Spotlight on sport

Ideas for richer narratives from the world of sport

From Wimbledon to the Euros, it's been a busy year for sport, and with the Olympics just around the corner, it's not about to get quiet any time soon.

So while those tasked with sharing the latest stories from the world of sport will have plenty of headlines to write, photos to take and video to record (and watch back again, and again, and again), there is also a fantastic opportunity to do something different.

We expect our sporting stars to be the best, to be unique, to be bold and wow us. But what about us, as storytellers?

Sport events offer rich material for us to be creative, to build an experience that engages loyal and new audiences, and to create an experience that supports long-term engagement with an event that is often over so quickly in real life. To tell the story of the match, the tournament, the player, the place.

It all starts with a great idea. So we thought we'd help by sharing some of the fantastic examples of visual storytelling we've seen from the sports arena, that bring to life the excitement of the game, the electricity of the atmosphere and the pride of the players.

The stadium. The arena. The track.

The buildings or grounds sports are played on are often stages watched by millions, and from the Olympic Stadium, to your local school track, there’s a great story to be told.

Consider a visual exploration of the grounds, the history and the future, the events held there and the famous stars who once trained or made records.

See how the Manchester Evening News created an interactive in Blue Moon Rising to show planned development of the Etihad Stadium.

With social media and live TV, it's easy to keep up with what's happening on the pitch, track or field. But only some get a ticket to be there in person, and even fewer get to see behind the scenes.

So this is also ideal for visual storytelling. You can truly be your audience's eyes, and showcase what most of the world so rarely gets to see.

Take a look the Telegraph's Behind the scenes at Wimbledon, which was actually produced last year.

The use of largely full-screen visuals creates a sense of leading the reader around the scene by the hand, from the crowds drinking champagne to the dogs on security.

Meet the player

Visual storytelling is a great way to bring your reader face-to-face with a key sports figure, share a different, more human side of their personality. Photography and video often helps tell a more personal story.

This recent feature by The Telegraph, an interview with athletics legend Usain Bolt, is punctuated with full-screen visuals showing the athlete in action on the track, overlaid with key quotes about his ambition, while looking back at his journey from childhood.

It is also a great chance to go into detail about an individual's performance in sport, beyond the headline numbers a news article will usually cover in the moment of their success. A multimedia story cam bring together collections of video from previous events or competitions, or offer focused analysis through visualisation that shows development over time.

See how ESPN Brazil looks in detail at basketball player Kobe Bryant, featuring quotes from other players and a series of infographics for visual context and comparison to other players.

The key here is about how to maximise the opportunity to go in-depth, and use the visual approach to tell a unique story.

Understand the sport

Image by Ken Funakoshi on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Some sports may not be as familiar as others, so visual storytelling is a great way to explain how a game or competition works, using infographics, video and animation to show positions, plays or the tools of the job.

Rugby is not as big in Brazil as other sports, so ESPN Brazil produced this rich guide to the game to tie in with the World Cup, using multiple images to highlight the different pitch layouts, and an infographic to explain the equipment and kit.

The history

Image by Liji Jinaraj on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Knowing the background to a sport can be key to understanding the present game, whether explaining the context of certain rules, or even the foundations of particular team rivalries. And visual storytelling helps to offer a clear, easy-to-follow structure to what may be a longer narrative, needing a clear chronological order.

See how Benenden broke down the history of fitness for example, with clear visual chapter headers for each new decade, offering an easy to digest format.

There may also be wider subjects, that reach outside the world of sport, but also play a powerful part in events inside the stadium, that requires detailed study. See the BBC’s recent piece, France: Fear, Faith and Football, ahead of the Euros last month.

A clear structure and powerful visuals helped break down a complex issue into and rich and engaging narrative.

Similarly in Field of dreams, the Telegraph visit Rwanda and look at how cricket has grown in popularity in the past 20 years, and the role it is playing in bringing together communities.

The guide to the tournament

Big events like World Cups, the Olympics and the Super Bowl are overflowing in information and statistics, from the results of years gone by, detail on the players and teams involved, and the fixtures that lay ahead.

Bringing all this together is an exercise in careful planning. It’s important to think carefully about a rough structure before you start. Do you want to create a team guide, or something that gives equal focus to all aspects of the event?

FourFourTwo magazine has created a couple of such guides, first for the World Cup in 2014, and more recently for the Euros. Each one was broken down by teams, with a story on each, as well as a collection of extra features on subjects like stadiums, history and quizzes for extra interactivity.

See also ESPN Brazil’s guide to the Superbowl which covered an array of topics within a single story, from trophy statistics and expected audiences, to the history of the half-time show.

Season reflections and review

Just like big tournaments, sport seasons also provide storytellers with a wealth of information to bring together in an engaging way. And just because the season is over, doesn’t mean the end to the analysis, or the desire to relive key moments.

See how Trinity Mirror regional titles the Liverpool Echo and Manchester Evening News covered the nail-biting 2013-14 season for Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC, providing a chronological and media-rich run-through of events.

From teams to the managers themselves, and in 2015 Manchester Evening News put the spotlight on Louis Van Gaal with this analysis of his transfer decisions and strategy.

Looking more widely than football, see how ESPN UK offered a year's review of a series of sports – like this one for golf – organised by month for a reminder of the headlines of the year, with links to more detail.

Number crunching

You don't get sport without statistics. But rather than simply stating the numbers, think about how a more visual representation or interactive could offer your reader greater context, and a more enjoyable experience.

For example, see how FourFourTwo uses comparative pie charts to deliver a clear contrast between games won, lost and drawn in the 2014 World Cup.

Follow us on Twitter for more great visual storytelling examples.

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