In response to a challenge from Google to come up with a “big idea” the Local Media Consortium has launched The Matchup. 

The Matchup is a collaborative online sports platform that provides fans with locally produced sports stories through content sharing between local news sites. 

It gives local media organizations a way to broaden their audience and compete with sports hubs such as The Athletic, Bleacher Report and ESPN for ad revenue, says the LMC. 

The idea rose above others in an afternoon whiteboarding session “because it was an opportunity for our members to leverage existing assets in a way that they hadn't before,” said Mike Orren, CPO of The Dallas Morning News and LMC board member spearheading the project. 

LMC is an association of 92 local media companies that represent more than 4,500 newspaper, radio, TV and online-only news outlets across the U.S. and Canada. “We really do two things,” says LMC CEO Fran Wills. One is negotiate partnerships with digital platforms and service providers like Google and Facebook that help members reduce costs or increase revenue. “The other thing we do is look at strategic initiatives or opportunities to leverage the scale of our membership to provide some sort of economic benefit for members, either advertising or subscription revenue or thought leadership around industry-wide challenges like privacy,” says Wills.

Funding

The Google News Initiative is supporting The Matchup and centralized sponsorships will cover the platform’s operating expenses, which will mostly involve a small staff, says Wills. The Matchup will be hiring a GM in the near future, she says. 

Local outlets will monetize through increased traffic. Local publishers also see this as a subscription acquisition or retention tool, says Wills. The Matchup will explore the opportunity for local outlets to sell into a planned website as the model evolves, says Wills. 

To start, the Matchup launched this NFL season with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Shaw Media Group in Chicago, Tampa Bay Times, Lee Enterprises covering Green Bay and the Dallas Morning News. 

To get involved, papers place a widget on their site and sign a membership agreement with the LMC, says Wills. A self-service portal is hosted by LMC’s tech partner on the project, Distributed Media Lab.

Every NFL team will have a widget along with most of the major college teams. The plan is to add all major pro sports leagues plus college football and basketball starting later this fall and in 2021. 

The matchups of the week are the primary focus  in the widget. If Dallas is playing Tampa, for example, the widget on the Dallas Morning News is going to focus on content from Tampa area publishers that week. 

Aron Pilhofer, director of Temple University’s News Catalyst, is a partner in the project and has hired a team of Temple journalism students who are going to help with content curation. 

The idea behind the Matchup website, planned for launch in the first half of 2021, is to feature all of the sports content from all the participants. “The idea with that site is that it's a subscription site, but the only way to get it is to subscribe to your local news outlet,” says Orren.