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Football crazy

As a nation, we’re footy mad. Each week, millions follow their favourite team and passions run high, however big the club, be it mighty Man U or lowly non-league Dartford (come on you Darts!). Surely, a website that could tap into that passion, and truly engage with fans, would be onto a winner. And that, says Paul Hood, is precisely what aims to do.

By Paul Hood

Last year, Mirror Group relaunched their flagship newspaper site with an audacious new design. It marked a radical departure from the conventional design of newspaper websites, and won high praise from key media commentators. Roy Greenslade wrote, in Media Guardian, “... a totally new approach to all the newspaper sites I've ever seen... It works like a dream..."

The approach has been so successful that we’ve extended the strategy to develop another all-new online proposition –

Of course, we were absolutely thrilled with the positive response to the relaunch. From the outset, we had been clear that the new site should celebrate the core values of the newspaper. To do this, we created a home page design that reflects bold tabloid panache; clear-cut headlines combined with large images. Throughout the site, we ensure that the editorial tone reflects the dynamism, the straight-talking, the entertaining view of the world familiar to readers of the Daily Mirror newspaper. Our hope was that, in an increasingly undistinguished, amalgamated sea of online news, our content would stand out and be attractive.

In its first year, the new site enjoyed organic audience growth of 139% year-on-year (source: Omniture), and attracted a high proportion of its audience from bookmarks. These are clear indicators that the site is attracting a loyal, valuable audience.

So perhaps, when we sat down about seven months ago, and considered the next phase of our growth, stripping OUT one of the main drivers of traffic to - football - was not the most obvious step.

But when we looked at content consumption patterns on our site, we saw that visitors to football-related content were interested overwhelmingly in content from that category. Several focus group sessions confirmed this. So, rather than trying to cram more and more football content into a template designed for news and features, we decided to give it a standalone platform. That way, we could offer a much richer experience for football fans, better serve our existing readers, and extend our appeal to a wider base.

We figured that a tailored architecture would give us the best chance of presenting a compelling combination of football news, analysis, opinion and stats. A dedicated platform would allow us to fully integrate our popular Fantasy Football game, and tie it in with a live interactive match centre. But most importantly, a dedicated football site would be the perfect place for us to bring our historic football archive to life for the first time, allowing us to showcase the Daily Mirror’s unique collection of football pages and photographs. By being the place where fans can relive their favourite footballing moments, we believed that could become one of the most engaging football sites on the internet.

The concept was clear. Six months later, Mirrorfootball came to life, launching in time for the start of the new season at the beginning of August.

Focus on engagement

We see reader engagement as the key to the success of Mirrorfootball so creating a unique sense of value in the content is central to our strategy.

At the heart of Mirrorfootball is a gem – the Daily Mirror’s unique archive of football content. The Daily Mirror has had photographers at almost every major British football game over the last 100 years, capturing vivid memories of important games played in England, Scotland and Wales.

This astounding archive contains some of football’s most iconic images as well as thousands of never-before seen pictures, plus over a hundred years’ worth of Daily Mirror match reports. This is the amazing content that gives Mirrorfootball a unique soul.

It is our great hope and belief that combining this astonishing old content with contemporary commentary from some of Britain’s best football writers, plus news, views, fixtures, stats, and detailed information on the top 40 clubs will be a hugely compelling proposition for any football fan.

Making business sense

If readers have a deep connection with the content, we believe we have a business. Our goal is to provide content that is so good, so compelling, so entertaining and engaging, that people will come to it every day. Perhaps one day, we'll even be able to charge for it, but that’s not important right now. What is important, right now, is for the content on Mirrorfootball to have a real sense of value and specialness.

Specialness comes in many different forms on Mirrorfootball. It’s in the collection of football writers that provide unique views, insight and analysis around the constant rolling river of football news.

It comes through the amazing depth and breadth of our image archive and historic match reports. By giving fans the opportunity to relive the great moments in the history of their club through match reports and photographs, we’ll be able to tap into the nostalgic memories that great games from the past evoke.

And specialness comes from providing unique opportunities for interaction. For example, Mirrorfootball is currently the only football portal that offers readers a chance to play Fantasy Stakes – a fully interactive weekly version of Fantasy Football.

We believe that engagement is the key to good business online. We’d sooner Mirrorfootball had 50,000 highly engaged ‘fans’ coming to the site frequently, getting immersed in the content, perhaps buying photo prints and the occasional gift from our online shop, recommending the site to their mates, and forming Fantasy Stakes mini-leagues, than a gazillion users dipping in and out, devouring our premium content and then disappearing back to Google, for more without even registering where they’ve just been for their latest football news fix.

If we can demonstrate deep engagement to advertisers, they will value the proposition as a powerful advertising platform and will want to work closely with us to tap into Mirrorfootball’s audience.

Early results

So far, so good: Mirrorfootball is being well received by its readers. Helped by a viral campaign that encouraged readers to discover and then share pictures from their first football game, word of spread fast amongst footy fans. The picture archive is proving to be hugely popular, and we’ve had over 120,000 match reports downloaded.

For our football writers, Mirrorfootball has provided a natural home; the blogs of some of our key football writers like Stan Collymore and Robbie Savage have around 35% more followers since we launched the site. Spurred on by this, more of our columnists are contributing, blogging and tweeting.

We’re really pleased to see that advertisers have quickly recognised the benefit of advertising in such a unique environment, and we’ve struck up strong commercial partnerships with key advertisers, including Vauxhall Commercial Vehicles, 188Bet and Fantasy Stakes. It is hugely encouraging that large-scale advertisers see the merit of our proposition. was selected by SEGA to be the exclusive launch partner for the demo of Football Manager 2010 in October. Web User Magazine gave our site the accolade of Best New Website within weeks of the launch.

In terms of audience reach, is exceeding expectations. With our focus on growing a loyal, engaged audience we’d expected audience to build organically to around 1m uniques in the first full month. So when the figures came in at 1.5m (source: Omniture) for September, we were delighted. To learn from Experian Hitwise that Mirrorfootball delivered a higher number of UK unique users in September than established sites such as ESPN Soccernet, and was hugely encouraging.

Next steps

There’s a whole raft of plans in development for the improvement of Mirrorfootball in the months ahead. It gives Mirror Group a compelling new dimension in the run up to the Word Cup. We continue to develop relationships with football clubs and we’ll continue to ensure that everything we do on Mirrorfootball offers our readers something unique and special.