In order to become a sports journalist for a global publication with millions of regular visitors, one typically has to spend years working his or her way up the career ladder. At least that’s the case in most mainstream news publications, but at FTBpro, the world’s largest fan-generated soccer website, anyone can sign up to become a sports journalist, regardless of their level of experience.
Founded in 2011 by four Israeli entrepreneurs, FTBpro currently has over 2,000 passionate “fan writers” who put together thousands of articles each month in nine languages for an audience of more than 10 million readers. With the 2014 World Cup well under way, FTBpro features numerous articles every day about the tournament written by fans, covering topics ranging from in-depth analyses of upcoming matches to lighthearted topics such as Top 10 lists of memes and tweets.
Blazing the path for future journalists
Citizen journalism is the key ingredient to FTBpro’s enormous success, and they believe it is the future of the industry. “We see citizen journalism growing in the world of journalism, and I think we all see that it’s the direction journalism is going with the likes of BuzzFeed… and even Forbes and SeekingAlpha. So there’s no question that we feel we’re ahead of the curve in that regard,” says Matan Har, Head of Content and Community at FTBpro’s office in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Har believes that sites like BBC and ESPN, who pay seasoned journalists to cover top tier teams, will eventually have to figure out a way to keep up with FTBpro’s team of unpaid “citizen journalists”. According to Har, many of the teams in Europe are neglected by sports publications like BBC and Skysports. “If you’re not a fan of Manchester United or Barcelona, chances are you’re not going to find any interesting content about your team in major newspapers,” he said.
Of course, these publications would argue differently, saying that only seasoned journalists who get paid for doing a professional job can truly provide their readers with in-depth and exclusive information.
But another advantage of using the citizen journalism mode, argues Har, is the greater likelihood of unexpected articles that go viral. The 2014 World Cup, for instance, has been punctuated by so many unexpected results, giving sports journalists no shortage of things to cover, from Spain’s shocking early exit to Costa Rica’s stunning success. With close to 300 articles being written every day by FTBpro’s writers during the World Cup, there is always a good chance that at least a couple will go viral. But as is increasingly the case on even the most established news platforms, it is often the lighthearted articles featuring things like funny (and often silly) memes or tweets that tend to get the most reads. Just today, a writer who published “11 Hilariously Spot-On Memes and Tweets From Day 14 of the World Cup,” got millions of reads (see one of the memes that makes fun of Luis Suarez’ habit of “biting” opponents).
In addition to the website, FTBpro also offers an app for both Android and iOS, which has been installed by almost 2 million users. As a sure sign of the app’s success, Apple has recently selected FTBpro to be featured on its “Best Sports Apps” list.
By the fans, for the fans
At the time of this article’s publication, FTBpro has 2,170 unique journalists who have written 148,776 articles. But one question remains: “Without being paid, what incentives does FTBpro offer its citizen journalists to keep writing?”
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According to Har, there are two major reasons. One is that FTBpro shares its best content with its media partners, which includes some of the biggest publications in the world including “The Telegraph”, “The Independent”, “GQ”, and “USA Today.”
And in the ruthless world of online media, journalists and amateur writers are often willing to forego pay to be published in distinguished publications. “It brings our writers back because they see that when they write content for FTBpro, they have the chance to be featured on the ‘Huffington Post’ or ‘The Mirror’ or ‘The Independent,’” Har explained.
The other major incentive FTBpro offers its writers is the sheer volume of traffic on their website. With more than 150 million monthly page views, a writer is bound to receive more exposure than if he or she were to write for a personal blog.
Having so many journalists and no restrictions on who can sign up, FTBpro is inevitably faced with the challenge of ensuring quality content. But Har argues that FTBpro’s team of 20 editors ensures a certain level of quality writing. “All of our content is 100 percent curated, edited, and filtered,” he claims.
Becoming a global news site
When they launched in 2011, FTBpro primarily targeted Western Europe, as soccer, pardon-us, “football”, is so popular there. While 90 percent of FTBpro employees are located in Tel Aviv, its headquarters are in London.
Now looking to expand aggressively to the rest of the world, with a focus on Asia’s estimated one billion soccer fans, FTBpro closed an $18 million fundraising round this past March, bringing their total funding to $24 million.
For Har and CEO and founder Asaf Peled, the plan is to take that funding to become the largest sports media website and application in the world, all while intending to uphold their tagline: ‘For the fans, by the fans.’
Photos: Two soccer players in mid air kicking the soccer ball by Bigstock/ Screenshot/ Rikover Design