Predicting Trends and Innovations in Sports Journalism
By TOI Team August 3, 2023 Update on : August 7, 2023
Sports journalism has been undergoing a significant transformation. The rise of social media has seen traditional media channels sidelined, with TV outrun by TikTok and YouTube, and broadsheet newspapers lagging behind Twitter and a rake of sports podcasts. Prominent sports journalists may still break big stories, but influencers and YouTubers often broadcast interviews with top athletes.
Much of the change is due to the way the new generation consumes news, their preferences and their lifestyles. Today’s sports fans interact with sports news predominantly via social media. The most avid supporters are eager to participate in analysis and post-event debates and may even break the news themselves.
Prominent sports journalists have had to embrace new technology, while established media outlets have recognized the power of influencers. Despite lacking a background in sports journalism, personalities like Joe Rogan have risen to the top of boxing and MMA reporting. A significant number of former athletes now host podcasts with staggering numbers of listeners.
The future of sports journalism will likely expand further, producing new voices and allowing fans to broadcast cutting-edge sports news from the comfort of their homes. Here is a look at the changing landscape of sports journalism and future innovations and trends.
Changes in sports journalism over the last decade
The last decade has seen a significant shift in sports media reporting, delivery and consumption. While previous generations accessed sports news via broadsheets, radio, and TV, Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2010) gets the latest sports news and analysis through podcasts, blog posts and social media video broadcasts. The driving forces behind this transformation are well-known social media and sports personalities, the emergence of social media as a news delivery channel, and the sports news consumption habits of the new generation.
Today’s fans are less likely to watch an entire game live on TV. They prefer to watch short highlights or listen to athletes speak on podcasts. Avid fans participate in supporter forums such as Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse.
In their quest for large audiences, sports media outlets like ESPN spark fan conversations on social media. Seasoned sports journalists are also engaging with their audiences on social media. They may tweet live game commentary or publish breaking stories to build a following, ultimately selling advertising and producing revenue. The competition from social media influencers and YouTubers has been rather fierce.
Not only do former players broadcast analysis and interviews, but social-media-savvy fans boast millions of subscribers, leaving traditional sports journalists no choice but to try to muscle in on social media sports coverage.
Fan conversations are at the heart of last decade’s transformation in sports journalism. In decades gone by, sports news consumption was largely one-way, but today’s fans want to be participants. They want to publish insights, receive direct responses from their sports idols, and challenge the opinions of famous sports journalists.
Current sports news landscape
With the profitability of media outlets at stake, two aspects of the current sports news landscape need to be considered. First, social media is a must-use platform for long-established media companies. In addition, the sports news consumption behaviors of future fans, namely members of Gen Z, will likely shape the sports journalism of the future.
A recent YouGov survey on sports news consumption among 18 international communities highlighted the growing popularity of sports while breaking down some of the behaviors:
- More than two-thirds of the people surveyed follow sports via different channels, including TV and social media.
- More than one-third watch games live on TV, with this percentage rising to 51% among avid fans.
- Nearly three-quarters of 18-to-24 year-olds follow sports news regularly.
- 21% of survey participants subscribe to streaming services or sports media packages, with seven out of ten admitting that the subscription has led them to consume additional sports content.
- More than one-third watch entire games, while a quarter of those surveyed prefer watching short highlight clips.
Interestingly, only one in four Gen Z-ers find watching entire games important; this is precisely the demographic global media companies want to impress. While 71% of all sports fans favor live sports events, this figure drops to 58% among Gen Z-ers.
Deloitte recently studied how younger fans follow sports news. The purpose of the study was to prepare media corporations for the future and ensure they continue to be profitable through advertising revenue.
More than 3,000 sports fans from the U.S. participated in the survey. Researchers concluded that fans are happy to spend their hard-earned dollars on sports subscriptions as long as they feel engaged.
Here are some of their most important findings:
- Nine out of ten young fans consume sports content via social media, including highlights, interviews, and live events.
