Stavanger Aftenblad uses technology, local football coverage to increase subscriber loyalty

By Elin Stueland

Stavanger Aftenblad

Stavanger, Norway


Half of our new subscribers end their subscription after a very short amount of time. So we wondered how we could create loyalty and keep them as subscribers over time. 

A large proportion of youth in Norway play football. So why not give them football coverage like they’ve never seen before? We could cover all local football teams from the age of 13 to senior as if it were the Champions League.

Stavenger Aftenblad approached non-professional sports coverage like it was a professional sport.
Stavenger Aftenblad approached non-professional sports coverage like it was a professional sport.

In southwestern Norway, we have over 100 different football clubs, and more than 7,000 matches are played every season. Around 10,000 players are involved, which means the region is populated with family members, friends, and supporters eager to watch and follow youth and senior football.

This was an opportunity Stavanger Aftenblad just had to seize. In 2020, we contacted the news agency NTB to discuss how their plans for a dedicated football robot were going. These talks led to a partnership between NTB and Stavanger Aftenblad, and we hired a full-time journalist who would cover only local football. 

Thinking local

In August 2021, Stavanger Aftenblad launched Mååål! (which means “Goaaal!”) and consists of three parts:

1. Automatic match reports

Through the collaboration between Aftenbladet and NTB, we designed and created a robot during the COVID pandemic. Mååål! was launched in August 2021. During this period, all football activities were stopped in Norway, and Mååål! was launched as soon as the country reopened its football activities. 

With this technology, all team leaders enter data into an app that belongs to the Norwegian Football Association. They fill in the team lineup, goal scorers, suspensions, and substitutions. Through their open API, we can access all this data and feed it into the article generator. From there, the data is enriched with natural language to create articles. 

Robot journalism is complemented with a human touch.
Robot journalism is complemented with a human touch.

Mååål! covers senior football from the seventh division and up to the Elite division, as well as all youth football, starting with 13-year-olds. During this process, we have received feedback on how the articles mainly focus on players scoring goals. And these observations are correct; we have designed the robot to prioritise titles based on the person who scores a hat trick. 

As a result of this feedback, we now plan to adjust the wording for youth football. We will update the coding to not only prioritise goals in the titles and will remove strong language when one team is superior to the other. We are also now bringing the entire team lineup into the articles, making so the coverage reflects the whole team. This was an important adjustment after dialogue with our users. 

This also serves our strategy of creating loyal subscribers over time, while allowing them to read about family members and friends in local football.

2. Editorial coverage of local football

Mååål! journalist and project manager Mats Haugland covers all the stories ranging from dramatic football matches, rivalry, youth ambitions, the transfers of players between local clubs, voluntary work, and nerve-wracking promotion matches.

Mååål! also has its own podcast covering the latest news, the teams’ performances, and discussions about talented local players. 

The football portal is extremely popular and has helped boost subscriptions.
The football portal is extremely popular and has helped boost subscriptions.

3. Streaming of third-division matches

In addition, Aftenbladet has streamed more than 80 matches in the region, from the lowest tier to the third division. Streaming these games creates a large volume of work. However, with the overwhelming response from Aftenbladet’s subscribers, it is well worth the effort. 

After six months, Mååål! has sold over 900 subscriptions and created more than 3.5 million page views. Statistically, 28.5 % of Aftenbladet’s subscribers renew their subscriptions. With this portal, we increased the renewal rates to 50%.

We have established loyalty through technology, creating a long-term project that is fully sustainable for our business. Mååål! is a scalable concept that could be adopted anywhere in the world.

About Elin Stueland

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