Stay ahead of the game: Covering large sporting competitions

Sports is one of the most highly competitive and innovative fields in the journalistic world. The bounty of statistics, history, and expectant fanbase mean that having the technological edge can be the difference between taking home the gold or just a participation trophy. What new and innovative tools can be used to cover large sporting events?

This was the challenge facing the eleven teams at the Editors Lab Final in Lisbon, a hackathon that took place parallel to the GEN Summit 2018. Some aspects teams were asked to consider included how to make sports coverage more accessible to outsiders, how to stand out from competitors and how to leverage temporary sporting event coverage into long-term audience loyalty. Teams also considered how to expand sports into other areas of reporting and explore other related topics (culture, geopolitics, human rights, etc.).

The hackathon opened with a human-centred design workshop led by Jacqui Park from Engagement by Design.

Qualifying winning teams had each won a regional hackathon during Editors Lab Season Six (2017–2018). Top teams representing Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain — came to Lisbon contend for the title of Editors Lab World Champion.

New tools for sports coverage

The prototypes pitched at the end of the two-day hackathon varied in their approaches to sports coverage: the team representing Lebanon proposed an interactive alternative scoring system, because the number of goals in football doesn’t fully reflect the quality of play. Eyewitness News from South Africa came up with an AI-powered tool to uncover sports memes. Tempo from Indonesia came up with a microsite companion to the upcoming Asian Games in Jakarta for their users who aren’t regular sports followers ‘but have a fear of missing out and they want to be a little smarter about it, at least for the duration of the event.’

The team from radio station Nippon Broadcasting System (Japan) proposed a personalised feed of audio clips for fans to get to know their favourite players better. The Punch, a Nigerian newspaper, proposed a platform for fans to interact in real time during matches. Brazil-based Infoglobo had their eye on the 2020 Olympics with their prototype Make me a fan, a way to let Brazilians discover — in this country where football is king — lesser-known athletes they would be interested in following.

Teams from Australia and Indonesia meet before the hacking begins.

The jury composed of Aron Pilhofer from Temple University, Bella Hurrell from BBC News, Evangeline de Bourgoing from the Global Editors Network, Ritu Kapur from the Quint, Saimi Reyes Carmona from Postdata.club, Sasha Koren from the Guardian News & Media, and Vegard Jansen Hagen from TV2 Norway debated on the most promising prototypes at length, before awarding Seven West Media for Sports Mate.

The Editors Lab Final jury

The winning prototype bring sports coverage to a larger audience

At the end of the three days, the team from Australian newsroom Seven West Media, won with their prototype Sports Mate, which adds an info layer to a sports article to bring the uninitiated into the world of sports.

Sports Mate has a database of explainers that use text, graphics, GIFs, memes and photographs to help the reader understand potentially hundreds of cricket terms.

Sports Mate acts as a translation tool to break down the language barrier of sport and make sports coverage more accessible by demystifying the jargon. Sports Mate will enhance the content reporters already produce for their websites, such as match reports, analysis, and play-by-play coverage. When prompted, readers will have the choice to click on a word or phrase to receive a brief explanation about what it means, using easy-to-understand text and graphics that are informative and fun. For the prototype, Seven West Media used the Australian cricket tournament, Big Bash League. A fast, entertaining version of cricket, the Big Bash League is attracting a new group of fans to the sport and Sports Mate is there to act as the friend on the sideline to explain the difference between a duck and a golden duck.

You can watch the winning team describe their project, as they just got off the GEN Summit main stage after receiving their award on Instagram here. Pictured: Brendan Underwood, Jake Ginnivan, Peter Law.

Jury member Sasha Koren said of Sports Mate:

We had a very stiff competition, we had a hard time making a decision, and we spent a long time discussing each prototype. Ultimately, we felt that the winning team went a long way to solve a real-time problem that keeps people from understanding sports, maybe engaging in it more deeply. We thought Sports Mate could also be used in other realms, in other means.

Sports Mate would not be the first time an idea originating in sports reporting has gone on to change the larger media world. From the use of the wireless telegraph to the proliferation of cable TV, and now to the future of digital journalism, sports reporting technology continues to be a frontrunner in newsroom evolution.

Jury member Évangéline de Bourgoing added:

I appreciated the elegant user experience: the subtle highlighting of certain terms within the text allows uninitiated viewers to get explanations without leaving the page (and going down the hyperlink rabbit hole) and does not disrupt the reading experiences of the fans. Sports can be a means for social integration and I appreciate that this prototype enable new audiences to join the national sports conversation.

Prototypes from Portugal, Romania, South Korea, & Spain also recognised

The Público & Bright Pixel team pitch Offiside. Picutred: Rita Marques Costa, João Pina

Second place went to the Público & Bright Pixel team from Portugal for their prototype Offside, a tool that goes through players’ social media activity and maps their interactions (among teammates, coaches, rivals, etc.) in an easily understandable visual format. The jury appreciated the project’s scalability. It has great potential beyond sports: it could help journalists monitor more effectively and quickly public figures’ social media activity, and thus uncover new stories and better holding them accountable.

The team from Dela0.ro pitch deTour de France on the GEN Summit main stage.

Third place went to the team from Dela0.ro from Bucharest, Romania, for their prototype deTour de France. It’s a mobile app that uses gameplay experience to provide real-time info on what is happening during the each stage of the Tour de France, including relevant cultural highlights related to the race route. The team smartly leverages the Tour as a springboard for non-sports coverage.

Money Today introduces Reaction, live streaming fan reactions to sporting events.

The jury awarded a special mention to the Money Today team from Seoul for Reaction, a live streaming platform of online reaction sharing, a clever second screen workaround for brands that don’t have broadcasting rights.

The public choice vote went to laSexta/Maldita.es from Madrid, Spain for their prototype GENie, a voice-oriented smart speaker assistant delivering sports information like highlights, player information, schedules, and live match updates.

All the projects developed during the Editors Lab Final are listed here.
You can find all photos from the event here, and from the top teams on stage here.