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Dyson at Large: Try splashing on sport to boost sales, survey says

In the wonderful world of online journalism, most regional newspapers are constantly telling audiences about the ‘most read’, ‘most popular’ or ‘trending’ stories on their websites.

Therefore, in a mini-experiment carried out last Friday afternoon, this blog decided to find out if there were any constant threads across the UK.

Why? Well, if the majority of readers want to read certain types of story, surely there’s a lesson or two for editors on what content might sell more printed copies of their newspapers?

The result? Sport overwhelmingly came out as the most popular content on the six randomly-selected daily websites we visited; that’s sport as in football.

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And before you ask, the survey wasn’t based on sports sections’ ‘most read’ lists, but always probed ‘all’ to make sure each site’s entire content was covered. Here are the results:

Birmingham Mail. The first and fifth of the top five ‘most read’ stories were about Aston Villa FC, despite that team’s miserable season and humiliating relegation. The top five were:

  1. Aston Villa forgotten man concerned the new manager won’t like him
  2. Dad beaten up in front of children in Merry Hill parking row
  3. Four held in Birmingham terror arrests in probe linked to Paris and Brussels attacks
  4. Who dumped a 3ft dead LIZARD in Small Heath park?
  5. Former Aston Villa favourite Paul Merson on who the next boss should be

Derby Telegraph. The ongoing battle for a Championship play-off position means that Derby County FC claimed two of the four ‘most popular – latest’ stories. The top four were:

  1. Gay Pride festival in Derby axed
  2. Derby County: Rams look to take another big step towards play-offs at Charlton, says Steve Nicholson
  3. ‘Your kids should wear shoes in the bathroom’, Derby Homes tells dad
  4. Derby County: Rams need to shed ‘nearly men’ tag away from home, says Darren Wassall

Liverpool Echo. All five ‘most read’ stories were about Liverpool FC, hardly surprising given the previous evening’s 4-3 turnaround v Borussia Dortmund, as well as the anniversary of Hillsborough anniversary. They were:

  1. Europa League draw LIVE: Liverpool FC take on Villarreal in the semi-finals, plus all the reaction from the miraculous victory over Dortmund
  2. Carragher v Cundy – Reds legend sets Chelsea fan straight: ‘Stop talking s****!’
  3. Final Hillsborough Memorial Service at Anfield – updates on the 27th anniversary
  4. Liverpool FC 4 Dortmund 3 – the best social reaction from Reds players and legends
  5. James Milner on his Borussia Dortmund corners!

Manchester Evening News. It’s not Manchester United’s most thrilling season, yet they were the focus of three of the top five ‘most read’ stories. The top five were:

  1. Ander Herrera is an injury doubt for Manchester United
  2. Manchester United news and transfer rumours LIVE: Rooney return, Herrera injury update, Shaw progress, Van Gaal, Villa buildup, Mourinho latest
  3. Binmen found this dead Boxer dog that had been put out with the rubbish
  4. Manchester United set to sack Van Gaal with Mourinho lined up as his successor
  5. Witness speaks of terrifying moment he saw ‘gunman’ dressed as soldier in Urmston

Newcastle Chronicle. Three of the top five ‘most read’ were about Newcastle United, whose season has only been a little better than Aston Villa’s. The top five were:

  1. Newcastle Primark alleged abduction LIVE: Two teenage girls charged with sexually motivated kidnapping of toddler
  2. Newcastle United news LIVE: Rafa Benitez gives his press conference – here’s what he said
  3. Newcastle predictor: Use our gadget to call relegation run-in – and see if a Great Escape is on
  4. Florian Thauvin told to ‘give it his all or retire’ after making incredible ‘tired’ statement
  5. Are these the trickiest traffic lights in the Newcastle? Watch and see

Yorkshire Evening Post. Leeds United were standing at a mediocre 15th in the Championship, but still ticked off three of the top ‘trending’ stories. The top five were:

  1. Leeds United in crisis: Cellino – the backlash grows
  2. Leeds United: Evans on brink of ‘record’
  3. Car-free plans for Leeds street to create city’s largest outdoor dining hub
  4. Leeds fast food restaurant owner helped launder £32,000
  5. Leeds United v Reading: Former boss McDermott holds no grudges

Overall, out of the ‘most read’ story lists on six websites, 18 out of 29 – or 62% – were about that city’s top football team. So what does that tell us?

Despite the instant availability of sports news elsewhere on the internet and social media, supporters are still turning to local paper websites for another read, often in greater numbers than those seeking news.

And if that’s what’s switching readers on, it’s surely worth seeing if the same can be replicated in the shop window (page one) of print.

Most dailies already have a sports boost on page one every day, and many will splash the day after a major match, signing or manager’s  dismissal.

But the reality is – and this hurts for a traditional news man to say it – regional dailies covering major clubs should consider splashing on football EVERY day for a week, just to see how it goes.

And if there’s more than one club, concentrate on the most popular, because I don’t see any suggestion of Birmingham City, Everton or Manchester City and the likes in the above survey.

This was just a snapshot, of course, and perhaps a longer, more in depth analysis should take place before anyone really splashes on sport every single day.

And it’s probably not an option in cities where football’s not king, or if an obvious ‘triple-murder’-style story is screaming for the front.

But on most average days, when you’ve got instant popularity statistics that point towards the changing rooms, why not follow the eyes and see what it does for sales?

* Coming soon: The slowly expanding world of hyperlocals (part two)


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  • April 20, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Not sure this would actually work for print.

    If you are reporting on a big-name club you will get visitors to your website from all around the world.

    I expect many of these web visitors do not live in Liverpool etc but come from well outside the print edition’s circulation area or are even abroad.

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  • April 20, 2016 at 11:15 am

    The Chronicle website frequently displays five or more Newcastle United stories before other news and I don’t think that’s a bad thing given the local passion for the club and the relegation fight. As I write this the online splash is the latest Gazza saga, followed by ‘Watch Rafael Benitez’s press conference after Newcastle United’s hard fought draw with Man City’, alongside ‘Dressing room opinion: The word from inside the Newcastle camp after the draw with Man City’.
    Underneath those are the rest of the news stories but in fairness no real clickbait which usually resides in the right sidebar.

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  • April 20, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    The Newcastle Chronicle already splashes on Newcastle United FC on a regular basis.

    Personally I find it tedious, but your survey does confirm what those of us familiar with the stats have long known.

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  • April 20, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Yet there is no widely-read daily national sports publication in this country as there is elsewhere in Europe with titles such as Gazetta dello Sport or Marca. Curious, isn’t it?

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  • April 20, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    God Steve, give us a break,

    There’s a tsunami of football flooding this country as it is.

    We’ve being brainwashed into believing a multi-billion pound business that makes scandalous profits for the few off the backs of the many is somehow vitally important to the mental and physical well-being of the nation.

    It isn’t. It’s just a daft game that’s lost all sense of proportion.

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  • April 20, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    In his heyday, the great former Birmingham Evening Mail editor Ian Dowell would have splashed on Villa every day for the last three weeks. One of them would surely have said ‘In the name of God, go…’ Sport is and always has been a big seller and good editors should make more of it than most do.

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  • April 22, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    What a brilliant snapshot of the Chronicle in 2016 – absolutely compelling stuff and such variety. The website stats don’t lie.

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