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BBC Sport website at 20: Your questions answered


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BBC Sport website at 20: Your questions answered

To mark the 20th anniversary of the BBC Sport website, we asked our readers to send in their questions and said we would do our best to answer a selection of them.There were no rules or out-of-bounds subjects. In some cases, where multiple submissions were asking similar things, we have grouped them together into a…

BBC Sport website at 20: Your questions answered

To mark the 20th anniversary of the BBC Sport website, we asked our readers to send in their questions and said we would do our best to answer a selection of them.

There were no rules or out-of-bounds subjects. In some cases, where multiple submissions were asking similar things, we have grouped them together into a single question.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a question. We had nearly 400 submissions. Here are our answers:

1. Why has the BBC Sport website become political?

The BBC Sport website and app have not become political. Throughout its history, sport inevitably finds itself entwined in off-field issues. For example, imagine if the BBC Sport website had been a thing in the 1960s and we ignored the bid to draft Muhammad Ali into the Vietnam war, or felt the Black Power Salute from the 1968 Olympics was off the field and not relevant to report.

We are here to cover live sport, yes, but reporting sports news is the other key remit. We do not have a political agenda — our aim is simply to educate and inform.

Take the recent Black Lives Matter movement. This is an issue that has shaken the world and sports stars have led the way in speaking out. It is right we cover that. In the Premier League, players have taken the knee and worn Black Lives Matter on their shirt. It is right we cover that.

On the wider issues, it is right we look to use our platform to explain why this movement is happening by sharing the stories of athletes.

2. How has sports reporting changed over the past 20 years and how do you think it might have changed in a further 20 years?

When we launched in 2000, our sports reporting was still akin to that of a traditional newspaper — we did not do live reporting, and we would cover a game only upon the final whistle.

But as technology improved, we were able to evolve, quickly realising that live reporting during the big events was the growth area.

By the time it came to London 2012, we were able to stream every event live on the website, while also utilising social media and mobile phones as a way of reaching new audiences. It was a truly digital Olympics, and a far cry from having to wait for an event to finish.

Now, with the continued rise of social media, the world is always connected. That poses new challenges. Stories develop and gather pace at speeds that were previously umpteen phone calls away. Journalists need to be savvy to this sea change of news gathering.

And the way people receive their news has changed, with many now accessing the latest news updates via their social media timelines. It is now about being proactive in reaching people with your content, rather than expecting them to come to you.

It is hard to know what the landscape will be like in 20 years’ time, but we do know that delivering content that is personally relevant to an individual will continue to play a key role in the near future, and in the short term we will also look to expand the entertainment and fun coverage of sports reporting which have proved extremely popular.

3. Would you consider further promoting the UK or European League of Legends scene in the future?

We know esports is a huge industry. In a report from 2019, the UK video games sector was said to be more lucrative than video and music combined.

So this is definitely an area we are looking at and the lack of live sport in recent months has afforded us the time and space to delve into it further, with the Rocket League Spring Series, the ePL invitational and of course, League of Legends, all being covered on the site recently.

The challenge we have in this area is to build an audience and an expectation for our esports coverage, and this is something we will continue to explore.

4. How do you decide which of the smaller sports to stream live and how much do the rights to these events cost?

On the website we aim to provide exposure to lesser-known sports and hopefully help them build a profile, especially Olympic sports in the lead-up to Tokyo. We also look to commission women’s sport, new sports, modern formats of established sports, and esports.

For some events we produce the coverage ourselves, such as the early rounds of both the FA Cup and the rugby league Challenge Cup. But the majority are produced by the governing bodies themselves via production companies contracted by them. We then work with the production company and governing body to secure the legal rights, and ensure technical robustness and editorial compliance.

The BBC has strict editorial guidelines. Every event must be able to comply with the BBC’s rules on the exposure of sponsorship, branding and charity references.

There are also considerations around scheduling, such as busy periods in the sporting calendar, time zones where certain events take place, and of course, budgetary decisions.

5. How do you decide what stories to cover?

In deciding which stories we cover, there has never been so much choice.

The definition of what is ‘Sports News’ for our audience has evolved alongside the BBC Sport website’s greater reach, breadth and depth. It can see us writing about the latest Netflix sports documentary, reporting a major NFL signing and covering a UFC fight all on the same day.

Traditionally, news outlets would deliver stories they felt were important and it was a one-way conversation. On the BBC Sport website, we bring you the biggest sport news stories of the day, but also like to cover the other stories our audiences might be talking about which are important to them or their communities.

