In a nutshell: Dutch regional publisher NDC will combine robot journalism and crowdsourcing to cover all 60,000 regional football matches in the first post-Covid season.
“Thanks to automated journalism, we’re able to write about every single local football match, coverage that’s not provided by anyone else. That, combined with the crowdsourcing element, will drive inclusivity and engagement in the local sports communities, and by extension create value in our news brand.”
Ard Boer, Sports Project Manager
Dutch regional media group NDC is planning to up its game when the first post-Covid football season kicks off after summer. The publisher’s reader promise: to cover every single local match for the entirety of the season. “For a regional publisher like us, being able to cover all matches of all divisions is engagement gold,” says NDC Sport Product Manager Ard Boer. And how do they plan to do it? By using robots and crowdsourcing.
The Netherlands is a football (soccer) playing country – 1 mi of the 17 mi inhabitants belong to a club. Early on during the pandemic, regional news publisher NDC saw how the local sports communities were impacted and spotted an opportunity for the first post-Covid season. The media company will do something no-one else in the country has attempted – covering every single local match for the whole season. That’s 60,000 football games – a commitment far beyond the capacity of the newsroom. The solution: robots will write the match reports, while photos and comments from coaches will be collected through a crowdsourcing platform.
The crowdsourcing platform is developed by NDC with support from United Robots, who already operate a similar service in Sweden, whereby team coaches are prompted to comment via text message after each match. In NDC’s case, the platform will allow coaches to comment as well as provide data about goal scorers and will allow both coaches and others around the pitch to upload match photographs.
The reader promise of covering all local football in the regions of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe (1.5 mi inhabitants) is all about reader engagement. NDC will offer unique journalism which will give local communities – teams, players, coaches and fans – a stake in the sports reporting. Says Ard Boer: “Thanks to automated journalism, we’re able to write about every single local football match, coverage that’s not provided by anyone else. That, combined with the crowdsourcing element, will drive inclusivity and engagement in the local sports communities, and by extension create value in our news brand.”
The engagement generated will not just strengthen NDC’s three local journalism news brands, it will also underpin the publisher’s reader revenue business. While the local matches will be free to read, the automated content will be combined with premium sports journalism to drive people down the funnel.
How robots help publishers connect with people. NDC is the most recent in a growing group of news publishers who automate local sports reporting in order to be able to cover all matches, all of the time. It may sound somewhat contradictory that robots now play an active role in creating journalism that involves hundreds – thousands – of people that were rarely seen in local news stories before.
But the fact is, they do just that. There is plenty of evidence from local publishers of how this works. Helena Tell at Bonnier News Local title Bärgslagsbladet in Sweden says that automated match reporting means clubs and fans get the attention and the information they hunger for, without impacting journalists’ time in her newsroom. At EverySport Media Group, also in Sweden, they see that local sports articles often go viral in small clusters which means the publisher reaches big audiences at hyper local level.
A commitment to sports coverage is about connecting with local communities, about being a news brand that’s valued by the people it serves. To quote Nick Diakopoulos, author of Automating the News: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Media: “Human values are at the heart of algorithms and AI and journalists need to think about how to design journalistic values into technology.” With their upcoming coverage of all local football, that exactly what NDC have done. The automatic reporting and commenting are a win-win for sports teams, fans and publishers, as they help create local sports journalism which is both inclusive and engaging.