What Makes a Successful Sports Blog?

Football on pitch

As a content-driven agency that works closely with established online sports brands and publishers, we at ICS-digital are always looking to build on our capabilities.

In the realm of sports blogging, we converse with other experts in the field to uncover patterns and processes that we can integrate into our workflow, as well as our advice to global clients who want to build their brand while earning traffic.

What do the sports blog experts say?

We interviewed a small focus group made up of sports blog owners and readers, all of whom have been reading UK sports blogs for 10+ years. What stood from our conversations was their shared passion for expert knowledge and reader engagement.

“You need to find what makes your blog different, set your tone of voice on social media and stick to your guns.”

- Youth Football Scotland

Top sports bloggers consider quality of blog content as a given, while placing most emphasis on standing out from the crowd through successful reader engagement and SEO. Personality, as well as accuracy, is a major priority.

“Of course, you need well written informative content too, but that's not much use if nobody is there to see it.”

Readers organise their priorities differently and they really aren’t interested in your SEO performance – only in the value you can provide to them as consumers of content.

The one expectation all interviewed readers’ shared is: in-depth, analytical, and contextual content that goes much beyond mere summaries of fights/matches/games and that is written by the experts in the field. Easy enough.

  • “Well-constructed arguments and analysis are key for me.”
  • “Deep and contextual analyses that cannot be found in any daily news outlet is crucial”.
  • “Not just a repetition of what is already out there and can be read in any news outlet, but an in-depth analysis of e.g. tactics and using sports jargon.”
  • “It [the sports blog] should be for readers who are part of the world of the sports and already know what has happened.”

We wondered: Could some of the most successful sports bloggers be undervaluing the importance of good content to their readers?

An investigation into a total of 50 posts from five successful blogs quickly dispelled this thought.

Combining SEO best practices with quality content

We identified a common structure in successful UK sports blog posts, which favours in-depth analysis over widely available sports updates. All 50 texts observed the following structure:

  1. Title: summary of content
  2. Introductory summary: summary of the overall topic in 1+ sentences, information that can be found in most sports-related news outlets on the internet; e.g. outcome of a fight, summary of who is interested in buying which player
  3. Analysis and main part of the blog post: potentially split into subsections, the subsections might have their own introductory summaries
  4. Optional: a conclusion or concluding sentence

Two points stand out:

  • The most successful sports blog posts do not focus on what occurred but rather on how and why it happened/might happen.

    The already widely accessible information on what occurred at a match/game/fight is only briefly summarised at the beginning of the post. The focus of the blog automatically lies with the sought-after in-depth analyses, rather than with mere recaps of a sports event.
  • Successful sports blog posts do not require a conclusion, seeing that the title and introductory summary already function as such.

    The structure of the UK sports blog is turned upside down to favour step 3 over step 2, which goes against our traditional story-telling mode of “introduction-main part-conclusion/resolve”. The sports blog’s unique structure avoids the repetition of everyday sports news, just as desired by the readers.

Input from the readers showed that bloggers need to score with in-depth analyses and avoid a regurgitation of well-publicised information:

“Deep and contextual analyses that cannot be found in any daily news outlet is crucial”.

The findings above have confirmed that UK’s top sports bloggers are following a structure that is intrinsically built to meet these reader expectations.

As all 50 blog posts followed the same overall structure, we can even speak of a UK-specific sports blog genre. We tend to learn and follow genre conventions naturally, which is why they hold much power in our online discourse.

Long story short: Successful sports bloggers who want to monetise their content might be prioritising SEO principles; however, their content is also meeting high reader expectations.

Who is the sports expert?

Next to unique, genuinely insightful content, another reader requirement towards sports blogs became clear in the conversations. Readers see themselves as experts and want to be recognised as such.

  • “It [the sports blog] should be for readers who are part of the world of the sports and already know what has happened.”
  • “Write for actual people who care about sports and know about sports.”

At the same time, they expect to receive input from an authoritative source; after all, the readers want to go beyond reading quick sports updates when accessing blogs. Therefore, bloggers would ideally position themselves as experts, while also acknowledging the readers’ advanced sports knowledge. The most successful blogs manage to navigate this smoothly.

1. Background information is either taken for granted or only provided through the use of synonyms or in subordinate clauses. The reader - a sports expert - is expected to have prior knowledge.

  • “Hailing from Alexandria, Innes Cameron could be Kilmarnock’s next answer up front.” The club or player identities do not have to be further explained.
  • “Following this Allan Campbell, was booked for a professional foul on the Czech captain, with little complaint from the Motherwell midfielder.” Allan Campbell’ position is used as a synonym for linguistic reasons. The use of a synonym allows readers to place him, without a direct (and potentially considered condescending) explanation of who Campbell is.

2. Bloggers establish authority through their evaluation of key moments/information (here put in bold).

  • “The second half began in a very ‘bitty’ manner, similar to the opening stages of the first half. The Czech left winger, Michal Hlavaty, recorded the first attempt on goal for either side in the half with a tame shot from range that Doohan caught with no real issues.
  • The goal deflated the Czech side, who were facing their first loss of the campaign square in the face and the feeling that their lead of the group was in real jeopardy, with Scotland having another game to play next week in San Marino.
  • Every attempt at a recovery, was met by a resolute Scotland defence which was building in confidence with every clearance, tackle and interception.

It becomes clear that the expectations around sports knowledge from readers and writers feeds into the previous discussion on high-quality content.

Blog readers consider themselves somewhat “above” quick newsflashes and are turning to sports blogs for an analysis of a sports event. In the posts, readers are positioned in exactly this way: knowledgeable of background information, interested in further analytical content.

What’s next for sports bloggers and readers?

Meeting reader expectations is tough. Therefore, it might not come as a surprise that the most successful sports bloggers in the UK are multitasking, delivering on SEO best practices and analytical content - written by experts for experts.

Aspiring sports bloggers should be aware of how deeply content expectations are rooted in genre conventions. (Not) following the latter can make or break a sports blog.

At ICS-digital, we produce sports content for thousands of sites across markets and languages. We consider it key to be aware of local differences in reader expectations and to engage a target audience effectively. If you are interested in working with us, please get in touch via the contact form.