In terms of the mechanics, we have several formal and informal editorial meetings each day where we prioritise the biggest stories in the diary and any breaking news; discuss the ongoing themes, talking points and debates on social media; plan for the day’s live sport, and factor in any stories that can improve the diversity of our content.

6. How do you update the scores in every live game so quickly?

BBC Sport’s Design and Engineering team are responsible for making that work. They develop and support the services that provide the website and app with close to real-time score updates, plus other relevant matchday information such as red cards, team line-ups and as-it-stands tables.

These scores and other match data are fed into our services from organisations who specialise in providing the latest in-game stats. Our technology has been built to then process and enrich this data as efficiently as possible, in order for the latest updates to be presented quickly on the site.

Services developed by this team handle data for all of our live sport across the site and app including F1 and golf leaderboards, cricket scorecards, and mobile alerts to name a few.

7. Would it be possible for you to have wider football content to include frequent coverage of Africa, Asia and South America?

Our colleagues on the African football desk already do a great job of covering the big stories in African football — visit their website here.

With our core audience being in the UK, we obviously focus our content on the British football teams and leagues, and we’ve increased our European football to match the growing popularity of leagues on the continent.

But we’re always keen to tell great stories that come from other areas of the world and in May we even had live video and a text commentary on a South Korean football game for the first time.

8. How do you write the match reports so quickly? Do you have to write some while the match is still going on?

Yes, we do write a lot of the match report while the game is going on. Although all of our journalists will dread a last-minute goal that could see you ‘ripping up’ your copy.

You may have noticed that we generally don’t publish the entire report straight away. We start with a few paragraphs and keep adding to it until the whole report is there, so that buys the writer a bit of time.

And you can often predict some of the themes you want to talk about in reports, like whether a team is on a bad run of form or if the result has big implications on the relegation battle — you can prepare for these ahead of time which helps a lot.

9. Why are some BBC football articles so long? The long read can be draining.

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We like to provide our users with a mix of content every day, both in terms of the topics covered and length of written articles. We use online analytics tools to monitor the engagement times on all of our stories — particularly longer reads — to see how long readers spend on average in a given piece of content, and use that to inform how we commission and write articles in the future.

10. How do you decide on the importance of a story and how prominent it will be shown on the website?

The easy answer is to say we rely on our editorial judgement to carry out our wider online strategy. But, for our front page editors, it is not just as simple as putting all of the ‘biggest’ stories at the top of the website. It is vital for us to reflect the diversity of both our audience and our content — whether that be the sports covered, people involved, type of content (for example, news, video, feature) or length of article.

11. How many stories do you on average produce in a day/year?

The number of stories we publish will fluctuate dramatically from day to day depending on the amount of live action and sports news — but, to give you a rough idea, we published 55 pieces of content (text and video) between 3pm and midnight on the evening Liverpool won the Premier League. That figure is across our national and regional offices.

12. Why isn’t there a comments section on every page you post?

The BBC’s moderation team look after comments across the entire BBC website as well as most of the major social media pages. It is a finite resource and means we are forced to limit and prioritise articles for comments.

We therefore enable BBC website users to either comment on the most impactful sporting events or on articles with major talking points.

To determine whether an article should have comments, we would need it to have some or all of the following qualities:

  • It won’t lead to a lot of offensive or hateful comments
  • It will generate a healthy debate — if it’s likely to go sour quickly or unlikely to have at least two sides to the debate, we’re unlikely to open comments.
  • It will likely receive a good volume of comments — smaller stories can sometimes have just one or two comments, and we think that having articles around with very few comments on is not worthwhile for anyone.

13. In 20 years which sports story has been your most popular read?

Since 2000 the internet has grown exponentially and the BBC Sport website has also experienced significant growth in its audience. Where we are now with people owning multiple devices and spending more time online means it’s difficult to compare a big story at the start of this century to one which took place this year.

What we can say is week-to-week our most popular content tends to revolve around football, particularly the Premier League. However, our all-time peak days on BBC Sport online are generated by Olympics coverage. Nine of our all-time top 10 days occurred during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Before coronavirus, we were looking to Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020 to surpass these peaks but we’ll have to wait another year for those.

14. What single sporting story are you most proud of publishing — and why?

We asked BBC sports editor Dan Roan to answer this one.

