The Digital Voice Of Sports

Men are predictable.

For example, we commit ourselves to an almost slavish devotion to sports on an uninterrupted basis.

We’re conditioned to consume sports like we hungrily peruse a breakfast menu packed with hot and fresh highlights, unfiltered cracks from the anchors, sweet and crunchy tidbits of trade rumors and salty opinion from an array of analysts.

My predictability in this arena often arises in a regular conversation with my wife, Katie, about something she or I read in the Wall Street Journal’s dinky sports section.

Jason Gay joined the WSJ’s New York edition after a distinguished tour of duty at some well-known media outlets. But you may be surprised to learn that the Journal star didn’t cut his teeth with sports stalwarts like Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe or ESPN. Rather, he sojourned with GQ, Rolling Stone, Outside and The New York Observer—all outstanding vehicles for great voices, but certainly not the typical venue where you’d find the likes of Frank DeFord.

Yet, in sports circles, Jason Gay’s voice resonates soundly with a new era of sports fans who have a voracious appetite for his pop culture take on the sports we love.

Lately, I’ve noticed how much the conversation has changed in sports. Part of this recognition came when I recently found myself watching an old clip of a younger Keith Olbermann—replete with Burt Reynolds mustache, large glasses and bad hair—covering that notorious low-speed car chase of O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco on the 405. It occurred to me that the tenor of “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” has not really changed in three decades.

ESPN pioneered that 24-7 newsfeed of scores, highlights, analysis, rumor and the police blotter for errant players and coaches. Anchors who wisecracked their catch phrases behind the desk have established their persona and moved on, and exploding CGI has replaced simple Chyron overlays. Yet SportsCenter doesn’t feel that different from when Rich Eisen and Craig Kilborn occupied those iconic chairs.

Back in the day, most of us had that one guy friend—maybe in college or a first roommate—who would watch four straight hours of SportsCenter, even though the content updated only subtly from the first iteration of the broadcast to the last.

Flash forward to apps that stream data instantaneously from the statistician’s keystroke right to our Droids or iPhones. Our growing desire for entertaining and authoritative analysis of those raw virtual box scores has trumpeted this change in the conversation beyond a full-blown discussion of minutiae that fills a full hour of talk radio.

For today’s sports consumer, it’s about snack size content, a more democratized collection of voices and even finding the community where you fit in.

As a result of this sea change, 2012 will mark the first time that online ad spending—the money that fuels the conversation— officially surpasses the amount spent by many of the same advertisers on print publications. If this pans out, advertisers have already cast a crucial vote in support of this trend.

Consumers are making a shift and brands need to follow suit.  Much like an in-game adjustment, sports content providers need to recognize that fans are clamoring for instant gratification.  They want more granular coverage of the teams, topics, events and players that they are passionate about.  They also want this real-time information delivered to them wherever they may be and on whichever device they are using at that particular time.  And they’re looking for that complete and comprehensive experience that is built around a mix of original content and added curation from as many relevant sources as possible.

Understanding how content consumption behaviors are evolving and changing will ultimately determine who succeeds and who fails in embracing this change in sports conversation.

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