Should the media do more to promote niche sports?

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Posted by Elliott York - 05 September, 2017

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The sports journalism and media industry is one that focus' heavily around the most popular sports, such as football, cricket and rugby. 

Niche sports, ones that don't appeal to mass audiences, rarely get a look in. Should this be the case?

You may notice whenever you pick up a newspaper or head to your favoured sports news website, the same sports dominate the headlines because at the end of the day, they're the sports that are going to attract readers.

In this day and age, newspapers and the media all compete together in order to try and put their message across, with every publication fighting to gain a superior media infuence. 

Not only this, but it is an almighty scramble for news outlets to get their pictures and headlines out before everyone else. Because of this, the variety and quality of their material is pushed down the list of priorites. 

In the world of journalism, newspapers and media outlets won't want to publish stories that aren't going to attract a vast amount of readers, which is why we see the same sports covering our computer screens and back pages of our newspapers. 

Research findings

Earlier in the year, I was able to carry out some research into the subject, which included putting together a survey asking a variety of people about how niche sports are reported in the mainstream media. 

Niche sports survey Q1.png

As seen from the graph above, there was an overwhelming amount of people who think the mainstream media only focus on the sports mentioned in the question; an unsurprising result. 

Niche sports survey Q2.png

Here you can see the results are more even, with 24 people saying yes to 58 saying no. 

There are very solid sides to both sides of the argument. An argument against media outlets soley publishing content surrounding the most popular sports is the idea that they should be trying to stimulate and interest people in a wider range of sports. 

Alternatively, it can be said that newspapers and other forms of media are businesses at the end of the day and need to make money if they are to survive. So, would broadening their sports coverage damage their ability to attract readers and earn revenue? It's hard to imagine, unless there was a major event on such as the Olympic games, that a sport even as big as hockey would make it on the back page of a newspaper. 

A footballer's mishaps off the pitch, such as Wayne Rooney's recent drink driving charge, would have recieved more coverage than Chris Froome's brilliant efforts to continue leading the Vuelta a España; cyclings final major race of 2017. 

Froome, arguably, is one Britain's most under-hyped sportsman when you consider what he has achieved in a sport as tough as cycling. Rightly or wrongly, this isn't helped by the mainstream media bumping his sporting endeavour down their pages in favour of highlighting England's all time record goal scorer mistakes away from the pitch. 

The argument here is what do the media consider to be in the public interest. Clearly, they see Rooney to be more within the public interest than Froome's success. Again, rightly or wrongly, this is probably true. 

Unfortunately, people will see the headlines and pictures of the Everton striker with a negative headline on the shelf and want to read more about it. For the sports that are considered niche in this country, like cycling, what chance do they have of growing their audience if the mainstream media are plastering other news items that aren't necessarily sport related?

An opposing point here would be if people wanted to read about a sport that is considered a niche, they'll simply go elsewhere to view that particular content. This is true. If you want to find out what has happened in the English Premier Ice Hockey League, you aren't going to pick up the lastest copy of the Daily Mail. 

Heading to the official website or the clubs website will be your best option, or have a quick scroll through your social media. 

The impact of social media 

Sports new - Niche sports article.png

The graph above identifies where the 82 people that were surveyed go to find their news.

Social media is constantly evolving and the mainstream media are taking the several platforms, especially Twitter, very seriously. Twitter has fast become a platform which every media outlet uses to push out news stories as soon as they happen. Aforementioned, the competition to get stories out before anyone else is fierce and getting a headline, picture or video out on twitter first is important to media outlets.

Likewise, it has become a platform where a great chunk of the general public go to find out the latest news. As seen from the graph, print journalism seems to be a thing of the past. It's been a topic of debate since the evolution of social media, newspapers have struggled to sell as more and more people are attracted to the simple click of a button on their smartphone. 

As such, platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram provide niche sports an unlimited playground to allow their content to be viewed by anyone at any time. Coverage of these sports are widened and the spotlight can be cast upon a niche sport much easier, especially if a video or picture goes viral. 

With this in mind, maybe it isn't so necessary for news outlets to publish niche sporting content in their papers and online. As we've touched on, print journalism is struggling and these outlets need as much revenue as they can get from sales of newspapers and readers on their websites to be able to survive.

Journalism and media companies are commercially driven businesses. If the mainstream media start to print more and more niche sport content over stories that might be more within the publics interest, the money they need to survive may not be there for them. 

Loyal audiences

It would be great for the growth of niche sport audiences if they could get more content in the mainstream media. Gaining popularity for niche sports in this country would be great, the majority of sports fans will no doubt be unaware of some of the worlds exciting and dangerous sports and the success British athletes have in those sports.

However, niche sport audiences provide their respective sports with an extremely loyal following, so the number of sport specific newspapers/magazines they sell will be consistant. 

These sports have loyal readers, the revenue they get from these will ultimately keep the journalists working in the industries in a job and publications they work for alive. 

The future

It is difficult to see the mainstream media starting to publish niche sport content across the home page of their websites and back pages of their newspapers, unless it's that one time of year where we get someone like Chris Froome win the Tour de France or England netball win the World Cup. 

As nice as it would be to see some diversity, it's hard to criticise the mainstream media for publishing what they do. Stories need to sell and like in any other business, revenue needs to be made. 

This being said, more should be done to try and get niche sports some of the national attention they deserve. 

Niche sports article - final graph .png

MotoGP, World Superbikes (a sport that's had three British champions in last four years) and British Superbikes are all niche sports in this country, so this was a good example to use to establish what reaction it would get if sports like these were reguarly published in the main news outlets. 

As seen from the chart, it's visible to see why news outlets aren't fussed about hyping up niche sports with just under half of the people surveyed said they wouldn't bother reading it. 

News outlets won't change what they publish unless they feel it will be benefitial to do so, which is pretty fair game. A shame for niche sports fans who would love to see their sports getting recognition.  

Your thoughts

Are niche sports destined to always play second fiddle to sporting heavyweights like football and rugby in the UK, or can more be done to give them the recognition they deserve? Let us know in the comments below.

Topics: Opinion


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