A few big interviews I’ve done in recent years stand out:

  • The first TV interview in two years with Lance Armstrong in 2015;
  • The first interview with disgraced cricket entrepreneur and fraudster Allen Stanford since his life imprisonment seven years earlier;
  • In 2018 at a secret location, Russian doping mastermind turned whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, in his first international broadcast interview since defecting.
  • And the only interview Sir Bradley Wiggins granted on the day MPs concluded he had «crossed an ethical line» by using legal drugs to enhance performance instead of just for medical purposes

All were the result of months of efforts by our team, made major impacts and were very satisfying to land.

But the story I’m most proud of is the journalism we did around a number of athlete welfare issues at the top of British sport. Post-Rio 2016, we revealed duty of care scandals in a range of sports, from Para-swimming and bobsleigh, to canoeing and archery.

This body of work relied on building the trust of our sources, raised public awareness of an important issue, set the agenda and hopefully brought about an improved British sporting culture.

15. How does the website decide for which events to provide live text commentary, and how are writers assigned for this role?

Our live text commentaries are among the most popular things we do on the website as they are a fantastic way to follow live sport, as well as interact with the analysis of pundits and the social media reaction to what is happening.

We aim to do them mainly on the most high-profile sports and events but also do them around the big sports news stories too.

Each BBC Sport website writer has an expertise in certain sports — some have a number of sports they can comfortably write live text for, whereas others may only have one or two, but we always match the sport with the writer.

16. Why do you not give equal attention to women’s team sports?

The BBC has been at the forefront of covering and promoting women’s sports for a long time.

Last year we launched #ChangeTheGame to showcase the amazing women’s sports which were happening in the summer, which included the Fifa Women’s World Cup and Netball World Cup to name but two. It resulted in 45 million people consuming women’s sport content across all BBC platforms during that summer.

Domestically, we cover the Women’s Super League football, Netball Superleague, cricket and the rugby Premier 15s and augment the live sport content with longer form features, player columns, quizzes and videos.

Sadly, women’s sport has so far been unable to resume because of coronavirus but rest assured when it does, our coverage will do too.

17. Is there a chance that BBC Sport could show archive coverage online like old Olympic Games highlights?

The use of sporting archive is a bit complicated. Unfortunately, it’s not simply the case that if we showed an event at the time then we can show it again whenever we want. This is normally because our access to those rights has expired and they have been sold to somebody else or they are held by the event organisers themselves.

The good news is, as part of our broadcasting deal to show the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 on the BBC, we will be looking back at great moments from past Olympic Games from 13 July on BBC TV, iPlayer and online. And from 28 July we’ll have a daily round-up available online of the equivalent day at London 2012.

This follows on from our Rewind coverage of the Uefa European Championships and also Wimbledon, which is available on iPlayer.

18. Can you stop putting the scores and results of matches and events on the main sport page?

This question does come up often. Sports news is a key part of our offering, and we feel it is only right that this is reflected in our content at index level. If there is a big match going on, or an F1 race, for example, we feel that this headline news should not be hidden behind a further click on a sports site. Sports reporting is what we do, and we are there to showcase it, and make that news easily accessible.

In this day, when there are more and more ways to access the latest news, such as mobile alerts, social media feeds and news aggregators, it wouldn’t be the right strategic move for us to actually make it harder to check the latest scores and results quickly.

19. Can you please do more quizzes and have a section where they all live?

We are delighted that people are enjoying the quizzes. It is something we have started to do more of, as we look to offer our users a dose of fun to go with the regular sports news reporting.

If you scroll down both the main BBC Sport page, and the Football page, you will see a dedicated area that showcases some of our recent quizzes. While we have yet to offer a completely separate area for quizzes outside of these pages, it is something we are monitoring, and will not rule out as we look to explore ways to make these different content types more easily discoverable.

20. Any chance of a 2021 apprenticeship?

The BBC as a whole is committed to offering a diverse selection of entry-level training programmes and we are currently working through what this means in the current climate.

We want to ensure our current and future cohorts receive the best possible learning experience so this means that some of the training programmes will now start in 2021 and not in September 2020 as originally planned. This includes our Journalism Trainee Scheme, Digital Journalism Apprenticeships, Production Trainee Scheme and Production Apprenticeship Scheme.

The BBC is also employment partners in two schemes run by external companies. Links to those, as well as the BBC’s own programmes mentioned above, can be found below, but please note that some of the intake dates are yet to be updated:

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