Saturday, 8 August 2009

Football on the BBC - creating an online experience

Today marks the return of the UK football league and I, like most fans, will be monitoring the action online.

While The Guardian and Sky Sports offer great live feeds from the day's matches, I've found the BBC provides the most complete coverage - not just in regards to news and reports, but in terms of user experience. The Beeb offers a dedicated online section for match days which combines a number of useful features. The end result is a comprehensive and engaging online experience for football fans across the UK.

Media integration

I've always been a fan of the BBC's use of visual media – placing video news on the homepage during major stories, for example. (the death of Michael Jackson being the most recent.)

During match days, the BBC provides a live feed of their television or radio coverage on this mini site.

Today we get radio coverage, although normally Ray Stubbs' mug – on the digital Final Score programme - is available for all to admire online. But we're only celebrating the start of the lower league competition and the BBC doesn't wake up its gameday players for anything less than a Premiership clash. Still, we're left in the capable hands of the Five Live radio team and their expert analysis of every goal and tackle.

There's also a live text feed under the video which combines comments from users and a moderator – more about this later. The BBC introduced this live function during the Beijing Olympics (previously users had to smash F5 to refresh the coverage).

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The BBC duly provides a wealth of background information. Links across the page offer users the chance to read more expert analysis- predictions, club previews and the like. There's a mine of extra info for anyone wanting to know the stories behind the scores. Annoyingly though, these links don't open in a new window and you'll find the live coverage brutally cut short if you venture away from the page.

Elsewhere, an application on the left of the screen allows users to keep up to date with current scores. Handily, these are automatically updated. This tab also gives fans the option to monitor results in other leagues if they maintain an unhealthy interest in the lower divisions or indeed, are exceptionally pessimistic about their team's fortunes this season.

User content

One of the site's greatest facets is the integration of user input.

The BBC 606 message board – for football aficionados across the country - has established itself as one of the most reputable and lively user groups on the interwebs. During match days, comments and opinions from 606 users are regularly posted onto the live feed below the video. It's a great way to actively inspire an audience and produce user-generated content.

Man in black

Of course, the whole package wouldn't be complete without a referee to keep the whole thing in order. Thankfully, Alan Hanson isn't let anywhere near a keyboard.

The afternoon's entertainment is provided by a roving moderator – Caroline Cheese in this instance – who interacts with user comments, reports on developments and generally keeps the whole ship afloat. It's all very entertaining fare and she injects a nice slice of personality into the coverage. Judging by the frequency of her updates, one can only hope that the BBC provide a finger bath of ice water at half time.

Fans can also use Twitter to chat to Ms. Cheese and she duly responds to comments from supporters at the grounds. Like the 606 message board, it's a nice way to keep fans engaged and also allows the BBC to get their mitts on any breaking stories.

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