The independent voice of rowing in Britain

How YOU can affect online rowing coverage

Posted by rowingvoice on September 6, 2015

I wrote the bulk of this in late August 2014, during the rowing world championships.  Didn’t post it up, thinking it was too whiny.   But then what it said came completely true….  Read the first section from 2014, then read to the bottom.

September 2014

Rowing is in serious danger of being dropped even further down the list of which sports matter in Britain (and most of the world), and you can do something about it.

Somebody’s going to have to — in fact a lot of people are going to have to — or else we will become an idiosyncratic corner of the sporting world, fit only for Boat Race jokes and Olympic tolerance every four years, on a par with synchronised swimming and Greco-Roman wrestling.  Yes, really, I mean it.  If you don’t get how serious this is and what a golden opportunity we have to change things for the better, please keep reading.

It’s a long blog, this one.

Tough, it needs to be.

First, a digression.  Five years ago the situation was different.  Sports importance in the media was based largely on what the ad-men told the editors and producers the likely revenue was.  Advertising revenue was linked heavily to leisure spend.  The sports which won were those in which spectators tend to spend a lot of money — on tickets, travel to events, equipment and memberships to play the same sport in their free time, clothing and branded merchandise.  Multiply this by spectator numbers (mostly TV), and you’ve got a decent measure of what media gurus take to matter.

So football, a sport in which even a very averagely keen fan might well buy a replica shirt and travel to several live matches every year, as well as kick a ball about in his or her local club, and which probably three-quarters of the UK population wants to watch on TV regularly, was and still is top of the heap.  Behind that come ‘major’ sports with similar levels of interest/participation/buying, but lower numbers — golf, rugby, cricket, horse-racing, tennis, motor-racing and lately cycling.

Then you start to get into what the papers consider to be ‘minor sports’ territory.  Not a huge following in national terms, not much merchandise, not really lucrative in marketing terms, rarely on TV.  Rowing has long been one of these, and it has had a bigger profile than most for two reasons — the annual televised Boat Race, and the national-treasure status of Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent who are genuine household names.

Despite this, in a world where no media now tries to cover everything, and stories are picked either for shock value or because they involve an ‘important’ sport, rowing has been low in the pecking order.  As newspapers went through the Noughties depression, they mostly ditched minor sports people didn’t seem to care about.  Redgrave and then Pinsent retired, and it’s much harder for most other rowers to build a big profile in their shadow.  Since it made no difference to reaction or readership whether they bothered to carry a report on the semi-finals of a world cup regatta, editors mostly stopped doing so.  The Indy, Guardian, Observer, Mail, Express, Evening Standard and many others stopped almost completely, putting in only a few lead-rower features except in Olympic year (when the rules briefly change and reporting racing becomes sexy again for about a month and a half.)

It’s really hard to move up this ranking.  I believe that nothing will ever rival football in the UK, partly for historical reasons.   Athletics, through a combination of increased TV coverage and canny marketing of personalities as brands (think Jess Ennis, Mo Farah) has moved up into the major sports group.   Team Sky singlehandedly shifted cycling from ‘minor’ to ‘major’, aided by the Chris Hoy Effect on the track and the overlap of Bradley Wiggins’ road and track careers, but even that fades at non-seasonal times.  Without someone spending millions on major events, most sports will stay minor and then the question is, are they top of the minor league (eg equestrianism, boxing) or bottom?

Ok, digression over.  The recent change, and it’s come about mostly in the last 2 years, is the new way in which the print media, TV, radio and online-only sites are measuring interest in sports and thus how much coverage they should get.  Of course, it’s based on the internet because that is how the younger generations, the ones the advertisers are most interested in catching before their habits form, mostly engage with sports news now.  If you’re over 40, you probably won’t like it.  I’m afraid you have to deal with it — it’s not going to change.

Nowadays, simple online page-views are not enough:  not least because advertisers are now canny enough to know that people often flick ‘through’ pages and quickly on to something else.

Instead, what counts is reaction.

Anything.  Basically something which shows in measurable statistics that you have read the article, looked at the photograph, or watched the video.  This isn’t actually new – in the old days, coverage of a sport depended on how many Letters to the Editor it tended to provoke.  When I started at the Telegraph in 2002, a phone call was starting to have more impact.   Five years ago it became emails.  Times move on and now publicly visible internet reactions rule — probably because of the very fact that they can be seen by every reader, not just the editors.

