Call it a comeback: Sports is back in local news

Remember how local news cut back on sports for the past decade? That’s changing–FAST.


By Tim Wolff, Futuri’s VP, TV and Digital Publishing Innovation

For most of the past 15 years, local news has been cutting back on sports. I remember when I first heard that a local TV station in Colorado was dropping sports from its regular newscasts. I was shocked!

But it also made sense. When looking at ratings numbers, about half the viewers weren’t particularly interested in sports. The other half were passionate fans and their interest in sports helped them to decide which station to watch.

The rise of ESPN and getting sports scores on your phone made local news leaders think they were going to lose those passionate sports fans, anyway. That’s why many decided to save money and cut sports.

But there’s another factor they didn’t know was coming: legalized sports betting. And with it, big money is coming to local media outlets that take the necessary steps to capture the sports fans.

About 70% of news consumers say they go to a local broadcast, app or website for sports news weekly; that number jumps dramatically among gaming and esports fans: more than 90% say they go to local news every week, according to recent research by Futuri and SmithGeiger.

That’s not all. More than 60% of news consumers bet at least occasionally on sports. And news consumers generally see adding betting information during newscasts as a good thing.

When asked what impact adding betting information to local news would make, 36% said they would be more likely to watch a local station. Only one in five said they would not want betting information in a newscast.

The audience is clearly interested. And anyone who has watched a local newscast in a state where sports betting is legal can tell you that the revenue is there. When I was in Denver for the Radio Television Digital News Association conference, it seemed almost every commercial was for a sports betting app or a casino. And that’s the case wherever sports gambling is legal.

Futuri CEO Daniel Anstandig says, “Sports betting advertising is one of the fastest-growing revenue streams for broadcasters,” predicted to grow by $3 billion by 2023. That’s why Futuri launched TopicPulse SportsEdge, a real-time, AI-powered story discovery and social content system customized for sports, fantasy and e-sports. Futuri has worked with newsrooms for more than a decade, creating a full suite of innovative, AI-powered audience engagement and sales intelligence solutions.

TopicPulse SportsEdge is one tool media outlets can use as they recalibrate news planning to recapture those sports viewers who may have wandered away. Research makes it clear those viewers are ready to come back.

But what if you’re one of those news outlets that cut sports? Then start by looking at those who successfully re-imagined what sports content should be. Look for places that know sports news is not just the scores, highlights and game writeups: it’s new information combined with great storytelling you can’t get anywhere else. I’m partial to the great work by Frank Cusumano at KSDK and Derrick Goold at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They invest the time to connect with the audience with great stories about people (like this one from Frank) and live interactions with fans (sometimes Derrick’s live chats go on for more than 6 hours).

Sports, at its core, is about people. It’s about knowing where your audience is, and where you can take them.

Maintaining a strong sports presence is a choice, and it is a choice that pays off well beyond the sports pages and sports segments. Most local sports fans are also local news fans, and we need to give them reasons to choose our news outlet. We can’t afford to throw away those passionate viewers, listeners and readers.

The audience is ready for local news to ramp up sports again. Is your newsroom ready?

If so, be sure to learn more about TopicPulse SportsEdge right here.

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