Rink Live demonstrates the power of automating junior sports league coverage
Big Data For News Publishers | 29 March 2022
Local publishers in Europe and North America are increasingly using automation to cover junior sports leagues as part of a strategy to build engagement in local sports communities. Forum Communications’ ice hockey vertical The Rink Live, based in the Upper Midwest in the United States, is the latest site to go live with robot texts.
Using robots to write local sports game reports was the original content automation use case for early adopter publishers in Scandinavia. For local media group Mittmedia (now part of Bonnier News Local), the use of robots for game reports was part of a wider strategy to improve local sports coverage and increase the subscription offer’s value. Robots did the bulk of reporting of matches across sports and leagues. This gave reporters time to report on more in-depth stories and livestream games and other sports journalism, driving both conversions and retention.
The new focus of automating junior sports by local publishers has a similar basic journalistic and business logic to it. For The Rink Live, the move is about providing a more comprehensive coverage of ice hockey in the region. The site, which is operated by a dozen staff from parent company Forum Communications, publishes stories, videos, and other unique content about youth, high school, junior, college, and professional hockey across the U.S. states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
The Rink Live is using robots to cover the USHL and NAHL junior hockey leagues. “Nothing can replace the work of our talented journalists. Technology does, however, afford us unique opportunities to cover more teams, more players, in an efficient and creative manner,” said General Manager Neal Ronquist. “As we learn more about what our audience members value, we will continue to explore all avenues to increase the amount of unique, engaging hockey content we deliver.”
In parallel with the deployment of content automation, The Rink Live has added reporters to focus on youth, juniors, and prospects. It has also added staff and resources to increase its social media presence on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, including through several new video shows. The additional staffing, expanded unique content including more video, and deployment of robots all adds up to provide what The Rink Live describes as “more robust hockey coverage for fans.”
Some 2,000 miles away, in New Brunswick, Canada, Brunswick News is running a pilot with United Robots using robots to cover junior ice hockey leagues to boost the local subscription offer.
And across the Atlantic, DC Thomson in Scotland just went live with a pilot at its publication, The Press and Journal, of automated coverage of several youth football (soccer) leagues. These texts include comments from coaches collected via text message through United Robots’ Q&A platform.
In the Netherlands, regional group NDC (part of Mediahuis) is using robots to cover all 60,000 local football matches, including some junior ones, this season.
“Thanks to automated reporting, we’re able to write about every single local football match — coverage that’s not provided by anyone else. That drives inclusivity and engagement in our local sports communities, and, by extension, creates value in our news brand,” said NDC product owner Ard Boer.
These examples demonstrate how automated reporting of junior and senior league sports can benefit local publishers.