It was announced at the Telegraph in mid-2014 that the success level of stories, ie whether they supported the DT’s aim to increase its readership, would from now on be based on what’s loosely called ‘social media reaction’.  This is a broad church.  It includes simply pressing ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ at the foot of an online article or video, or adding a comment, as well as more obvious SM methods such as retweeting on Twitter, sharing on Facebook or other hubs.

For newspapers, making a comment at the foot of the online version of the story is by far the best.  But it really doesn’t matter what the comment says, as long as it is not pure gobbledygook.  You can slag off the piece, the sport, or the author.  You can be positive, add something interesting related to the story, or just express your support of the sport or athlete.  Or you can say ‘good coverage’ while simultaneously whingeing about why the paper/news site/TV station doesn’t do more on this particular sport.  [Eg:  “Great Boat Race article, but why isn’t there anything online about the Head of the River?“]  It must be coherent, clearly written by a real person not a program, and show that you have fully read the piece.

Look at today’s sport in the online Telegraph – because it’s one I know tracks this information.  A piece (nearly any piece) on football gets published online, and within a day there are dozens, sometimes hundreds of reactions.  Dozens of comments, lots of +1 FB likes, retweets, the whole shebang.  Now compare this to minor sports, and you’ll see what I mean.  Often (including most rowing) they attract complete silence.  I finally received a decent level of likes and retweets for my 2014 world champs eights report (and two whole comments!), but the rest of my Amsterdam articles pretty much led to interaction in single digits, or zero.  People were reading the stories, but they were simply not reacting.  As far as the editors go, it might as well have been a mis-click.  The same is true of the Guardian and many other papers and sports news sites.

The Telegraph sport index is quite dynamic:  if a story is getting lots of reaction on its day of publication, it will first move onto the front webpage and eventually move higher.  (Football stories top the list on most UK pages because hundreds of people react to them.)  I am certain other websites are the same, even though the BBC and ITV sports news websites don’t yet show how many comments they’re getting.  They will soon.  They will already be counting them, you can be certain.

September 6th 2015, Aiguebelette

That’s what I wrote last year.  Then, in early summer 2015, the new Telegraph sport policy hit rowing.  Nothing from trials after the Boat Race fuss was over.  They put my European championships pieces online, then the final report from Varese, then blank again.  Nothing from Henley Royal Regatta despite amazing results and large numbers of column inches in the print paper.  Nothing from Lucerne at all.  Nothing on the team selection (by the way, all these got space in the paper), while the story of James Cracknell gallantly saving a man from drowning, which is not sports news, had prime position in the rowing index.  Nothing from Aiguebelette for day after day this week.  And then, suddenly, the Saturday Olympic-finals piece was published online last night.

So today, for the first time since May 2015, a Telegraph international rowing story has gone online.

If this is going to have ANY impact at all, lots of people need to react.  If they don’t, I suspect we will subside to a point where rowing in the Telegraph only gets online when feature articles about big stars are published.  News stories about racing will be ignored as they have been most of the summer.

If you want rowing through the winter on the Telegraph website, before the Olympic fracas kicks in, go and post a comment, share the article, or tweet the link.  Comments are best but any reaction is good.  I don’t care if you hate my writing, just react to it.

This is your chance to show the Telegraph sports editorship that rowing supporters DO care that their sport is covered properly.  If we could get 20-odd comments on this weekend’s piece, perhaps they will put more online.

It’s up to you.

Measurements of these social media and online interest stats takes place constantly, and is collated at every level: daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.  Comments, likes and retweets are still have some value, even if they are made several weeks later.

If you support rowing and want to see it have a higher profile in the UK, then go to an online newspaper article about the sport — recent or a while ago — and comment, or like, or retweet it.  Doesn’t matter which paper or magazine, but it DOES have to be the independent press – there’s no need to persuade bloggers, national federations or team publications to carry on covering the sport.  The difficult area is the press which doesn’t HAVE to cover rowing, the publications which cover other sports too and currently only choose rowing occasionally because they think it doesn’t have many supporters.

If you don’t want to join Twitter, Facebook or other social media yourself, then ask someone else to do it for you.  Athletes, you should be like-ing and sharing articles which mention your crew, routinely.  Hopefully so will your friends and relatives.  Say something, it doesn’t matter what.

Do it now.

Thank you.


16 Responses to “How YOU can affect online rowing coverage”

  1. di said

    Great week for GB and topping the medal table shows we are primed for Rio. This deserves wide coverage across all media so is good to find online at last.

