Sport could be the secret weapon as newspapers campaign to get readers to pay for online content.
Like business, sport is a media niche where people already expect to pay for coverage.
It has already worked for television. Here in New Zealand there is almost no live sport on free to air television other than international netball. Rugby, cricket, rugby league, soccer, golf and tennis are only shown live on pay TV.
In other words, if Kiwis wants to watch TV sport, they have to pay – and it isn’t cheap.
People seem willing to pay a premium to watch sport on TV more than other forms of entertainment. That’s partly because of the nature of the beast – a game with an unknown result is exciting. Watching it the next day, or a few hours later, when the score is known just isn’t the same.
Newspapers can’t compete directly with TV when it comes to capturing that drama, but I suspect people would pay to have access to first class analysis, high quality games stats and live blog or Twitter style coverage of key matches.
An example of how this can work is the way the BBC runs live, online ball-by-ball coverage of cricket test matches. Until ESPN acquired Cricnfo, the site ran similar coverage and managed to sell a number of value-added extras to subscribers.
It wouldn’t be hard to stick sports journalism behind a paywall.
Sports writing operates along slightly different lines to other types of journalism. Sports codes and the big clubs jealously guard access to personalities for interviews, photos and other matters. Publications who don’t, er, play ball, can find themselves on the outer. Some types of coverage are not welcomed and many sports have control over coverage.
A sports governing body could easily license exclusive coverage to one or more newspaper group – clubs could do the same. News Corporation already has interests in sporting codes and clubs.
This idea has one major drawback. Moving sport from free-to-air to pay-TV damages some games at a grass-roots level – sticking online media coverage behind a paywall may only make matters worse. But that’s another issue..