Comment: Sport on the Internet

Sport Business News

MEI's editorial director, Rachael Church–Sanders has a look at how sports websites have changed over the last 10 years and the increasing presence of user–generated content.

"It has to be said, covering the role that technology plays within sport has had the greatest impact on my working life. After several years as a financial journalist, I decided to take a punt on a subject that I had been monitoring on a personal level. This meant that 10 years ago, I wrote a report called 'Sport on the Internet' for media publishing firm Screen Digest. It was the first major report to cover the growth of sports coverage on the worldwide web from a business perspective and was published before the infamous 'dotcom bubble' burst. Thanks to the success of the report (it is still Screen Digest's best–ever selling report to date), I was invited to speak at the International Olympic Committee's World Conference on Sport and New Media in Lausanne in December 2000–an event that at least highlighted that the IOC was interested in new media although, as was the case with many major sports properties in those days (and even until recently in certain cases), 'new media' was viewed by that particular global sports body with suspicion rather than open arms. Thankfully, no longer so by the time of Beijing 2008. Subject–wise, speaking at that event meant that I was to become well and truly hooked on sport and technology as a subject and I decided there and then that I wanted to focus on this 'niche area' (as it was considered then) as a writer and consultant. Fast forward nearly a decade (having sold my 'Sport and Technology' ezine and 'Sport and Technology: The Conference' brands to SportBusiness Group PLC), I now find myself writing another report on the same theme as my first major tome–this time a report for SportBusiness on the Business of Sports Websites. So, has much changed in the last 10 years when it comes to sport on the internet? Broadband's nice fat pipes certainly mean that sports websites look different now (thanks to whizzier designs and deeper content) and tend to have a larger video element, depending on who owns the rights. Ten years ago, video on the web was in its infancy due to low bandwidth. Staying up half the night to watch the Chicago Cubs in Major League Baseball on a clunky computer was a frustrating novelty due to slow, dial–up connections, although I did try once or twice!Sites in those days were often nothing more than 'brochures' for an event or federation, and it was the community–based and unofficial sites such as 'Rivals. com' that were popular with early adopters. With the love of all things community and the need for fans to share banter about a team or sport, I'm not surprised that social networking and user–generated content are now synonymous with sport on the web. What is more surprising however is the willingness of some sports properties to embrace the likes of YouTube and align their brands with channels that openly publish criticisms of their team or players' performances. It was such 'unofficial' views that many sports properties were horrified by in the late 1990s, so such an alignment would have been unthinkable then. Of course, for every sports property jumping into bed with YouTube and Twitter, there are those that are still (rightly) protective of their live rights and want to stop the web turning into a global free–for–all. Sports properties taking legal action against YouTube at the time of writing include the English Premier League, Rugby Football League, Federation Francaise de Tennis, Ligue de Football Professionnel and the Finnish Football League Association. More will surely follow. Whatever happens, user–generated sites are now part of the new media landscape and sports properties need to find a way of living with them–either through official alignment or, through recognising that fans like creating their own content and allowing them to post self–generated contributions on an official site, such as opinion pieces and gossip. In the UK, Chelsea Football Club's site shows how this can be done successfully with its user–generated area 'The Shed'. The fact that many official sports websites now hire 'Content Moderators' to 'police' and edit fan–contributions means that user–generated content is here to stay and can only get bigger as a slice of the sports websites pie. Finding methods of monetising such content through advertising and sponsorship however will be the challenge. "

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