  2. MM said

    I believe the main problem is how in accessible rowing is to the masses. If you look 7% of people are privately educated yet well over 50% of the British team are privately educated. This puts people off trying. If you want to play foot ball you kick a ball around, if you want to cycle you ride a bike but to try rowing is difficult. I was at one of the biggest clubs in the UK the other day and there was some one trying to join and get involved all I heard is the people she was talking to trying to put her off and say how she wouldn’t enjoy it. So why would these people be bothered about rowing filling up there papers and news if they get treated like this.

    If you want more coverage then British Rowing surely need to work out more ways to to relate to the general public. All programs in place at the moment are about getting young or talented people involved with the end game being trying to get results for the national squad. What BR need to do is get people involved who are not going to make the national team, the type who are taking up cycling to get fit and enjoy them self as it is easily accessible.

  3. Rob C said

    I’ll start commenting on all rowing articles straight away!

    • Langstone Cutters RC gets a lot of members this way – people come along saying they tried to join a club and were fobbed off because they were too old/out of shape/inexperienced to be potential A-crew members. It is this attitude in, I have to say, many sliding seat clubs that has made fixed seat rowing the fastest-growing sport in Britain. Go to any Cornish Pilot Gig or Scottish Coastal Rowing club and you will see how their welcoming attitude builds membership not just for athletes but for people who just want to row to get a bit fitter and socialise, and are the people who go on to maintain the boats, organise regattas and generally keep the club a living, vibrant social organisation.

      • rowperfect said

        Chris that is really interesting. Would you write an article for the Rowperfect blog on this?

        I am sure you aren’t the only club who could learn from this anecdote

        Rebecca Caroe

      • Well said Chris!
        The fixed seat clubs of all types are growing at an amazing rate and British Rowing are waking up to this at last. We all need to pull together (sorry!) to get the message across to the media that rowing is an inclusive sport open to all anywhere where there’s a stretch of water and we’re never too far from the coast!
        Keep up the good work and if we get asked back to the Boat Race next year I’ll be in touch!

  4. Chiltern2000 said

    The challenge is the Telegraph now publishes rowing (on line or in print) so infrequently that one just doesn’t bother to go and look for it. To respond and comment (and I have) one needs an alert system on Facebook, Twitter etc so that we know to go and read – and then comment

  5. Great points everyone. So one way to alert a wide audience of people who ARE interested in rowing is to use the Rowperfect website and social media accounts. I own the business, and I am very happy to offer it to the cause.
    Here’s how:
    1 – copy and paste the article link (I recommend a partial post so people HAVE to go to the DT site to read it all) and tell readers that you want them to comment. We have a public blog posting portal
    2 – email or alert me (@Rowperfect or @rebeccacaroe) that you’ve done the upload and I will quickly approve / publish.
    3 – the blog automatically goes out to our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr sites and we have a very large following around the English speaking rowing world.

    This service is available for anyone in rowing who has something to say – Rowperfect wants to be the forum for discussion and education in the sport. Please join in and start the conversation.
    Rebecca Caroe

  6. […] Rachel Quarrel published a tongue-lashing to her employers at The Telegraph newspaper over their lack of support for the rowing media coverage she writes for them.  Interestingly she reports a different perception of “public interest” from the print and digital media teams. […]

    • (and, importantly, with subscriber numbers dwindling, the print edition is becoming more of a dinosaur and clearly its print readership is considered not suitable to define the total readership of the paper. This is a peculiarly Telegraph problem because of its ageing subscribership. Note that I don’t believe the Telegraph thinks the print edition will disappear, just that it sees young readers a) not taking out subscriptions; b) not taking out online subscriptions; c) reading pick and mix online without being loyal to one paper and d) wanting to see their names (if athletes) or sport (if supporters) in print too but without wanting to pay for it. All this leads to a situation where chasing digital reaction is considered the most effective way to increase young readership…. – RQ.)

  7. Stefan said

    Hmmmm… I think some commentators have touched on this already… There seems to be this misconception (perhaps because of the hoo-hah that Henley gets every year) that rowing is for puffed-up toffs (and we bloody well know that’s not the case). I might just have been in the sport for a short time, but I’ve yet to meet anyone that matches that description… Everyone who rows does it because they love it, whether they are privately educated or not. Sure, private schools can possibly afford a boathouse on a river, but that should never stop someone from finding out where their nearest rowing club is and see if they can join it. I’ve not regretted doing that for an instant (it helped that I have friends who row).

