deep layer of original content along with an aggregated layer of related content that the consumer can be pointed to directly.

The NFL Draft or a NBA Play-off game highlights this new consumer dynamic. People can't get access to everything being published about the Draft via ESPN's telecast so they look for more online -- through search and by finding destinations that curate for them a comprehensive content experience.

Moving to Mobile and Tablet Screens

Another major driver of growth in digital sports content consumption around major events will continue to be the widespread adoption of mobile and tablet screens that sports fans can access no matter where they are during an event. Tracking the progress of an event "real-time" has been around for a long time, but the same dynamics of content growth, the search imperative and smart curation are all now fully accessible via the mobile web.

Imagine how a sports fan now reacts to a surprise draft pick by searching that player's name on his mobile phone and instantly getting a deep dive on the player's bio, combine results, and college performance ratings. Or how about when Paul Pierce gets ejected from a play-off game, all of a sudden the iPad becomes the portal to a similar dive into the various questions and conversation about that scenario within the game.

Social Media

Finally, the mainstream emergence of Facebook and Twitter has changed how sports fans access major event coverage. From the Facebook perspective, the social plug-in platform allows users to share content about events that in turn creates a deeper connection between publishers and their audiences.

Likewise, Twitter provides a sports publisher two channels through which they can augment the digital sports event coverage experience -- one as a distribution outlet for the publisher's own Twitter channels and another as an inbound stream of topic specific Twitter voices that enhance the curated experience for fans.

Ultimately, for many fans the TV vs. digital decision doesn't need to -- and won't -- be one of "either or." But it is clear that a much more engaging experience can be had for the rapidly growing number of fans who are searching for a comprehensive and socially enhanced sports content experience via their smart phones and iPads -- all with a lens on the teams and topics they are most passionate.

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