Journalists these days might struggle to get exclusive access to footballers, but at the same time, the internet has other, more niche, opportunities.
iFL TV, which covers boxing, is part of a new wave of video content production in sports journalism.
Footballers have little to gain from giving interviews with journalists who are often forced to pay players for a few quotes. Twitter has allowed top stars or their representatives to communicate directly with fans so journalists don’t have to. Why would Cristiano Ronaldo bother doing an interview when he can get paid 400,000 dollars to post one Instagram post?
This is the view of TV presenter and media professional Richard Lenton. He tells me: “He [Ronaldo] is controlling that message, he is controlling that medium.”
“In the old days you could say to a player, we’re going to be on prime time ITV,” adds Lenton. “All the exposure you’re gonna get is massive for you as a personal brand but now it’s the other way round, they don’t need prime time exposure on ITV because they are their own brand.”
Despite the fact that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to be able to afford the steep prices that are charged, iFL are still able to attract Anthony Joshua, one of the most sought after British sportsmen, to their guerrilla online interview platform.
Indeed, they have followed Joshua, as well as a number of high-profile boxers, since the start of their careers.
Founders Kugan Cassius and James Helder stand behind a camera and interview everyone in the boxing world, with next to no money going into production.
“People don’t expect all singing all dancing, full scale produced television when it’s on an internet device,” explains Lenton.
“Fans want content as quickly as possible now that these guerrilla style platforms have made information so easily available on a daily basis,” adds Adam Samuel, a contributor for iFL’s rival Behind the Gloves.
Though channels like iFL don’t have the expertise of a television broadcaster, they more than make up for it with the quality of their content. Interviewees are less guarded when they speak on their platform compared to a mainstream broadcaster.
“I think it’s solid enough and people want to see a big name i.e. an Eddie Hearn talking candidly about boxing,” says Lenton.
iFL have cultivated relationships and gained the trust of many within the boxing world even with potential controversy never too far away.
Lenton tells me that they “will never be drawn in taking sides and I think they do it quite cleverly and with a fair bit of integrity and that’s really helping.”
To replicate the same thing would probably be nigh on impossible in a sport such as football. For one, fighters need to constantly be in the spotlight, hyping themselves up, as they only fight on TV once or twice a year.
Samuel agrees: “Fighters are very willing to speak because they realise that they get very little coverage unless they are headlining or fighting on a decent undercard.”
Meanwhile, a footballer playing almost year-round will not need to provide as many interviews as he is perennially relevant.
There is, however, scope to conduct these kinds of interviews in other sports, believes Lenton.
“If I were starting out now, it would certainly be something that I’d be looking at because you be your own boss, you’re entrepreneurial and you get your own commercial opportunities via your content, your sponsorship.”
Recalling his experience with Behind the Gloves, Samuel tells me about his first assignment with Rob Tebbutt, who was head of their UK operations until very recently. They attended a pre-fight showcase for the Chamberlain vs. Okolie British beef fight producing live social media video work as well as editing and posting videos for YouTube.
Alluding to the fast paced nature of the job Samuel says: “The work is very busy and stressful. Rob was in Manchester covering another event that very same week and blasting out footage and interviews.”
Social media may well have levelled out the playing field but it certainly seems to have made journalism far more competitive as more and more smaller organisations are able to churn out quick content.
Featured image: Richard Lenton.