    So I think the more we can show that rowing is an everyman’s sport that does not necessarily have to be expensive (membership and race fees can be the only expense sometimes), the better. Beyond that, I guess the only other limiting factor is ‘where there is a decent stretch of water’, whereas football, rugby, cricket etc have an even lesser requirement of ‘where we can put together 100-200 yards of green’. 🙂

  8. Jimmy S said

    I suspect that rowing will remain an also ran in the sports world. It is quite boring to watch because at most regattas you see the finish or a short part of each race but not much more. Screens could change that as they have done with some horse racing. It is massively subsidised by the lottery because individuals are not interested enough to pay for it out of their own pockets and as I understand it, no company is willing to sponsor our Olympic rowing team. WIth the funding has come political interference so that the BBC makes sure it reports on women’s sport and the women and “paralympians” have to be promoted out of all proportion to any actual interest members of the public may have in these events. British Rowing will not work out more ways to relate to the general public (suggested above). It is a cosy club of rowing people who are all interested in the sport and are hence unlikely to understand why anyone is not interested in the sport.

  9. Rebecca scorer said

    In response to MM comment, is it all about private education, or how many people are lucky to live local to a river to row on? I’ve personally never found the sport anything but inviting and heard it open to everyone, regardless of education, at clubs around the country.

  10. Hi Rachel.

    Well said and point well made.

    Last Friday I sat with the BBC director for the Boat Race at Thames RC and chatted through the plans for the flotilla. I gave them hard copy of information about the boats (with photographs so they could identify them) and I gave them all the info on a USB stick.
    What did we get in return – platitudes at the time “Oh well, people only want to see the racing crews” “We’ll see if there’s any interest” “We might pick up a couple of shots” and on the day – a panic phone “Who’s rowing Gloriana??” (they had all that info in the pack) then just one 10 second shot of ‘Gloriana’ saluting the crews as she passed Thames?!

    The BBC just don’t get it!

    They made a complete hash up of the Diamond Jubilee Pageant coverage thinking the viewers had switched on to see runny paintings and soggy presenters – NO! people wanted to see the boats and the people on them, funnily enough that’s why millions came to the river to watch but not the BBC, no mention of the boat from New Zealand or the Avenue of Sail…sorry I digress.

    On Sunday for the first time there was a’warm up act’ on the river, mind you the cutter races have been held for seven years with no mention on TV.

    This year ‘Gloriana’ rowed by a mixture of Blues and keen volunteers led a flotilla of 20 boats of all shapes and sizes. They originated in Malta, Venice, Scotland and obviously vintage Thames boats crewed by dozens of keen enthusiasts who had come to take part.

    For the Oxbridge Challenge (the TTRA cutter races which followed) crews had come from around London and as far afield as Whitby.

    As the 32 boats rowed down to Putney from ULBC we warmed up the crowds already in the hostelries, getting cheers in support.

    Gloriana came under Putney bridge exactly on time and started ‘The Boat Races Festival of Rowing’ with the first of many salutes (tossing of oars) and was then followed upstream by the flotilla. As can be seen on Gloriana’s Face Book page there are dozens of wonderful pictures of scenes never seen before on the Thames on Boat Race day before but not one was televised by the BBC or has appeared in the press.

    The flotilla tossed oars and cheered and the crowds (with a little encouragement) cheered in reply as we made a very regal progress up the course in fact setting a new course record – the slowest time of 1hr 7mins!!

    The whole pageant arrived at Chiswick Bridge by 4:15 and cleared the course as the first of the Boat Races started – the big concern of some.

    A truly wonderful spectacle, enjoyed by all those taking part and I’m sure by the 1000’s on the banks but that’s all.
    Nothing on the BBC or in the press – even The Mail couldn’t bring themselves to show a picture of the flotilla just the usual ones of beer supping crowds on the bank.

    We really MUST try and get a message across to the media – this maritime nation (it’s in our DNA) like to look at boats so PLEASE show them what they come down to the river to see.

    If there’s anything we at Thames Alive, The Gloriana Trust and Thames Traditional Rowing Association can do in support please let us know!

    Malcolm KNIGHT
    Events Manager The Queen’s Row Barge ‘Gloriana’
    Director Thames Alive

    • rowperfect said

      Malcolm – you are SPOT ON as ever. I have taken the liberty of reproducing your comments in the Rowperfect blog. We get a global readership and I will link back to this so others can read more.

  11. […] Quarrell is a rowing journalist who is leading a campaign to improve the coverage of rowing events in the mainstream […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: