The nation’s local news veterans are launching a bid to take on a few successful upstarts making a market in national sports.
An alliance of local-media companies, the Local Media Consortium, will launch “The Matchup,“ a new online sports news effort that aims to give fans of specific teams more news about them from a wider range of outlets than just those covering it locally The group’s first effort will make more headlines about a team available to a reader, so that a Dallas Morning News subscriber who follows the Dallas Cowboys might be able to easily find and click on to other stories about the team in, for instance, The Philadelphia Inquirer. A destination site for sports content from the media outlets is in the works as well, slated to debut in 2021.
During the coming NFL season, Local Media Consortium members will share sports news and commentary between their sites, so long as the person seeking the information is a subscriber to one of the group’s outlets. Subscribers will not incur any additional fees. Some beta efforts in the project will start in days to come.
“Local news organizations have a higher volume of sports content than really anybody out there, but it’s segmented by market,” says Mike Orren, chief product officer of The Dallas Morning News, who is leading the project. He adds: “This is basically the equivalent of ESPN.com or Yahoo Sports or The Athletic, but fueled by the content of all of our members – newspapers, radio stations and TV stations.”
Of course, local media outlets are in the midst of grappling with severe economic headwinds, many of which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on advertising. And they are a little late to this game, which encompasses other digital competitors as well, such as Bleacher Report and Barstool Sports.
Orren believes advertising committed to the shared sports articles will pay for the large part of the project’s relatively low operating costs. Meanwhile, executives hope the chance to read other sports stories about a reader’s favorite team will prompt more people to buy a subscription to their local news outlet. The Matchup is supported by funding from the Google News Initiative.
Local Media Consortium estimates the venture has an overall market of 78 million readers – the number of people who subscribe to one of its member’s sites.
Executives behind the project don’t think a Dallas reader would buy a subscription to the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer to follow its coverage of Duke University sports, says Orren. But that person may well sign up to get the Dallas Morning News knowing that doing so would get them access to sports news from around the nation. Otherwise, he says, readers might have to surf to dozens of individual news sites and face coming up against various paywalls in their quest to get additional information on specific professional and college teams.
If the sports site is successful, it’s not hard to imagine members of Local Media Consortium considering similar sharing of articles related to the arts, or business. But first there’s the matter of making sure readers are interested. “Sports is where we are going to test this hypothesis,” says Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium. “If there are other categories where it makes sense, we are willing to look at those.”