U.S. sports publishers focus on evergreen Women’s World Cup coverage in light of time zone challenge

The 2023 Women’s World Cup spans four different time zones across nine host cities in Australia and New Zealand, timing games 12 to 16 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. (The men’s tournament last year was in Qatar, which was an eight-hour time difference.)

That means games are kicking off as early (or as late?) as 1 a.m., 3 a.m., 6 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. EST, making it tricky for digital sports publishers to cover those matches live — and to find an audience here for that coverage. As a result, their editorial teams are focusing on providing morning recaps and highlights of the games that took place the night before, previews of games to come, and written and video features about the teams and players in the Women’s World Cup, six publishing execs said.

“Because fans in the U.S., in particular, are not going to be watching every game in the moment, it allows us to give broader context,” said Lee Walker, senior director of brand strategy at B/R Football.

Nate Scott, vp and publisher of USA Today Sports Media Group, said his team will still provide live updates for those who are waking up in the middle of the night to watch the games, but will also be creating content for audiences that want to watch highlights on platforms like YouTube in their down time. Because less of the tournament will be experienced live by the majority of fans in the U.S., coverage will be less about how quickly it can go up, Scott said.

“This tournament is going to be a lot more about — yes, highlighting those moments, but then contextualizing them and doing a bit more lifting from a storytelling perspective, in terms of ‘here’s how we got to this moment, here’s all the background,’” said Scott.

Some sports publishing execs, like those from Bleacher Report and USA Today, told Digiday that their coverage will mostly be distributed in the morning.

“The best things are coming to people at 7 a.m. Eastern, 6 a.m. Pacific — whenever they’re waking up. When people get out of bed and grab for their phones,” Walker said. “It allows us to really elevate the big moments that matter rather than being stuck in the weeds, which is very much our overall content strategy anyway.”

Morning recaps will also be a focus for FAST channels, such as the daily weekday show “Morning Footy” on the new CBS Sports Golazo Network, the soccer-focused streaming channel launched in April, said coordinating producer Mike Nastri.

Ellen Hyslop, co-founder of women’s sports newsletter company The Gist, said they are sending emails out when they know people will be in their inbox, and not necessarily timed to the games themselves. The Gist has three pop-up newsletters that will go out to all subscribers with previews of the tournament, the knockout round and the final, as well as two localized newsletters to U.S. and Canadian subscribers. For example, The Gist sent out an email previewing Thursday’s 10:30 p.m. EST Canada vs. Nigeria game at 4 p.m. EST, Hyslop said.

Because games will be in the middle of the night, social and digital distribution will be even more important for this Women’s World Cup compared to the men’s tournament to attract fans looking for recaps and highlights, said Joaquin Duro, svp of AVOD, streaming and digital for Telemundo’s digital operations. And for those who want longer-form coverage of the Women’s World Cup, they can turn to Telemundo Deportes, the company’s new FAST channel that launched on July 19 in time for the tournament, he added. (Telemundo and Fox have streaming rights to the Women’s World Cup.)

Rodolfo Martinez, ESPN’s svp of international and ESPN Deportes Production, said the real challenge will be for the reporters themselves. 

“If you’re a person covering a game at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., then after that you have to file a report and then have to be up in a few hours to be live on [the shows] SportsCenter or ESPN FC,” Martinez said. “It wasn’t that extreme when we did the Men’s World Cup in Qatar.”

“I need to get a coffee subscription for the next month because those poor folks are going to be up all night,” Scott quipped.

Time zones aren’t the only challenges sports publishers are facing with the location of this year’s Women’s World Cup.

Flying to Australia is far more expensive than flying to Qatar, Martinez said. As a result, ESPN is sending fewer reporters to cover the New Zealand and Australia games, due to budget reasons — eight reporters are on the ground covering the Women’s World Cup, compared to 10 that went to Qatar. In Qatar, games were happening within a 40-mile radius, he added, allowing a reporter to cover three or more matches a day. But reporters covering the Women’s World Cup will have to fly to new locations for different rounds of the tournament.

“We’re spending a very similar amount of money. You just can’t have the same amount of people flying to Australia,” Martinez said, without providing specific figures.

However Alex Kay-Jelski, The Athletic’s U.K. editor in chief, isn’t too concerned by the time zone challenges. He said his team will produce more evergreen stories and content for readers.

“I think we can just get a little bit too focused on that. People will read great stories when they’re able to read it and when they want to read it,” he said.

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