How will we cover Sports in 2020?

Feature written as an assignment for the Sports Journalism module at University of Westminster. To reflect about the possible future of Sports Journalism, I’ve presented three ‘detailed’ cases of the category from my home nation, Italy, explained in first-hand by interviews I personally conducted between the 20th and the 22nd of February.

Since the Closing Ceremony of London 2012 Olympics, Sports Journalism’s landscape has changed out of all recognition, due mainly to the boom of Digital and Social Media.

How will it be by the time of the next Games, Tokyo 2020? We try to answer that question by looking at the path and possible future of three bright examples of Sports Journalism in Italy.

Globalising a Thematic Network

24 hours Live Channels have changed the way Sports is covered in Television, giving the audience a full understanding of everything is going on with their favourite player or team.

But there is still is a niche able to give audiences and subscribers an absolute 24-hours Access to their favourite Football Team: the Thematic Channels.

alevilla mourinho
Alessandro Villa interviewing former Inter manager Jose Mourinho | Photo via Facebook

Our subscribers know that, for €9 per month, they’ll get access to literally EVERYTHING that involves Inter, from training to special features or interviews: that is a kind of coverage that can’t be matched by bigger players like SKY Sport”. Alessandro Villa, one of Inter Channel Presenters, has no doubt when it comes down to identify the recipe of success.

Since 2000, Inter Channel has always represented an important part of F.C. Internazionale: the important role played by former President, Massimo Moratti, in creating the network is the best example of that thesis.

What could be a sustainable future for these kind of channels? “In these last years”, Villa observes, “We started to think differently, creating more original content and working closer to the team. We will soon launch two new channels in China and Indonesia to extend our audience.”

Going Global and creating new exclusive content for an entirely different audience seems to be a smart way to success, especially if you look at Inter’s background and at the fact that, at the end, we’re still talking about a niche platform.

“Even if we’re watched by relatively few people”, Villa says, “My goal is to make a product for a potential 10 million viewers, and it always will be. We might start to create more digital content exclusively for Social Media or APP, but we will still be a niche. Our subscribers deserve the best possible product.”

Finding different path to success is vital for a Football Club Network, to minimise the impact of disappointing seasons from the team: “Although our effort and our work is the same regardless of results”, Villa concludes, “what is changed by results is the mood, our personal one and especially our audience one.”

Creating a Genre

It may be argued that, in the Digital Media Era, Radio seems like an outdated platform. That couldn’t be more wrong: if we look around, people tend to enjoy more audio than video products.

Considering that, it seems weird that in Italy, the country where Radio was invented, there wasn’t a sport-only Radio Station until five years ago.

Radio Sportiva
Radio Sportiva’s logo and slogan | Photo via Facebook

Radio Sportiva was a fresh idea five years ago”, says Dario Ronzulli, one of the Radio’s Presenters, “and it still is today, because at this stage we’re still the only Sport Radio in Italy.”

Mr Ronzulli has no doubt in identifying his Station’s main reason for success: “Whenever we’re covering a Live Event or simply commenting a performance on one of our Programs, we give the audience the chance to join the talk with WhatsApp messages: they both boost our listeners’ ego and provide us with more Talking Points.”

Radio Sportiva almost entirely airs from its studios in Prato, Tuscany, and sometimes does some Live Coverage of Football or Basketball matches but, as Ronzulli reflects, has no intention to join the radiophonic rights market for any event: “It would deeply change our ‘perfect’ mix between ‘Breaking’ News and Coverage and Programming, it is not worth it to do that and changing our core structure.”

Sport’s Consumption is going towards an on-demand mood, like it is for TV Series or Movies: how can Radio Sportiva join this change? “The easiest answer”, Ronzulli concludes, “Should be ‘creating Podcast and On-demand contents’: I consider them vital for all Radio’s future, and I hope we will pursue that road in the near future.”

Does Size Matter?

From the previous two example, it may be argued that one of the recipes for success is also the ability, for the sport talk, to be short, concise and concrete. But in the US, a different style has emerged in the recent years, the Longform.

Mourinho.png
L’Ultimo Uomo’s cover for the acclaimed longform on José Mourinho | Photo via L’Ultimo Uomo

In 2013 a group of emerging online journalists founded L’Ultimo Uomo, an Online Magazine devoted to cover Sport in a different way from the mainstream one. “It was essentially started”, says Dario Vismara, Magazine’s Editor-In-Chief for Basketball, “bringing to Italy the ‘Grantland Example’: in an era where Sports Journalism goes towards shorter pieces, we try to bring to the audience the ‘longform’, and seeing if Italian audience is fascinated by that genre as we are.”

Even if Vismara joined L’Ultimo Uomo a year and a half after its foundation, you can see in his eyes the pride of being part of this great example of “New Journalism”.

The magazine started with a ‘grass-roots’ mentality”, Vismara continues, “in a pretty simple way: one piece for day, the text at the centre of the screen and nothing else. Our mission is to be, in every feature or profile, interesting, ironic, depth.”

L’Ultimo Uomo’s secret might be found, in addition to its narrative style, on the ‘average guys’ mood: only a few of its bloggers are professional journalists, but all contributors writes just to help people to understand what they see exactly how they do: they rarely attend Live Sport Events.

But how can an Online Longform Magazine survive in the Social Network Era? “Social Network are an opportunity, because a ‘casual’ reader will find us using them”, he says, “Our deep archive allows us to ‘relaunch’ an article if, for example, Ronaldo scores a hat-trick or LeBron James recorded a triple-double. That’s how you get a ‘casual’ reader.”

For L’Ultimo Uomo’s board and writers, the motivation essentially came from the ‘expert reader’: “He’s usually in our niche, and he represent a huge motivation for me”, Vismara says, “I have to be, on a general point of view, more informed and more prepared than him on that topic. That’s how you gain trust and ‘fellowship’

But Vismara is quite pessimistic about the future: “There’s a reason why Grantland has closed. Social Media created a ‘Numbers Hunting’, overshadowing the quality. Future is complicated, because people don’t read a lot in Italy, either about sport or on internet. We should then intercept this audience with new content, by video or Podcast.”

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