By Henry Queen

ATLANTA — Captivating soccer fans has its challenges.

But sports editors should not shy away from trying to capture their attention, Iliana Limón Romero said. That’s because fans of other sports will start to develop the habits of Major League Soccer supporters, Romero said.

Romero, the sports editor of the Orlando Sentinel and co-founder of ProSoccerUSA.com, joined Greg Lalas and Doug Roberson on a panel during the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot: How To Connect With A Young, Diverse and Digitally Savvy Soccer Audience” at the APSE Summer Conference on Monday.

Lalas is the vice president of content for MLS. Roberson is the Atlanta United beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The panelists gave the editors in the audience advice for how to increase engagement with soccer coverage. While game stories might not do well online, there are other stories to write.

“People are looking for deeper analysis, they are looking for feature content, they are looking for human interest … They are also looking for the experience of being a fan,” Lalas said. “That is the differentiator I would say between MLS/soccer in America and all the other leagues.”

MLS teams are backed by passionate fan clubs that have lots of traditions. They are so passionate, in fact, that some United supporters expressed their displeasure with Roberson when he didn’t include them in a story about the fans.

As the MLS expands to cities like Nashville and Miami, outlets have an opportunity to get out ahead. Romero advised treating MLS teams like any other professional sports team. When Orlando City was founded, the Orlando Sentinel gave it the same weight it would give to the Orlando Magic.  

Romero also said it’s important to reach out to the communications department early and often.

“We had a generally positive relationship,” Romero said. “But when they got an influx of international players who were accustomed to not doing any media access at all, we were not in the ground floor of that conversation about media training. And that should have happened.”

At the AJC, explainers about everything from jerseys to logos to transfers worked well, Roberson said.

Legacy markets are the toughest nuts to crack, Romero said. Outlets have to convince readers they are not out to make fun of them.

But the audience exists, and MLS is more than willing to cooperate with sports departments.

The league is no longer in its infancy, but it’s still a “teenager”, Lalas said.

“We’re still growing in this way,” Lalas said. “And like a lot of teenagers, we’ll talk to anybody.”

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