Cool Content: Matt Simpson on making BT credible in football

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth


Matt is going to talk to us about his favourite subjects – content and football. Apparently he’s miserable, downbeat and sarcastic… He writes a blog – View from the West Stand – about Leyton Orient (and it was a commenter on his blog that gave him that flattering description). He works at Zone, a digital agency based in London, with a mix of planners, creatives – and journalists.

In June 2010 BT announced that it was going to show Sky Sports 1 & 2 on their digital TV service – BT Vision. And BT is a brand with no heritage in football. In the pre-digital world, they’d have bought credibility with a football celeb. But then, in the pre-digital world marketing was really, really easy. Come up with a proposition, create your content, and bash your audience over the head with it. you’ve seen Mad Men. They were all drunk – anyone could do it.

In the digital world, it’s all out of your control. Conversations happen all the time, and anyone can make a vast amount of noise about your brand. Content can become part of these conversation by giving people something of value to discuss. And you’ll get business and loyalty out of it.

BT already understood this. They’d set up a a website called Life’s a Pitch. They used newspaper journalist to create content. But the writers they were using didn’t understand how to engage. Theres no point in being credible if no-one’s listening. They were getting 100s of visits a week. Zone took over and brought in a full time editor, reached out to noisy online football people, and spread content. Dan, the editor, comes from the fan base. He understands.  But equally, they needed to find the 6% of people who make 80% of the noise about a subject. They needed to find the real online content stars in football. They found a diverse range of people who deeply understood how to connect with an online audience. They know how to create content that gets that audience excited.  And they became the content creators and distributors. They brought their audiences with them – by seeding and distributing what they wrote to their existing base.

There’s a news aggregator called which people use to keep on top of their club’s news. It drove 47% of the traffic to the site.

Their issues included the huge volume of existing digital football content. Previews and reviews already happen. No point in competing. No point in competing on news – Sky have that. No point in doing interviews, because footballers are genetically boring.

BUT fans love high quality, opinionated material. So that’s what they went for. Provocative tactical analysis works well. Perspective amongst hysteria is good, too. Poking fun at millionaire footballers gets lots of traffic. Criticising popular figures – or praising unpopular ones goes over well. And seize the chance to pick up the baton where fans feel ignored.

They do video as well. They get the bloggers alongside national journalists, and then they seed and distribute the content.

They increased traffic by 1465% – and it’s been growing ever since. And that’s off a distribution channel focused on the content creators. All for far less than the cost of hiring a celeb.

Now, BT has grabbed the Premier League off Sky. Life’s a Pitch will be a hugely important part of that story. They have content, an audience, and relationships with them. Now they need to convert that audience to customers, while maintaining the relationship.

  • Don’t think about digital content in isolation from its method of distribution
  • It’s as much about targeted influencers as targeted audiences
  • Quality really, really matters
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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.