The Battle for Breaking Sports News

Roll out your montages, Tom Brady’s retired.

Or has he?

Minutes after the undisputed*[1] NFL GOAT threw a 55-yard touchdown pass in the dying moments of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ narrow play-off defeat to the LA Rams, the speculation began – was it the last pass of Brady’s career?

That speculation had reached an even higher plane by the following weekend, dominating both traditional and social media even as the NFL’s divisional championship games took place around it.

And then it happened. The big ‘Breaking News’ graphic appeared. Celebrated EPSN reporters Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington announced that Brady was retiring. Initially caveated with ‘sources tell us’, the news was soon being presented as pure fact on ESPN TV.

It set social media managers scrambling to release the ‘Brady Retires’ assets that had likely been in their lockers since some time back in the late 00’s when the Quarterback reached his mid-30s.

Everyone joined the melee. Teammates, sponsors, even the Buccaneers and Brady’s own fitness brand TB12 put their retirement posts out.

Just one voice was missing – Brady’s own. Which was understandable, considering he hadn’t actually informed anybody of plans to retire.

Brakes were put on the breaking news as new quotes emerged from Buccaneers’ coach Bruce Arians, Brady’s father, and his agent Donald Yee, whose widely shared iMessage screenshot read:

“I understand the advance speculation about Tom’s future. Without getting into the accuracy or inaccuracy of what’s being reported, Tom will be the only person to express his plans with complete accuracy.”

So we were back to square one. Posts deleted or humorously reframed. Had anyone benefitted? ESPN certainly drove a huge amount of traffic to their broadcast channels and website as they doubled-down on their stance that the retirement was confirmed, cannily hosting an extended article on the ‘pending announcement’ behind a paywall on their ESPN+ service. But the credibility of those reports and their sources surely took a hit.

Three days later, the man himself did express his plans with accuracy in a lengthy, heartfelt Instagram post announcing that after 22 years at the very top of his sport, he would no longer be ‘making that competitive commitment’. Brady interestingly opted to avoid the term ‘retire’, in a trademark refusal to do or say what speculators expected of him. Or maybe the word was simply too hard to write.

It’s likely that some smoke from that fire did blow its way to ESPN before they committed to their announcement, but clearly without strong enough backing to stand the story up once it was out there. ESPN may have been first to the story, but they weren’t right at the time.

And it seems few lessons were learned, as hours later a new Brady rumour was spreading across media formats. This time a fan wish-fulfilling story that the ex-Patriot would sign a one-day contract to finish his career in New England (where he spent 20 years, winning six Super Bowls), and deliver a speech at the team’s Gillette Stadium the next day.

The story trended for hours on Twitter, elevating a post from the unverified account of a journalist that had broken the ‘news’. Although this rumour was more quickly shut down, all that showed was even a profile reading ‘Esteemed sports journalist & Patriots Beat Writer, Double PHD in Journalism & Female Anatomy’ can have their time in the sun with a sports news rumour – they just can’t sustain the attention quite as long as ESPN.

Over in Europe that same week, the rumour mill was churning in that other, more familiar form of football. Monday 31st January marked the ever more popular Transfer Deadline Day and the return of Fabrizio Romano’s 12-hour long Twitch stream, offering fans up-to-the-minute access to the Italian journalist’s inside knowledge on all the big moves.

This time, Romano partnered with Heineken to host the show live from the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, benefitting not only from the beer brand’s hospitality and production value but its longstanding equity in football, as he broadcast to an astounding peak of over 38,000 viewers.

Using Romano’s now-famous catchphrase ‘Here We Go’, the show revealed the window’s biggest transfers including Aaron Ramsey to Rangers, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Barcelona and Dele Alli to Everton.

While there’s clearly a desire to break each story first – and the strength of Romano’s contacts mean that’s often the case – he employs strict rules for when it’s time to say ‘Here We Go’; announcing only when water-tight sources confirm the deal is agreed and ready to be signed.

As a result, despite eschewing traditional news platforms, the show has earned huge respect and credibility amongst fans and even players themselves – to the extent that Dele included Romano’s ‘Here We Go’ moment in his own Instagram video and caption addressing his transfer.

Which all goes to demonstrate that in the battle for breaking sports news, being first or being right doesn’t have to be a binary choice.

As Romano has so successfully shown – be both, and you’re really onto a winner.

[1] *In this M&C S&E contributor’s opinion

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