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4 examples of great online sports storytelling

Online sports reporting can be anything from good to lazy to in-depth. And, some of the best online sports coverage comes from outside the mainstream media. Here are four examples of good online sports storytelling, two from the mainstream press and two from independent websites.

1. Zonal Marking’s analysis of Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona (Jan. 19, 2012)

Zonal Marking's graph showing starting XI's and player movements for Barcelona (red/blue) and Real Madrid (white).

Zonal Marking was created by Michael Cox, an England-based soccer journalist. The site features tactical analyses of soccer matches, making use of graphics to display player movement, starting lineups, and formation adjustments.

In this piece, Cox makes good use of headers to break up his analysis, such as giving a rundown of the battle between Real Madrid winger Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona right back Dani Alves.

Zonal Marking’s graphics help advance the smartly written analysis further by telling the tactical battle of a soccer match in a visual way.

2. Uli Hesse (ESPNSoccernet): ‘You can’t beat the system’ (Aug. 16, 2011)

Hesse is ESPNSoccernet’s main German writer, covering Germany’s top flight soccer league, the Bundesliga.

In “You can’t beat the system,” Hesse outlines the history and development of the 4-2-3-1 formation in the modern-day Bundesliga, particularly Borussia Dortmund’s use of the formation.  Hesse also highlights the role of the “No. 6” position: one of the two central midfielders who plays as a “deep-lying playmaker.”

What makes Hesse’s lengthy article good is two-fold: 1) The article is well written (all of Hesse’s articles are), and gives insightful analysis of the various roles of each player in the formation; and 2) Hesse uses the story of Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin, now at Real Madrid, as an analogy in explaining the formation and its development.

3. EPL Index: ‘Sharp Shooters of the Premier League’ (Jan. 20, 2012)

An example of EPL Index's stastical analysis. On the left is chance conversion, while on the right is the Premier League table ranked by minutes per goal.

EPL Index is blog site that pays for access to Opta Stats, which track a multitude of soccer statistics ranging from the more obvious (goals, assists, shots, etc.) to the less explored (minutes per shot, “clear cut” chances, etc.).

“Sharp Shooters” examines a wide range of shooting statistics through Jan. 20 for all 20 Premier League teams, with interpretations of meanings behind the numbers. The piece makes great use of graphs and charts, which allows the reader to look at the raw data and make his/her own judgment, as well as breaking up specific data with the use of headers. Also included is a sortable league table with shooting statistics, so fans of a particular club can track their side’s shooting accuracy.

4. Yahoo! Sports: ‘NCAA: 12 current Miami players accepted benefits’ (Aug. 30, 2011)

Yahoo! Sports’ coverage of the Miami football booster scandal is extremely in-depth, beginning with their exclusive piece published in mid-August.

What makes this Yahoo! piece an example of good storytelling is its layout. The right rail is full of links to the allegations made against current and former Hurricanes – including many famous names in Miami’s recent past – who are believed to have benefited from booster Nevin Shapiro in violation of NCAA rules.

One such example is Chicago Bears WR/KR Devin Hester. On Hester’s allegation page, it lists a number of ways Hester allegedly benefited from Shapiro, including audio of Shapiro speaking about his dealings with Hester and personal photographs of Shapiro partying with the Bears star.

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