Q&A: Robots Interview Sports Team Coaches
Overview of this campaign
Swedish local media groups have published automatically generated sports texts using United Robots’ platform for the past few years. As newsroom resources have come under increasing pressure, the NLG based match report automation has helped small newspapers stay relevant in local communities, enabling them to expand their sports coverage to all divisions of all sports.
The Q&A function was conceived out of this tech driven logic. The platform that turns the match data into text can be used to automate the interview situation as well. Once the sports robot has written and published the actual match report it sends questions, relevant to that particular match, by text message to the team coaches (or just one coach if only one of the teams is local). The replies are inserted as quotes in the articles which are then updated on the news sites.
The robot generated texts, rendered significantly more valuable thanks to the Q&A function, also support increased personalisation – driving relevance for readers – on the news sites, as this requires a large volume of local content which can be distributed according to geography.
The Q&A function was first tested in the Mittmedia group in mid 2018. Today most Swedish news publishing groups including Aftonbladet, VK, NTM, Mittmedia and Stampen, publish the match reports with Q&A on their digital platforms – some 30+ news sites in total (in a country of 10 mi). The Q&A function is used by clubs in soccer, handball, basketball, ice hockey, volleyball and more.
By creating the Q&A function, United Robots sought to provide all sports teams, irrespective of player gender, division or geography, an equal opportunity to get engaged and be published. For publishers, automating the interview situation frees up reporter time to do deeper and wider sports journalism. It also contributes to the publisher’s relevance and role in the local community.
Results for this campaign
Since launch in 2018 and as of January 2020, the Q&A function has included 602 coaches providing a total of 6272 published match comments. 536 teams have taken part, 28% of them women’s teams.
The Q&A function received a warm welcome from the outset, from publishers as well as coaches. The coaches appreciate the possibility to comment via text. In January 2020 we did a survey among them. Of the 162 coaches who responded, 89.5% said that the function enabling them to comment via text message after matches is “good” or “very good”.
The publishers also see big benefits with the Q&A function, not least because it enables more and better coverage in small local communities.
Says Bärgslagsbladet’s (part of the Mittmedia group) Editor-in-chief Helena Tell: “For a small local title like ours, with no dedicated sport reporters and limited staffing during evenings and weekends, the coaches comment function is a huge asset. We get match reports – immediately after the final whistle – which are comparable in quality to a story over phone by a reporter. The clubs and fans get the attention and the information they hunger for. The newsroom can instead spend our time chasing the the 'real' stories, in other words content which we know a broader set of readers interested in sports want to read.”
Mattias Andersson, editorial developer at Schibsted owned Aftonbladet comments on how the coaches comments enhances the robot articles. ”Using text messages to automatically retrieve quotes from coaches lifts the automated content to a new level and provides great added value for readers. Thanks to the Q&A, the quality of the automated feed improves dramatically and we achieve the desired personal touch.”
With the Q&A function, United Robots help create a virtuous circle between news publishers, local sports teams and fans. The robot articles with Q&A combine in providing a platform for coaches to promote their teams and players, and give publishers a way to better service local readers and communities.