FoxSports.com, USA Today benefit from Olympic ‘ambush broadcasting’

You’ve heard of ambush marketing. But media companies in London performed a sort of ambush broadcasting. London was littered with media companies that profited from the Olympics without holding any of the rights.

FoxSports.com had, perhaps, the highest profile of any non-rights holder. From its set atop the Westfield Mall, which gave perfectly unobstructed views of Olympic Park and the Olympic Stadium, the website invested more money and devoted more energy around the Olympics than ever before.
Thanks also to a deal that highlights FoxSports.com stories on MSN’s home page, FoxSports.com saw record-high traffic during the first week of the Games. FoxSports.com logged 73 million visits during the first full week of the Games (July 29-Aug. 4). That number is the highest the site has ever seen for a week and more than tripled the number of visitors to its Beijing site in 2008.

Fox had told advertisers that it expected 40 million unique visitors during the Games.

During the Olympics opening weekend (July 27-29), FoxSports.com’s Olympic section had almost 11 million unique visitors. The official rights holder, NBCOlympics.com, had 7.4 million unique visitors during the opening weekend. Traffic for the Olympics’ second week will be released Tuesday or Wednesday.

“With our partnership with MSN, we were obviously going to get more traffic than we’ve ever had before,” said Rick Jaffe, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Fox Sports Interactive Media. “We’ve done really well on the advertising side. We’ve been doing great on the traffic side from video and page views.”

The Fox Sports set overlooked Olympic Park.
JOHN OURAND PHOTO
Jaffe shares the set atop east London’s Westfield Mall with sister company Sky Sports, a British TV station. He instantly fell in love with the site, located just outside of the Olympic Village, when he saw the sightlines he would have.

“It’s that instant credibility factor,” Jaffe said. “The BBC’s shots are no better than ours, and they do have the rights. This puts you right there with the people who are actually doing it at the big-time level: the BBC, NBC. We’re right there with them.”

Without online video rights, FoxSports.com decided to focus on the four most popular Olympic sports in the United States: swimming, basketball, gymnastics and track and field. Jaffe hired a former gold medalist from each sport to provide commentary throughout the Games.

FoxSports.com saw a lot of traffic, for example, after Michael Phelps won his record-setting 22nd medal. FoxSports.com produced an online program where the gold medalists discussed whether Phelps was the greatest Olympian.

Dave Morgan, USA Today Sports Media Group’s senior vice president of content and editor-in-chief, helped FoxSports.com develop its Olympic strategy. FoxSports.com hired him as a consultant before he took the USA Today job last year.

USA Today, which had about 80 staffers in London, followed a similar strategy as FoxSports.com, even if it didn’t have as grand a studio set.

“For people that watch the great production that NBC does, they’re still going to go to the TV for that. NBC’s going to have the highlights,” Morgan said. “We don’t necessarily need to compete in that area. It’s available for the audience. We don’t own it. And there’s nothing we can do with any of that to differentiate from the rights holder. … People are looking for something else. If all they are looking for is highlights, we’re out of that game anyway. We can tell by video consumption that’s not all they’re looking for.”

Instead, Morgan’s team focused on story-telling and future events, rather than spending a lot of time recapping events that already took place.

“By taking that approach, we get out of the biggest problem with video — and this is why NBC has thousands of people here — and that’s the quick turnaround,” Morgan said. “If we spend all of our time getting a videographer and a host and a gymnastics expert and a gymnastics reporter together to talk video about what just happened in team qualifying, by the time we get that up, it’s not the story anymore.”

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