Inside Fox Sports’ digital home with editor Luke McIlveen

• Former news.com.au and Daily Mail Australia editor on his return to News Corp

On the day of Mediaweek’s visit to the Fox Sports HQ in Artarmon, we met an upset Socceroos fan, Luke McIlveen. The overcast, rainy Sydney day reflected his mood.

“It’s pretty bleak out there and it’s also a bleak morning in Australian sport for those of us who stayed up overnight to see the Socceroos spectacularly fail. It was not the result we were hoping for,” McIlveen told Mediaweek. He is the executive editor of Fox Sports’ digital home, foxsports.com.au. It is one of the biggest local players in the space.

While the Socceroos’ expedition in Russia was cut short, McIlveen’s NRL and AFL teams of choice, Sydney Roosters and Sydney Swans, are still in the running to win their respective premierships this year.

McIlveen joined News Corp-owned Fox Sports in the second half of last year. This marked his return to News Corp, where he has worked for most of his career. McIlveen has previously served as the editor of The Manly Daily and news.com.au, where he was credited with taking the news website from #3 to #1 in Australia – a position that it has largely maintained in the last five years.

When McIlveen left news.com.au in 2013 to be the first editor of Daily Mail Australia, News Corp launched a legal action against him to keep him from joining what was then a Nine-Daily Mail joint venture. When he returned to News Corp, which he referred to as his professional “home”, McIlveen said: “A senior News Corp person said to me shortly afterwards, ‘We can stop fighting now. You’ve got the right jersey on.’ [Laughs]

“I didn’t feel any sense of bad blood.”

Since joining Fox Sports, McIlveen has had to broaden the sports he follows. “I’ve always loved NRL, AFL and golf, but to be at Fox Sports you need to be really across all sports. There are so many that our readers follow, so to service them properly you need to sharpen your interest pretty quickly.”

Fox Sports is known for its wall-to-wall coverage of a number of sports including NRL, AFL and Supercars. It has magazine programs to complement the live coverage of the matches. “These shows have a sense of humour,” McIlveen said. This is something that needs to be reflected on the Fox Sports website too.

“I say to my team, ‘We have to have the best live coverage and analysis, but there is no reason why that can’t be done in a way that is surprising, interesting and funny.’

“People come to Fox Sports because it’s fun and it’s an interest. We don’t need to be The Guardian and we never should be.

“What we are not going to be is vanilla and like everybody else.”

Foxsports.com.au is supported by the company’s massive broadcast business. “We are only scratching the surface of what we could be doing,” McIlveen said. “Our NRL coverage is a great example of how we could be maximising content more. From a TV perspective, we have a great Fox League team, which owns the game.

“What we’ve done in digital is set up a digital TV show, which runs on the website every day.”

This not only provides the website with exclusive video content, but also “kicks off a really sharp news debate, which then carries through to our shows later in the evening”, McIlveen explained. “We’ve had some good success with that, but we are still building it.”

McIlveen is currently working on ways in which Fox Sports’ digital assets can best leverage the broadcaster’s cricket rights win when the coverage of the game begins in the coming months.

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“I can’t get into too many specifics about our innovations there, but we are full throttle on our cricket coverage across digital and broadcast. It will be about using our cricket talent. We have got the biggest names – [Adam] Gilchrist, [Shane] Warne and Mark Waugh. These are guys who were huge figures in the game when they played and known for having strong views in their media careers too.

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“We are working hard now on how to convert that for digital and how we can make the digital offering a seamless experience for the audience.”

Fox Sports shares the rights to the cricket with free-to-air broadcaster Seven. The latter has left no stone unturned in ensuring cricket viewers tune into the channel over the summer. Is Seven a competition for Fox Sports in digital?

“Yes, of course it is a competition. Seven is a very different product. I won’t be looking over my shoulder too much,” McIlveen answered. “We are co-signatories to these rights, but we see any other network as competition.

Patrick Delany [CEO, Foxtel] has said that our coverage needs to be different and will be. We are not Channel 9 and are not trying to be. The audience is generationally and multiculturally different. Our challenge is to recognise that and appeal to a whole new generation of cricket fans.”

There have been a number of accusations made against Daily Mail Australia about the news website ripping off articles published by other media outlets. Asked about these plagiarism allegations, Luke McIlveen said: “There are some great digital journalists at MailOnline. I don’t think MailOnline has tried to hide from the fact that it goes for scale and size. To do that, its business model is to aggregate and present readers with the best of the web.

“A bit of that criticism is overblown. At least at the Australian site, when I was there, we broke a lot of stories on a daily basis. It’s not all aggregation but it is a part of the business model.”

McIlveen left Daily Mail Australia in September 2017 to re-join News Corp as the executive editor of foxsports.com.au. Prior to joining Daily Mail Australia in 2013, he was the editor of news.com.au.

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