Both VG and Aftonbladet held the No. 1 sport newspaper position in their respective countries 15 years ago. It was a pink magazine you could find midway through the main newspaper.
I personally remember VG launching VG Sport back in 2005, when I was 14 years old. For a week or so, everyone I knew was wearing a pink VG Sport cap. It was cool, and it became the go-to place for news.
Brand transition from paper to digital
Since then, VG Sport and Sportbladet have embarked on radically different journeys.
As digital news took over, Sportbladet transitioned into sportbladet.se. It has built a strong position as the go-to place for sports-related news in Sweden, with the majority of its traffic coming from users going directly to the Web site, not through the mother brand Aftonbladet.
During the digital transition, VG Sport was consumed by VG’s holistic news offering on vg.no. Through this, VG has also built a strong position as a sports news provider in Norway, but it has always served as part of a holistic news mix in its original, distinct form. Hence, the brand VG Sport was never carried over to the digital space.
In 2024, competition for consumers’ attention is fiercer than ever, and the sports segment is no different — from TikTok clips of this weekend’s goals, to deep statistical analysis available at The Athletic, to top teams building their own digital ecosystem and news hubs.
Both VG Sport and Sportbladet are great at serving the average Joe who “follows the World Cup when it’s on, plus my national team now and then,” as it fits nicely into their general offering of news.
But sometimes, as a sports fan, you’re not looking to read about Trump, Inflation numbers, and Messi. Sometimes, you only want Messi. And this is where VG (with no real distinct sports brand) struggles and Aftonbladet (with Sportbladet) thrives.
Which brings us to VG’s challenge: How do you rebuild a dormant sport news brand position in the digital space as an established actor? A key challenge in this has been to create a compelling internal story to do this, since VG’s holistic digital news offering has been very successful as a whole.
We’re doing well, so why risk change, right?
Here are some of the responses we’ve received while grappling with this challenge:
- “But you can already find all the sports news as part of the general news mix. Why is this needed?”
- “The main brand will take a hit if we start nurturing a separate sports brand.”
- “A separate sports app? Doesn’t it do exactly what the news app does?”
It’s a real challenge, explaining to someone who doesn’t care about sport, what mindset I am in when I want to update myself on sports news. Or why I care so much when there’s so much else of significance going on in the world right now. It’s not rational. And I’ve been struggling to put into words why a distinct sports brand, sports app, and sports product team at VG makes sense.
This was the case until a colleague of mine — another big sports fan — spoke up in a meeting recently to some non-sports fans: “But guys, you need to understand. This isn’t something new, or something extra, in addition to what we already have. It’s about taking away parts of what we already offer to provide a clean and focused service toward this very specific segment of users.”
It might sound simple, but when you’re stuck in a loop trying to find a pitch on how this is more, it’s very hard to see that it’s really less. And that’s why you should do it.
This quote has already been re-used in both internal presentations and as part of the marketing prep. It will also be a key building block when rebuilding VG Sport in 2024.
So sometimes, when defining your brand or product rationale, it’s not what it is. It’s what it isn’t.