How AS.com found sports coverage success in the age of COVID-19
The first half of 2020, as for so many in media, was a difficult time for sports coverage. With football leagues around the world sidelined, Formula 1 races halted, and the NBA Bubble yet to rise, there seemed to be a dearth of news with which sports publishers could meet the global demand for athletics-focused content.
AS.com, however, saw this challenging time as an opportunity to experiment and evolve. Leveraging a combination of insightful data sources and innovative best practices, the Madrid-based publisher managed to attract and retain record numbers of readers in 2020, becoming the #1 read sports publisher in Spanish, and #2 in any language. In the first half of 2020, AS saw an 83% growth in readership.
We spoke to Tomas de Cos, Deputy Director at AS.com, about the impact of COVID-19 on their newsroom, the importance of audience development, and the three pillars — audience development, experimentation and optimization, and coverage diversification — the organization’s 2020 achievements have been built upon.
Diversifying sports content to engage wider audiences
Audience development has always been at the core of the AS digital strategy, allowing them to be flexible and move quickly when sports came to a stop in March. In addition to their flagship sports site, AS offers other content verticals, including the likes of Showroom (fashion and home content), Deporte y Vida (Lifestyle content), Betech (tech content), MeriStation (video game content), ePik and Tikitakas (celebrity and entertainment content). “Comscore prioritizes new visitors when determining publisher rankings,” de Cos says, “so it’s always been in our best interest to enrich our audience pool.”
When AS began covering COVID-19, however, they weren’t purposefully looking to expand their audience. “We wanted to provide our loyal audience with practical, trustworthy information around the pandemic,” says de Cos.
Leveraging social tools, de Cos and his team were able to gauge what information readers were looking for, then using tools like Chartbeat to measure, validate, and iterate on their content efforts.
“We wanted to provide our loyal audience with practical, trustworthy information around the pandemic.”
With all sport competitions on pause, AS saw that audience content preferences naturally shifted towards coverage of the pandemic’s social and economic implications. This presented an opportunity for visitors — both loyal and new — to explore the site’s full content offering. “Using audience engagement metrics, we were able to develop a conversion funnel, make content recommendation decisions, and deepen reader journeys,” states de Cos.
Doubling-down on audience distribution channels
In addition to adapting their coverage to suit new audience interests, AS saw their spike in readership as a chance to optimize distribution channels outside of organic search. AS has traditionally enjoyed strong direct traffic to their homepage, which they immediately capitalized upon by using homepage optimization tools.
Using these tools, AS was able to experiment with headlines to see which worked better, and could see which articles were performing well relative to their placement on the AS homepage.
“Getting real-time audience feedback on our headlines helps us determine copy for social posts, newsletters, and other platforms.”
The AS newsroom then took their homepage optimization findings one step further, and applied them to other channels like social media. “Getting real-time audience feedback on our headlines helps us determine copy for social posts, newsletters, and other platforms,” says de Cos. “These small optimizations help us perform even better on search engines.”
Expanding global sports coverage
“Given our common language and love for football, Latin America was the natural next step for us,” says de Cos.
Yet while AS started expanding internationally in 2013, with sites catering to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S., it wasn’t until recently that they boasted traffic numbers that attracted local advertisers. Above, further data behind AS.com’s growth across the world as of June.
“We found the ideal balance for our audience in Latin America,” says de Cos. “The best in international sports, followed by local sports content — told by locals, for locals.”
Chartbeat’s ability to break down traffic by country has been key for AS to understand what types of content resonate best around the world. For AS, traffic numbers in Latin America now surpass those of many local sports sites, as can be seen in the image above.
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