SBJ/April 7-13, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

WTA eyes more digital content

By now, sports leagues and teams creating their own content, hiring reporters and competing with traditional media is old hat. Just last week, the Buffalo Bills hired a weekend anchor from a Georgia TV station for their website.

Individual sports are a different story, though, and the WTA Tour is taking steps to change that. This week, the tour will announce it has hired digital media veteran Rich Libero as its vice president of content strategy and publishing, a new role. Libero most recently was vice president of digital content for NBC Sports Regional Networks. Prior to that, he was a top editor at NHL.com.

The hiring is part of the WTA’s drive to ramp up its digital efforts with WTATennis.com, with more emphasis being placed on video snippets and the kind of staff-produced content other leagues and sports are offering. Fans’ increased consumption of content via mobile is also being considered.

The tour is placing more emphasis on video snippets and other staff-produced content.

“We are providing more content on and off the court so fans can get closer to the stars that they love,” said WTA Chief Executive Officer Stacey Allaster.

The WTA 18 months ago tapped F3 Ideas to consult on the tour’s media plan.

“Tennis in general doesn’t have a dedicated mouthpiece for inside access,” said Conn Fishburn, F3’s founder. “We want to make the WTA the authority for women’s professional tennis, as the place that will break the news and have the inside scoop and can be the central repository from a digital-publishing perspective and from a content-development perspective.”

To that end, Fishburn said, the tour is tapping tennis beat writers as freelancers for the site and taking WTA Live, a live streaming show now housed on YouTube, and replaying it on WTATennis.com.

Mark Hodgkinson, Diane Pucin, Ravi Ubha and Joel Drucker are among the tennis writers now contributing content for the WTA’s editorial efforts.

The WTA faces challenges that major sports like the NFL and NBA do not. Tennis players are independent contractors, so they are not obligated to appear on the WTA’s non-match programming. Also to be considered is that tennis is a global sport, so what might sell in one region might not play well in another. And then there are the financial limitations, with the dollars in tennis not being what they are in other leagues that have added to their digital operations.

Nevertheless, the tour is increasing its head count, even with the recent elimination of its chief marketing officer position. (Andrew Walker departed as CMO at the end of last year. The tour since then has spread what used to be Walker’s responsibilities to other positions on staff.)

Since the start of 2013, head count at the WTA has risen from 88.5 (including one part-time position) to 99. The additions have involved editorial and marketing jobs, along with full-time positions in Singapore, site of the tour’s season-ending championships.

Allaster expects to recoup the cost of the additional staff through sponsorship sales and other signs of increased popularity of the tour — such as more website visits and more TV viewers, with a resulting increase in ad dollars from those gains. Traffic to the mobile version of the tour’s website was up 47 percent in the first quarter of 2014 compared with 2013, according to data Allaster provided.

As the WTA moves in its new editorial direction, it also is in the early stages of a larger strategic review with the aid of outside consultant Teneo, which is conducting focus groups in Asia, Germany and Los Angeles.

“Everything is on the table,” Allaster said, contending she wants to hear from all constituencies, especially sports fans who do not follow women’s tennis.

In addition to hiring Libero, the tour is hiring as senior vice president of communications Heather Bowler, currently global communications director with Eurosport; and Emily Wright as vice president for marketing solutions, a new role tasked with helping sponsors activate. Wright previously was with Octagon.

Wright joins Libero in starting with the tour this week. Bowler starts in June.


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