Sunday 24 November 2013

The evolution of live blogging on football

Live blogging on football matches has become an established medium over the last decade as fans’ desire to access the latest updates on games and improvements in technology across platforms has driven an increase in its use. But competition is hotting up as new providers with innovative features square up; Alex Lawson takes a look at the tactic.

“1635: This match is petering out for a nil-nil, looks like the players, too, indulged in the half time steak and kidney pies. There’s not a hint of invention as both teams look content to take a point home.
“1637: GOAL! Fantastic strike from the left winger after a jinking run skinning four defenders and arrowing it into the top right hand corner. Astonishing.”
Such is the life of a live blogger, one minute attempting to make a quip about a paint-drying type scenario, the next describing incredible scenes at lightning pace. The discipline is a difficult one but represents one of the true innovations in modern journalism. While live blogging is now used to cover everything from court cases to elections, it was in sport that it found a mainstream audience as its structure suited the technique well.
BBC Sport online was among the first to offer the service as users logged on to keep abreast of the action at the cricket over-by-over. The broadcaster harnessed Radio 4′s Test Match Special’s colloquial, informal commentary style and passion for talking about unrelated oddities alongside the match in its text coverage. This tone continues to be the prevailing style employed by live bloggers.
Some of its journalists, including tennis coverage’s Caroline Cheese and live football boss Andy McKenzie, have gone on to form LiveWire Sport – a live blogging specialist set up in August 2011 which has covered major events including the Olympics, Euro 2012 and the Ryder Cup.
McKenzie tells the discipline has evolved significantly. “Live blogging has come a long way in the past decade when there weren’t too many media organisations covering the major events other than the likes of the BBC, the Guardian and Cricinfo,” he said. “If you look back to when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 the clockwatch, as they were called at the Beeb, was very different to what they are now: no pictures, no video, no interaction, no live stats, no pre-match build-up or post-match reaction or analysis. No personality, just a pretty dry description of the action. Looking back now they seem about as exciting as watching a clock.”
McKenzie adds that faster connections, increasing use of mobile and the growth of social media have spurred on the development of live coverage of sporting events. But if the market was dominated by several players initially, businesses like LiveWire are rolling up their sleeves for a fight now as new services launch. Cover It Live offers users several distinctive features including question and answer sessions and photo slideshows while US firm Scribble Live works with global giants including ESPN and CNN to deliver a similar service. Sports Mole, too, offers a rudimentary version of the service while Deltatre’s Diva service, aimed at TV rights holders, has introduced multiscreen video highlights. 
And then there’s Liveplayer. Introduced at the start of this season, Liveplayer is a product developed by digital marketing agency Aqueduct in partnership with LiveWire Sport to allow clubs to embed a live match centre feature on their websites. Aqueduct, which already had a strong relationship with Manchester City, launched the service with the Premier League title contenders this season.
In essence it offers the kind of live blogging service the BBC and national press sites currently offer – esoteric commentary complemented by quotes and tweets. However, Liveplayer’s offer adds a number of new features including player heat maps, manager’s programme notes and integration of local radio coverage.
The service is also designed for different missions – with one tab offering the basic facts of the match for those scanning on the move and another offering detailed commentary and highlights from social media. “The social media side of the match is of course important, and our research indicates this is especially so for younger fans,” says Aqueduct strategist Robert Quantrell. “Manchester City have used this research to increase the level of social media activation within the Liveplayer commentary stream, using image tweets, fan tweets and Instagram and Vine videos to provide alternative content sources for their fans.”
Quantrell says that adding a live match centre to their site can also help clubs connect with fans, creating a ‘digital stadium’ for those following the game remotely across the globe. “Innovation in social is key, of course, but being better than your competitors in the live matchday experience you offer to fans who can’t be at the game is, we think, an invaluable string to any football club’s bow,” he says.
The next steps taken in live blogging on football are likely to be significant ones. Quantrell believes multi-screening is likely to be key while online TV rights to matches could also shape its future. “The question is how we can fit in with a club or federation’s plans to use these rights, whether they choose to screen them behind a subscription paywall, registration wall, or by keeping the content free and exploiting sponsorship and advertising opportunities.”
BT Sport’s power play in inking its £897m deal to show the Champions League from 2015 may also drive this forward as the telecoms giant has experience in live blogging and screening matches online. McKenzie believes live sports blogging is on the cusp of a new era. “I think you’ll see things developing now that most broadcasters, clubs, governing bodies and even sponsors and brands are seeing the benefits of covering events live in terms of the huge audiences it can drive, the increased dwell times and engagement,” he says.
“Some of the things we’re working on are better integration with not just video, stats and social but also the possibilities with gaming and betting and how to maximise revenue from those audiences.”
The coverage of live matches online has developed rapidly from bland minute- by-minute descriptions of the action to interactive hubs for entertaining information often not even related to the game and shaping online communities in the last decade. As users habits continue to change rapidly, it appears likely the demand to feel like you’re at the match with the rest of the globe quipping in your ear will ratchet up significantly.
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