Rachel Bonnetta, a Canadian sports journalist and smartphone addict, is helping her network with soccer fans' relentless appetite for World Cup coverage.
The 26-year-old Bonnetta (“I'm on Twitter 24-7”) hosts 21st Century Fox Inc's “World Cup Now,” a daily recap of what's happening at the month-long soccer tournament in Russia. Unlike other shows filmed by Fox Sports, Bonnetta's program streams live on Twitter, and first for the social-media site. What's more, “World Cup Now” is the centerpiece of the World Cup's largest-ever social-media blitz – a campaign that also includes highlights on Snapchat and in Google search results.
Though it's easy to forget now, social media was still largely an afterthought seven years ago when Fox acquired the US television rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Snapchat had just been founded. Instagram was a year old. And Twitter was half its current size.
So Fox's World Cup endeavor is a sign of the TV. The hope is that networks can be just as relevant (and profitable) in their coverage even if viewers are not watching on TV.
While media habits had already started to change when ESPN aired the 2014 games, today the traditional studio show has lost much of its allure thanks to the proliferation of statistics and highlights online. Bonnetta is a key part of the studio's strategy to appeal to the generation of young viewers.
“With a lot of these games coming on in the morning, we need to be able to speak to that younger, digital, mobile-first fan,” said Michael Bucklin, who oversees Fox's strategy for online content.
Bucklin has tasked Bonnetta with hosting a more playful show, where goofy tweets and skits are just as important as the latest bicycle kick. With her blend of aw-shucks enthusiasm and teasing humor, she's attracted almost 50,000 followers on Twitter.
Bonnetta has tweeted about the event more than 30 times, posting a photo of her in Tears, a GIF of actor Jack Black dressed as a Mexican wrestler and an anology for her poor spelling.
How social media has affected viewership of the World Cup is still to be seen. The impact on sports overall has been mixed. NFL viewership has fallen in recent years, but the NBA and soccer have gained watchers. The 2014 World Cup was both the most watched ever in the US and the most tweeted about globally.
Fox argues the online conversation is a proxy for interest and generates hype.
Since the US team failed to qualify for the competition, Fox had to reach for new ways to generate excitement. It's been promoting the soccer superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and other teams such as Mexico. But with a time difference of as many of the world cups.
“There is no substitute for watching a game live,” said Brian Sullivan, president of Fox's TV network group. “Highlights allow people that could not watch to catch up and be up to speed for the next match.”
Enter Bonnetta, who started her career in broadcasting with Toronto's professional football club. She won a job as the club's brand. Major League Soccer hired her from the Toronto club, and then Fox signed her to host a wide range of online experiments. She's the anchored shows on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, where the traditional media companies are still determining best practices.
“World Cup Now” is the biggest bet she's been involved in.
“I get to be myself and have fun and hang out with other people online,” she said from Moscow. “We want to be involved in the conversation.” – Bloomberg