TheScore launches newsroom, upgrades popular mobile sports app
In an old Toronto office building with crooked floors and plenty of exposed brick, dozens of journalists are clumped together cranking out news updates for millions of sports fans around the world. The 35-journalist newsroom at theScore Inc. is unique in the country – it exists solely to provide content to cellphones and tablets. Deadline is marked in 30 second increments – there is no traditional daily product to produce. It has been built to complement the company’s wildly popular app, which has been a leading source of game-related data for millions but struggles to keep users around once the final whistle blows.
Jonathan Savage, senior vice-president of products: It’s got all the stuff – player alerts, top news feeds, the ability to follow pretty much anything on the app. And the storyline is built so you can catch up in chunks because it’s all strung together, things unfold in rivers. The content management system is the biggest thing – the release notes say something about it being reengineered but it’s all rebuilt and really agile. We can write stories in real time, just drag and drop things. It’s increased the velocity of the news production. People love our data cause we can send them updates on the Leafs every two minutes, we’re extending that loyalty to news.Joe Ross, director of content: We do a great job of telling users who did what and who got traded where. But we’re doubling down on news, hopefully we’ll see the same interest from our users. We asked what would happen if you could create a newsroom that was designed to deliver news minute-by-minute instead of hour-by-hour. This is that.Savage: A lot of the traditional news feed will be supplemented with blog entries. We used to have vertical experts, we kept them all separate. But now they are free to write about more things.Ross: We didn’t have a real newsroom, basically just a few people curating wire feeds. We now have people actively building things – they are aggregators, they are curators, they are news writers. And the bloggers are now free to write more in depth and more researched pieces. We have our baseball guy doing interviews and profiles. He used to have to crank out 10 posts a day.Savage: And the stories we are creating don’t have to keep repeating context over and over. You scroll to the bottom if you want to see what happened earlier. You can follow the whole way, and the top of the story just assumes you know the basics.Ross: Back to the bloggers, we want them to do longer form pieces and provide a curational voice and editorial voice, we want them to reflect the brand. You have these really talented people, and we used to have them writing things about minor injuries. That took them away from what they are capable of producing, and this way they get to keep more of their personality in the work. You know what is interesting? We have no legacy business to protect – we don’t have to drive people back to our TV or print properties.Savage: Oh, and they can work with our sales teams on marketing initiatives. They can talk about content marketing – so if Coke wants to put their name on a series of stories they can find something that fits. Our opportunity is the complexity other publishers face – and we don’t have to have long discussions about what we need to give up to focus on [mobile].Ross: This is all really about being the best in mobile. We’re great at game time – we own 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. but we want that to be a 24/7 thing.Savage: This is also critical to allow us to sell off-season audiences. If we have original content, we can sell the NFL off-season to advertisers because there’s something there.Ross: Our big metric is unique visitors. There’s a real service mentality, we’re not really looking at page views. Reach is important, and repeatability is highly important.Savage: This is designed around helping, we’re trying to out-help our competitors. The idea of helpfulness can be seen as making you smarter because you know how to draft running backs, or you are more popular because you shared an anecdotal article. We’re giving you unique perspectives that you can own and share. We want to weaponize people to make them smarter at sports. We’ve even hired real journalists, we’re up to something like 35 people. We’ve hired from the National Post, even the Miami Herald. We’re more author based now, we want to be a writer-centric newsroom. It’s a good mix of people, really young and really bright.John Levy, CEO: I don’t see what the limits are. We’re 100 per cent digital. We’re closing on 100 employees – we started a year ago with 70. I didn’t think we could hit that number so fast.Benji Levy, COO: We’ve been flooded with resumes from really high quality people. They get to develop something new instead of working on an established product.John: We’re one of the premiere development shops in the country on Android and iOs. And there’s no excuse for people not wanting to come and work with us – this is sports. What we’re developing is really cool. And the big sports guys? They can keep doing what they are doing? TV everywhere is great for us. They should keep doing that. They are fighting wars on completely different fronts than we are – our singularity of focus is what will help us win.Benji: People who view mobile advertising are stuck in the old model with 30 second spots and full page magazine ads. We need to combine technology and content to serve someone’s needs. Utlimately, money will follow users. Do we have the answer yet? No. But are we learning as we go? Absolutely. Eighteen months ago everyone said Facebook was dead because of mobile, now everyone is falling over themselves to complement them.John: A lot of new entrants are trying to build a catcher’s mitt. But we’ve built our base, we’ll figure things out. We’ve already gone through the development of a TV network, where we had to respect revenue and we did. This is a startup, but we have the background experience to build this out and make it relevant as we grow. Advertisers are going to have to come here – consumers aren’t going to be anywhere else.