August 2013

MMQB

The MMQB design stands out in a stagnant sports media world

 

It’s no question that the world of sports is evolving to the second screen. People are constantly looking for updates, shelling out top dollar for exclusive rights to highlights and games that might not be immediately available in the morning newspaper or on SportsCenter.

As an avid football fan, I’m a sports-media addict, especially anything I can get online. I check NFL.com and ESPN.com every morning for updates – if it’s Wednesday, I’m making sure I have the right fantasy players locked in each week. Any other day it’s for new scoops I can share. Did you hear Tom Brady limits the number of questions Tim Tebow can ask him each day?

With this constant need for information, apps are being developed for nearly every media outlet and sports team. New websites and blogs update daily with the stats and insights consumers want. Even newspapers and sports magazines are redesigning publications and subscription-based sites to be more alluring.

So with all the time we’re spending on these websites, why are their designs so dated? I’ve always been frustrated with the sports industry for its clunky, old-school layouts, but never really considered redesign an option until the launch of Sports Illustrated’s new website, The MMQB.

Launched by SI writer Peter King, the new site focuses on all things NFL, bringing in seasoned reporters and even a few athletes to write columns. It’s completely unlike any site out there, because it bridges the media gap between the need for constant information and the desire for long-form editorials you used to find in newspapers every morning. It doesn’t aim to break stories, but rather to provide more context and in-depth coverage while still staying current. But for me, the thing that really makes it stand apart is not the content, but rather the design.

Responsive is the word I keep coming back to – everything is easy to read, navigate, and is generally intuitive. There is just one version of the site and it translates fluidly from the web to mobile devices, creating a unified interface. By doing so, there’s no fear of missing out on content. And the best part? You don’t have to worry about muddling through a full website on your phone to get to the article you want. Even ads are placed seamlessly throughout the page, blending in as regular content, unlike gaudy homepage backgrounds or pop-out takeovers.

In addition to general usability, The MMQB is distinctively different because of its sleek, modern look. The first thing you see when landing on the page is a full-bleed image with a bold headline laid over. The images are not typical action sports shots of a diving catch or a big hit, but rather an examination of a moment or emotion. It has a truly human feel to it, which is reflected in the articles, written more as editorial pieces than as sports reports.

So why is The MMQB such a revolutionary development in sports media websites? The design is relatively simple, nothing groundbreaking with the technology we have. Yet, every website across the sports industry, whether ESPN or minor league baseball, seems to look the same as when it first launched in the 90’s. Sure, there’s a familiarity to their designs, but why do they get a pass on staying relevant to the current trends in technology and design?

Unfortunately, it’s because no one is demanding or even expecting change. Fans and media are still getting the information they need from these antiquated sites. Companies won’t invest the time and money into redesigns because web traffic is likely going up with every year that print becomes less relevant. And with most leagues forcing teams to use their web design templates, there’s little room for change.

At best, teams have apps or mobile sites that provide an easier user experience on a device, but this often leaves the website lacking when only the apps are being updated. Web design is currently trending towards this responsive layout, so I wonder if it will catch on in the rest of the sports world.

For now we wait, and hope that with the emergence of The MMQB, sports websites may finally evolve, albeit later than others. We hope that Sports Illustrated is testing the functionality of The MMQB so that in the off-season it can start a site-wide redesign. And we hope that as a result of the new design and functionality, Sl willl be ahead of the rest of the market, forcing every other site to follow.

The most successful teams in the NFL often have new ways of thinking and playing, constantly changing and staying one step ahead of their competitors. Web design and media are no different, so let’s hope sports websites start to take a page out of The MMQB’s playbook.

August 2013