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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Digital teams in sport need more than a CMS and social media account

I can remember the first major digital project I was given in sport over 10 years ago. We were launching a new league in 3 months’ time and we needed ten websites – two for the league and one for each of the eight teams. I thought, based on previous projects, I’d need a budget of $500,000, especially given the tight time-frame. I got a budget of $200,000 – the league was just beginning after all and budgets were tight. The time and budget constraints limited our delivery options and we ended up partnering with a sport specific web company. Their content management system (CMS) wasn’t the best, but after some haggling they fitted into my budget.

The league used that vendor and the CMS for over 8 years – well past my tenure with the league – and certainly well past its envisaged use by date from when we originally selected it!

Once implemented, sports don’t replace their CMS’s that often. So when you do replace them it’s important that you get the decision right. In today’s digital landscape – omni-channel, mobile, social, cloud, customer experience, personalisation … it’s easy to get focused on the technology and the feature “bells and whistles”.

MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting, in their 2013 report “Embracing  Digital Technology”, categorised organisations into four groups – Beginner, Conservative, Fashionista, and Digirati. Focusing on the technology and “bells and whistles” can mean organisations fall into the Fashionista camp. The report comments that this group “are very aggressive in adopting new technologies, but do not coordinate well across departments or have an effective vision in place for dealing with digital business.”

Sports organisation often fall into the Fashionista camp - often dazzled by the bright lights of a vendor or digital agency. It’s fair to say I have occasionally fallen into this trap myself, often with mixed outcomes as a result. One of these new technology traps is viewing the CMS as a platform. Anyone who has worked on a sport or media website knows the challenges involved – they are far removed from brochureware corporate websites. When over a million pages are requested in one Saturday afternoon – poor coding, architecture or infrastructure can certainly ruin your weekend! We need a big CMS platform that can do everything … right?

It was therefore with some interest that I noticed “CMS as a Platform” on Thoughtworks’ Technology Radar recently with a status of Hold. Thoughtworks comments “we have experienced serious problems when CMS as a platform becomes an IT solution that grows beyond managing simple content”.

Thoughtworks’ Chief Scientist, Martin Fowler, comes to the rescue, proposing a “Two Stack CMS”, a solution that separates the concerns of editing and publishing content.

An example of a Two Stack CMS can be seen in Nuxeo’s webinar “Connecting the Nuxeo Platform and the Hippo Website CMS”. Nuxeo is an open source Document Management System (DMS) and Digital Asset Management (DAM) platform used by the likes of EA, Netflix, AAP, and AFP.

A Two Stack CMS helps us focus on the two critical processes within a sport digital team – creating and publishing of content. Content in sport has and will continue to be King.

The core part that content plays in sport business is highlighted by a recent paper by RSR Partners’, Joe Bailey. Joe has held numerous positions in sport, including CEO of NFL’s Miami Dolphins and Vice-President of Administration for the Dallas Cowboys. In his recent white paper “The Global Sport Ecosystem”,  Joe outlines the global sport market, highlighting the core market segments of; goods & services providers, content providers, and distribution channels. Content creation and its subsequent publication and distribution is at the core of what sport business is all about.

Despite its importance to sport, too often I have seen content managed within silos within sport. Commercial teams typically manage the broadcast, licensed, and sponsor content. Media teams manage the press releases, team inner sanctum content, and media communications. Marketing teams promote the team or league’s products and services via email, mobile, and social marketing channels. And some poor soul has to provide the platforms and applications that make all this magically happen. Often there is little cross-functional strategy or planning and someone always becomes the scapegoat when the organisation’s digital presence looks like a dog’s breakfast.

In her book, “Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content”, Sara Wachter-Boettcher explains some of the important things to focus on when managing content in this digital age. Sara explains, “Too often, today’s content is fixed: stuck to individual pages or in device-specific applications. But as connected devices get more varied, robust, and ubiquitous—and as users expect to find, relate, and share content in more and more ways—we need content that can go anywhere, its meaning and message intact.”

Sara highlights the important of separating content from the platform – an outcome that is supported, from a technical architecture perspective, by Martin Fowler’s Two Stack CMS solution. In the book, Sara discusses a number of critical content concepts, including; the case for content everywhere, the elements of content, content models, designing content systems, content APIs, and putting structured content to work. It’s a must read for digital managers in sport who are trying to work out how to herd the content cats!

One of the best examples of how these strategies have been deployed in sport is the evolution of the website platforms for BBC Sport. In his blog, “The World Cup and a call to action around Linked Data”, BBC’s (former) Chief Architect for BBC News, Sport and Weather, John O' Donovan, discusses how the BBC Sport’s digital team delivered BBC’s FIFA 2010 World Cup website.

Sport digital teams need more than just a CMS and some interns on social media.

My suggestions are;


  • Understand what content you have and your sources and publishing points for your content
  • Rework your content processes to split the creation and publishing processes – this will allow a create once, publish many times process
  • Create a cross-disciplined team from across the organisation to ensure a consistent content strategy and plan, and agree who has the final say
  • Re-architect you content platform to support your content strategy and processes without falling into the “CMS as a platform” trap


What challenges have your digital team had in herding the content cats within your organisation? Drop me a note and let me know.

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