Main image: The Football Amateur challenge of La Voix des Sports was taken up by a multidisciplinary team. From left to right: Gael Meunier, Digital Performance Manager, Sebastien Varnier, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of La Voix du Nord, Clothilde Collin, Director of Strategic Marketing, Fred Retsin (sitting), Journalist specialised in amateur football, Yann Duploye, the Editor-in-Chief of La Voix des Sports, and Project Manager, Jean-François Machut.
Editorial coverage of amateur football is of interest to those who play it as well as their families, friends and sponsors: people who are loyal to their local teams in their victories and defeats. These engaged communities represent a significant potential for a regional daily newspaper. La Voix du Nord has long been aware of their importance and, since the end of 2021, has been saying it loud and clear to fans.
Publisher bio: The French daily newspaper based in Lille has been the trusted source of news for the 4 million inhabitants of the Nord-Pas- de-Calais region since 1942. It relies on an editorial staff of 310 journalists and 25 local editions (total paid circulation of 190,000 copies of which approximately 16% are digital subscribers).
La Voix du Nord is part of the Belgian media group Rossel.
A special feature of this regional news brand is its weekly title La Voix des Sports, launched in 1946, which appears every Monday in a newsprint version complemented by a magazine supplement.
Readers can buy it at newsstands or subscribe (to the newspaper or to access its digital content). Sports is also present every day on all La Voix du Nord’s publishing platforms.
Challenge: Reaching out to passionate local football fans to develop La Voix des Sports
The inhabitants of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region love sports in general and amateur football in particular. For La Voix des Sports, there was considerable room for improvement, as the brand attracted only 12% of these fans and followers at the start of its Table Stakes Europe project on amateur football. The challenge goes beyond La Voix des Sports because the increase in traffic on this theme puts this audience one click away from La Voix du Nord’s main digital platform and all the other sections covered.
Amateur football represents half of the pages of La Voix des Sports, i.e. approximately 30 pages, and the publisher has a specifically designated journalist who is in charge of coordinating the production of local correspondents. At the beginning of TSE, that content was mostly focused on Monday’s publication of weekend match summaries. The goal of La Voix des Sports during its Table Stakes year was to regain growth in circulation and audience by leveraging digital and capitalising on its expertise in amateur football (both men’s and women’s).
Decisions: Increasing content and frequency of use
The first action of the project group was to ask themselves how to increase the audience and frequency of use of their digital platforms. This, in their own words, meant “allocating the right resources to the right battles.” In other terms, to stop concentrating the attention of their best specialists on the preparation of Monday’s print pages and to plan with the sports editors a digital production that would no longer be only once a week but every day, after the inevitable peak of production on the results of the weekend matches.
The team initially focused on better coverage of the 60 largest clubs in the region. At the same time, they looked for solutions that would allow them to cover a greater number of clubs (in total, the region has almost 1,000 of them!). The results and major events from the weekend’s games were published digitally as soon as the articles were ready, with an effort to be much faster on Sundays. In addition, the editorial staff started to encourage more frequent visits by football fans to the amateur football section by offering two or three new daily pieces of content in a wider variety of formats (analysis of the goal of the week, highlights, etc.). The message to the sports editors was to think of the editorial coverage with the same sophistication in formats and analysis that they used for the professional football teams.
In order to “structure” this new editorial approach and promote it to football fans, the team launched a weekly newsletter. Published on Thursdays, the newsletter highlights the best articles published and previews the important matches of the coming weekend.
The standout characteristic of this newsletter is that it is very personalised: an editorial by Fred Retsin and his selection of articles. He highlights some of the results and significant episodes of the week, including potential controversies, and talks about the teams that have performed well or those who are struggling. In Retsin, readers have their champion on amateur football, and he’s talking directly to them!
To measure the evolution of the results, Gael, Clothilde and Jean-François developed a dashboard containing KPIs for project management. This dashboard became
Fred’s dashboard” within the team as their goal was to involve the editorial staff in its development and use. It provides real-time information on the evolution of digital production, the development of the audience, in particular towards paid articles, the progress of newsletter subscribers (with opening rate, clicks, and engagement rate) and the number of paid digital subscribers converted via amateur football articles.
Outcome: From assumptions to pleasant surprises
From January to October 2022, the editorial staff of La Voix des Sports significantly increased the volume of content on amateur football on its digital platforms com- pared to the same period the previous year (from around 10 articles per week to an average of 50).
The content was increased on Sundays and Mondays, which are high audience days, and their daily offering also performed well on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
From the beginning of the project, the team believed they could increase the audience of the sports section by strengthening their amateur football coverage, and this hypothesis has been confirmed with the audience increasing by 40% in just under a year.
In February 2022, the team launched a newsletter with the aim of gaining 500 subscribers. The newsletter quickly exceeded expectations and was approaching 1,200 subscribers by the end of the Table Stakes Europe pro- gramme in October. With an average open rate of 36%, it performs better than most of their other newsletters on other key indicators (clicks, engagement…). In October, nearly 75% of the newsletter’s readers were paying sub- scribers, making it a good retention tool.
One of the initial objectives was to increase the number of paying digital subscribers to La Voix des Sports and thus compensate for the decline in newsstand sales. Amateur football has kept its promise and can look back on a 42% increase in subscriptions. This is only the beginning, and there are still levers to be activated (offers, marketing, social networks). However, the team has made some interesting observations in this first phase of the project. One of the most satisfying being that articles on amateur football are twice as likely to convert a visitor into a paying subscriber than any other content on La Voix du Nord’s digital channels.
Future steps: Ongoing projects and opportunities to be confirmed
La Voix des Sports uses the services of Rematch, a French application that allows spectators of amateur football games to capture short videos and post them. While in theory, these videos should be an interesting addition to the work of journalists, in reality, the number and quality are not there. Despite the team’s efforts to encourage
this production, the experiment is not yet conclusive (few videos, low audience) and the advertising monetisation, as it stands, is not significant.
Among the levers still under utilised in the strategy of winning over new readers, having a better presence on social networks is probably the most promising. La Voix du Nord has a very large community on Facebook and the major clubs also have active groups.
The editorial staff uses the Echobox tool to automatically feed social networks, however, the team was convinced that a community manager could better highlight new content on amateur football and improve the effectiveness of social networks.
Since mid-September, this new strategy has been implemented with good initial results. In two weeks, the work of the community manager made it possible to surpass the performance of Echobox, reaching more than 1 million people on 68 posts with nearly 4,400 engagements (+400% compared to that of their automated tool).
Achievements during TSE:
La Voix du Nord energised its sports brand: during the TSE programme, the publisher saw a +330% increase in amateur football digital content and +40% increase in overall sports section audience. Articles on amateur football lead to a paid subscription twice as often as other articles since the beginning of the project. The team has also started to deploy TSE tools and learnings more broadly in the company, and is working towards launching or revisiting other target audiences (economy, real estate, employment, etc).
Key learning from TSE:
“The strength of a multidisciplinary team that worked closely together for 10 months on this subject of amateur football. From the start, we focused on the expectations/needs of a specific audience and set ourselves precise objectives… and we soon realised that we ourselves were capable of launching effective and efficient products quickly.”
“This organisation can be transposed to other areas covered by the newsroom. The only condition is that we always start with a good definition of the ‘problem’ and the working hypothesis. The team is now focusing on women’s amateur football. This growing community has different editorial expectations and its habits are almost exclusively on social networks. So we know we have to innovate in formats and stories.”
– Jean-François Machut