If you’re nutty about sports, and live in the U.S., you probably spend a good amount of time on the leading American sports website, ESPN.com. It’s flashy, it has attitude, it’s filled with good info, and it’s awash in video highlights. And for fan involvement, there’s ESPN SportsNation with its polls and forums.
But the sports leader online could learn a trick or two from the underdog website of Sporting News magazine, a slow but steady presence on the sports scene since 1886 (at least in print format). Last fall, SportingNews.com was redesigned with the idea of weaving the thoughts and contributions of readers into the presentation of its content. Every story has a “Your Turn” section below it for people to give their thoughts on the subject. And on hot issues, such as the suspect officiating of yesterday’s Super Bowl XL, the readers’ thoughts are highlighted even more with pull quotes right on the site’s home page.
“That’s the only Super Bowl I’ve seen in my life where the refs turned the game around,” said a reader with the screen name Morindan. Clicking on Morindan’s name brings up a profile of the person, so we know he/she is from Kansas and roots for the Kansas City Chiefs and Boston Bruins, but hates the New York Yankees and Denver Broncos. That profile page also tracks what certificates and awards Morindan has earned by playing fantasy sports games on SportingNews.com, links to comments Morindan has posted on the site, and a list of Morindan’s friends.
There’s even a tiered star system for each reader/participant based on complex algorithms that take into account site activity, according to Jason Kint, vice president and general manager of SportingNews.com. Kint told me that you can earn points for how you do in fantasy games and how your peers rate the comments you post.
“Users will then be ranked by their site peers in one of five tiers: Rookie,
Sophomore, Veteran, All-Star and finally, the supreme title of MVP,” Kint said. “Of the 5 million current registered SportingNews.com users, only 1,500 will qualify for the elite MVP status. How do you obtain MVP status? Each night the tiers are recalculated enabling users to move up in rank by scoring in three distinct categories: site participation, performance in SportingNews.com fantasy games, and community building. Simply put, the more a user contributes to the site, the better chance he or she has at moving up in the ranks.”
And SportingNews.com has gone blog crazy, with its journalists starting regular blogs, and its readers being able to start their own blogs as well. While a discerning critic might decry much of the user-generated blogs as so much noise, there’s never enough noise in sports talk. People feed off the trash talk and feed off each other, and SportingNews.com has come closest to recreating the social networking aspects of sites such as Friendster or MySpace for the sports fanatic.
According to Kint, people are spending much more time at the site, with 86 million page views from 1.6 million unique readers per month last fall. That might translate to more ad money for SportingNews.com, but more importantly for readers, it means they are more engaged with the site. They can create their own space within a mainstream magazine website and help push their views onto the same page as the paid experts.
That’s the type of power that every reader would want. Should every newspaper and magazine try this participatory approach? Why not? While sports obviously has a more fanatical element to it, other topics have their fair share of amateur experts and know-it-alls, so why not give them the space to pontificate, complain and share ideas?
What do you think of SportingNews.com’s approach? Is it inviting to you as a sports fan? Should ESPN try to be more inclusive?