Sports websites vs corporate sites : a score draw?
Andrew Rigby looks at the ways sporting organizations present themselves online, and finds there are lessons for corporate web managers – and some pitfalls to avoid
At Bowen Craggs we often encourage corporate web managers to look at other areas of the web for inspiration, and even at different digital formats like video games, as Scott Payton highlighted.
The world of sport is perceived as a hub of online innovation and creativity, so we decided to examine the online presences of a range of leading sporting organizations, teams and individuals from around the globe.
Our focus was on how sporting entities explain themselves online – how they work, who owns them, who runs them. And the TLDR (“too long didn’t read”) version of our findings is: not very well.
Yet there are some bright spots to learn from, and some mistakes to avoid:
1. Think about your audiences – all of them!
What immediately struck us was the primacy of social media channels in sports – especially for teams and athletes. The sports industry has rightly latched on to social media as a way to connect directly with, and sell to, fans. There is plenty for companies to learn from sporting social channels when it comes to communicating with and selling to consumers – in fact so much we will not try to cover it here. Another article, perhaps.
But prioritising one audience does not have to come at the expense of neglecting others.
Many athletes in particular have abandoned conventional websites which set out information about themselves and their careers – we could not see one for F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, nor NFL quarterback Tom Brady for example. Instead, they offer websites for particular lines of merchandise, or their charitable foundations.
That isn’t a workable model for companies that need to tell the world about themselves, satisfy regulators, analysts and journalists, and attract audiences such as investors and jobseekers.
And while the likes of Lewis and Tom do not have to worry about many of these things, there will undoubtedly be audiences such as journalists who want a bit more concrete, factual information.
Tennis legend Serena Williams seems to understand this – not only does she have a site https://www.serenawilliams.com, she includes a biography and blog, and a section which features coverage of her in various publications. It is hardly exhaustive, but it is at least a start for those wanting to write about Serena or work with her.
But even when sports organizations offer a website, the areas which equate to those on a corporate site – the about sections, careers, and investors where appropriate – are often spectacularly under-populated and under-promoted, as well as hived off into separate sites.
For example, the National Basketball Association does not have an about section or site, just a loose network of microsites for jobseekers and other audiences, only accessible via tiny links in the footer. Major League Baseball’s ‘about’ page https://www.mlb.com/official-information/about-mlb provides virtually nothing of any real value – perhaps that is just as well because the link is similarly hidden in a footer. The same is true of golf’s PGA tour site.
The lack of content and proper signposting is almost certainly also partly due to a lack of centralised governance of the estate – a mistake we sometimes see companies repeat.
2. Be bolder with design, and know when to differentiate
Many sports league websites, especially US ones, look remarkably similar – compare Major League Baseball’s mlb.com with the NFL’s nfl.com for example. These organizations have missed an opportunity to really set themselves apart design-wise – a tendency we often encounter, especially with companies in the same industry.
Corporate teams wanting to differentiate their web presence are better off taking inspiration from the visual richness and personality of the sites of major sports stars, such as tennis player Rafael Nadal https://rafaelnadal.com/en/, footballer Lionel Messi https://messi.com/en/ or racing driver Max Verstappen https://www.verstappen.com/ .
3. Do not be afraid of ‘busy’ navigation, and do not be too minimal either
One area not to mimic from some of the individuals’ sites is in navigation – hamburger menus on desktop, and other minimalist menus, are not a wise choice for information-rich corporate sites.
But the menus on other sports websites show a willingness to surface a lot of options, something we often hear companies worrying about. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) https://olympics.com/ioc offers lots of main menu signposts in a user-friendly way, along with secondary navigation bars, as do the websites of the NFL and MLB which we highlighted earlier.
4. Show the people behind the organization
Many sports organizations are reluctant to show who exactly is leading and running them. The English football Premier League is one notable example – its brief ‘about’ page does not name or picture any of its leaders https://www.premierleague.com/about. The Premier League may not feel it needs to be as open because it is a private company, but audiences today are demanding more transparency from all organizations.
The world governing body of football, FIFA, does a better job of this, with a president’s page promoted on the main home page of www.fifa.com. Presumably the risk of accusations of egotism were trumped by the need for transparency, given the past scandals surrounding the current president’s predecessors.
5. Employ great writers
Despite their faults, sports websites get huge numbers of visits from devoted fans. But given they can get news from so many sources, even fans need a reason to stay and return. Sites like nfl.com have recognised this with a roster of highly respected and, above all, interesting writers https://www.nfl.com/author/ .
Most users come to corporate websites simply to achieve a task, and great writing is often the key to getting them engaged with the corporate brand.