- A robust social element lies at the heart of sports content consumption among Gen Z-ers, with more than 60% stating they watch sports with friends and more than 35% saying they are more likely to consume sports content when they are in the company of others.
- Nearly all young fans follow prominent athletes on social media, with nearly half of them reporting they watch live events as a result and one-third going to see their favorite athletes live.
One of the survey’s most significant findings was the drop in the percentage of viewers watching live games on TV; this proportion is over 70% among all fans but only 60% among younger viewers.
Morning Consult carried out a similar study back in 2020. They found that YouTube is the preferred sports news delivery channel among Gen Z-ers (49%), with Instagram ranking second (44%) and Snapchat placing third (37%). In recent years, TikTok has also made inroads, becoming a sought-after delivery and consumption channel.
What makes sports coverage on social media so popular?
The social media sports coverage phenomenon doesn’t matter only to media outlets. Sports associations and clubs must also understand why and how to get on board and broaden their fan base via social media.
The generation that has grown up with social media chooses to get its sports coverage there because, unlike traditional sports news, it delivers engagement opportunities. When you consume sports news on social media, you can have conversations with fans from around the world, top athletes, clubs, and the best-known pundits. Publishing user-generated content from fans has also become a popular tool among sports marketing experts.
For athletes and sports organizations, social media channels lend themselves to sharing breaking news, facts, updates and event information, with the added bonus that fans may share captivating original content, thereby expanding their reach exponentially. The live-streaming option has wrestled exclusivity away from prominent TV networks, resulting in bigger audiences, easier access and new income streams.
Many fans appreciate getting their information directly from their favorite athletes rather than through a sports journalist. They can join the hordes of followers on Instagram and learn what athletes want to share. A certain intimate immediacy emerges that brings sports and athletes closer to fans. Unlike traditional sports broadcasting, social media channels maximize fan engagement, increasing revenue for athletes, sponsors, clubs and associations.
The sports betting phenomenon
When discussing fan engagement, sports betting quickly emerges as a pressing topic because it plays an increasingly crucial role in building solid audiences, deepening engagement and increasing profits.
The aforementioned Deloitte survey provided insights into bettor behavior compared to fans who never wager. Researchers established that those who bet on scores, stats or outcomes are more likely to attend live games and buy fan merchandise, season tickets or streaming subscriptions.
Global sports betting revenue is climbing steadily and is forecast to reach $182.12 billion by 2030. Countries have specific legislative frameworks permitting, banning or regulating the practice. In the U.S., a 2018 Supreme Court ruling opened the door for states to introduce their own laws. Washington, D.C., and 34 states now allow in-person and online betting. In Asia, sports betting is growing in popularity, too.
Sports betting accounts for more than 60% of all online gambling, which means sports news providers and sports organizations can seize collaborative, revenue-generating opportunities. Some betting companies broadcast sports news content headed up by prominent social media influencers. Mainstream sports journalists now publish betting-related content, sharing tips and wager experiences. Some sports media companies have even partnered with gambling firms.
In the coming decade, these partnerships will likely strengthen as betting raises fan engagement, leading to more revenue for all stakeholders, including sports media companies.
Sports journalism is still about breaking stories, but who leads the pack?
According to an article on Bleacher Report, sports media contributors are just as obsessed with who breaks a story as they are with the meat of the news. Twitter is where sports news breaks, but whether the original source gets credited is another matter altogether.
Years ago, media companies “owned” a breaking sports news item for as long as 24 hours. In today’s fast-paced media landscape, however, a sports journalist who breaks a story only gets minutes of exclusivity and may never get credited at all. When a story breaks, large sports media networks can send in swarms of reporters to locate new sources for the same story.
Twitter has made breaking sports news easy, and the platform has not only accelerated the news cycle but also all but eliminated exclusivity. For news journalists, this trend is both negative and positive. On one hand, it opens stories to a broader pack of writers. However, building credibility is now far more difficult for sports journalists.
Sports news enthusiasts witness regular spats among journalists over who broke a story first. Journalistic ethics must prevail, and true investigative journalism will always be valuable.
Sports journalists vs. social media influencers and ex-players
Social media has opened the door to fans and players, enabling them to publish content and enter territory that was once the exclusive domain of traditional sports journalists.
JJ Redick, Draymond Green, the Kelce Brothers, and Bussing with the Boys have built an enormous audience for their podcasts, outranking content produced by prominent sports journalists. YouTubers and gamers like Chris Smoove and KOT4Q have gained similar traction.
Many well-known sports journalist personalities have caught up with the social media frenzy and now also broadcast across multiple channels, including YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and even Twitch. St. Bonaventure University is aware of this shift and has implemented it into their curriculum to prepare students effectively for the changing landscape of sports journalism, with the production of podcasts and digital interviews a part of the course.
The multifaceted nature of sports journalism will likely mushroom further, with creators maximizing their social media use and embracing new technology. Here is a look at some emerging innovations.
Emerging sports news vehicles: Podcasts, video content, fly-on-the-wall documentaries, AR and VR technology
The new era of sports coverage combines traditional models with social media elements and emerging broadcasting tools. Podcasts, in particular, have grown exponentially in popularity alongside YouTube and TikTok content. Clubs, athletes and sports organizations produce fly-on-the-wall documentaries to draw fans closer and foster a sense of community, while user-generated content serves to deepen engagement. In short, sports media creators continue to deliver more immersive content, focusing on making sports news consumption a profoundly immersive experience.
Emerging technology will play a significant role in shaping the future of sports news broadcasting. Here are some of the innovations set to become everyday consumables:
- Streaming: The number of people choosing live streams over traditional channels will likely increase multifold
- Generative AI: New generative AI technology can gather, analyze, predict and deliver new information to fans at mind-boggling speed. Viewers and coaches alike can use the data to get insights into player performance, with management teams creating new formations. During live sports events, generative AI delivers smart punditry.
- Augmented reality: Alongside traditional sports event footage, AR delivers infographics, 3D clips, mixed reality presentations and immersive graphics.
- Drone cameras: The small and lightweight nature of drone cameras provides previously unseen angles and viewpoints. In the future, viewers will likely have a choice of camera, providing significant personalization of the viewing experience.
- Player body cameras: We will likely see a rise in available footage from player body cameras, especially in non-contact or light-contact sports. Viewers will likely be able to switch between players via an app.
- Stats overlays, automated graphics and regionalized advertising: Future broadcasts will feature in-game statistics, graphics and region-specific advertising.
These are some of the emerging technologies, but what drives sports media innovators?
Personalization, engagement and gamification
The bigger the audience, the greater the opportunity there is to sell advertising. Fan engagement rises to the top alongside the likes, dislikes and media consumption habits of the younger generation. With this at the forefront of every media mogul’s mind, future sports broadcasting is about delivering a very personal and immersive viewing or listening experience.
Today’s audiences demand much more. Viewers are used to consuming diversified, high-quality sports content right after it happens or even on a live basis. Moreover, they want to participate in the analysis and watch sports nearly as if they were playing.
By 2030, you will likely be in a position to select your favorite camera angles, switch between player body cams, read up on essential stats during the event, and watch immediate highlights and slow-motion clips while chatting to fans on the far side of the world or interacting with a sports broadcaster. You will likely see ads from local businesses and receive betting tips to increase your chances of winning.
Sports media innovations will also shape the lives and performances of athletes who, like everyone else, must embrace the new technology, no matter how disruptive or intrusive they may feel the new tools are.
What’s next for sports journalists?
Colleges have taken the transformation of sports journalism into account and now offer relevant training in social media and tech innovations. The speed and force of change has been so overwhelming that sports journalists must follow the trends if they want to keep up. Most of today’s sports journalism students grew up surrounded by social media and immersed in technological advancements, so embracing this new environment should come naturally to them, but more traditional sports reporters may struggle with the pace and diversity of the sports media machine.Read more: Predicting Trends and Innovations in Sports Journalism