BBC Sport: Somewhere between dad dancing and #ladsbantz

Our guest this episode is Stuart Rowson who was, until very recently, Younger Audiences Editor for BBC Sport – we recorded our chat before he got a new role at the BBC, so congratulations Stuart on the move!

The focus of this episode is about how to stay relevant and relatable to younger audiences, something the BBC has been able to do for almost 100 years now. We discuss what younger audiences want from BBC Sport, we look at how much effort the BBC puts into creating content that is relatable, entertaining and informative, and that is published at the right time and when you’re in the right mood. And, we look at how BBC Sport is able to find the character that is befitting of the organisation and their audiences – which, it turns out, is somewhere between dad dancing and #ladsbantz

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Show notes

You can follow Stuart on Twitter and also find him on LinkedIn. Find out more about BBC Sport on their website or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The BBC doesn’t need any introduction, and neither does BBC Sport. From the Olympics and World Cups, to Wimbledon and Match of the Day…if you’re a sports fan in the UK, chances are you will have watched something on BBC Sport at some point.

The challenge for BBC Sport is staying relevant and relatable to each new generation, which is why they have spent a lot of time and effort finding out exactly what the 16-24 age group thinks of BBC Sport – what do they think of the brand? How do they behave digitally? What are their psychological mood states and need states? Oh, and what kind of sport do they want?

It turns out that younger audiences have a fairly traditional view of the BBC – an organisation based on being trustworthy, accurate and being there to inform, educate and entertain.

For younger audiences, the BBC is a bit beige. They’re respectable – no doubt about that – but also a bit boring. Kind of like of middle class, middle-aged white man. Everyone’s trusted uncle.

Essentially, not particularly cool.

For us it’s about going from being the trusted uncle to being the cool mate.

That said, the BBC Sport website still reaches a lot of younger people – 6 million under 34s visit every month.

This younger audience appreciates the BBC’s journalistic credentials, and they like how the BBC does live sport and big events. They just want the BBC to be more entertaining…but still be the BBC.

We can’t become Sporf, LadBible or Joe – they’re all brilliant at what they do, but that’s not what we exist for.

Youth audiences in the UK still love their football, but there are also new sports they want more of – namely the American acronym sports, such as the NFL, NBA, UFC and MMA.

These sports aren’t just about the sport side of things either – particularly with the NFL and the NBA it is about sport as entertainment – you’re watching the whole show around it as well. There are big opportunities to create content around the lifestyle and culture side of those sports.

There is also a challenge to make content for these ‘newer’ sports that is relatable even if you don’t like the sport.

The above piece shows an example of the BBC’s approach to ‘easy learning’ – it’s fun content but also teaches you something – in this case, an idea of what NFL stars actually look like and how good they are at a different sport!

The BBC Sport website, including the app, gets around 20-22 million UK browses a week, with another 10 million globally on top of that. On social media, BBC Sport’s global following across all their channels is around 30 million – 10 million of which is in the UK and 75% of that audience is aged 34 or younger.

BBC Sport’s main focus with their social channels is to drive traffic – their strategy has always been reach and referrals.

Some people are far better than us at just getting big numbers. We don’t just fill out channels with video. There has to be some value back to our product on social – how can we maintain reach?

On average, BBC Sport gets around 15-20 million visits per month to its website via their social media channels.

The team at BBC Sport have a framework/thinking checklist to help them plan their content, something based on their audience research work. The framework is as follows:

  • How will my face move? Want positive reaction – also gives positive legacy
  • Where does it fit in my life? Monday morning vs Friday evening? What moment are you looking to hit?
  • What is psych need state? Mood management – might be time wasting!
  • Is it for mobile? What platform? Facebook? YouTube or BBC site?
  • What do I learn?

The result is content such as this video about training like Anthony Joshua – it’s fun while also showing just what extremes a top boxer goes to in their gym sessions.

The focus and thought around when to schedule content is also hugely important. The more strategic you are, the bigger impact. On a very simple level, you’re just scheduling to people’s lives and what mood they’re in. That’s why big channels put big dramas on at 9pm in the winter – everyone is in front of their TV – and BBC Sport’s approach is an extension of that.

With BBC Sport content, you can expect something informative over just banter. Take the ‘Which Olympian are you?’ quiz, for example a broad piece of work that is both shareable and educational.

And then there are pieces like ‘How Mo Can Yo Go?’

These tap into the idea of being relatable, as well as entertaining. You don’t need anything scientific knowledge – or knowledge about athletics – to know that Mo Farah runs very fast, far faster than normal humans can cope with!

Then there are pieces like the Ballers’ Barber.

This is obviously geared towards a younger audience, but the BBC’s older audiences don’t mind it either. It’s good content and it lets you see a part of a footballer’s world that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Old gits want to have fun too! They just don’t want to see #ladsbantz!

For BBC Sport, it’s about finding an appropriate way to pitch their content for younger audiences, which, it turns out, is somewhere in the middle of #ladsbantz and dad dancing.

The future for BBC Sport will be about continuing to understand its audience, creating content they want and still being an organisation that covers the biggest events.

Things change quickly at the BBC – you only have to go back a few years to find match reports that were 700-word, text-only pieces, whereas now they are more visual, more fit for mobile and more of a menu of content centred on a match.

And younger audiences still absolutely want to watch stuff live, which is one of the reasons the BBC is rolling out an extra 1,000 hours of sport across its website and the iPlayer this year.

A great example of how this is already working for the BBC is their coverage of the early rounds of the Rugby League Challenge Cup, which they started last year. These matches received around 25,000 browsers – quite a small number for the BBC – but their average watch time was around 25 minutes, which was far greater than, say, a Facebook Live video.

Those audiences are more engaged and more interested, and therefore the BBC is being more valuable to them.

Stuart’s three top tips for engaging with younger audiences

1. Know your audience – don’t assume to know your audience.

2. You can’t preach to a younger audience. You need to feel like a peer. Whether that’s in the people who appear in your content or who make it, needs to feel authentic to young people – it can’t feel like dad dancing

3. Be willing to adapt, quickly. What I’m doing now shouldn’t be what this role is doing in two years’ time.


This section is how we end every episode, with some quick-fire questions to help us get to know our guests a little better.

5 apps on your phone you use the most

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Roadbike and Amazon Music

4 celebs you’d love to invite round for dinner

Eric Cantona, Alex Ferguson, Winston Churchill and Eric Morecambe

3 words to describe what it’s like working at BBC Sport

Challenging, inspirational and fun

2 places in the world or big events you’ve never visited but would love to

The Grand Canyon and the Amazon

1 social media channel you love more than the others

Facebook, I want it to be something cooler than that, but it’s kind of the centre of the Universe now!

Find out more

You can follow Stuart on Twitter and also find him on LinkedIn. Find out more about BBC Sport on their website or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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The Native Podcast is hosted and produced by Dave Musson, our editor-in-chief.

Our music is by Broke For Free and is used under Creative Commons.

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