Sat, 09 Dec 2023

madrid - The fall of Spanish Football Federation chief Luis Rubiales, forced to resign over an unwanted kiss of midfielder Jenni Hermoso, was due in no small part to the work of an upstart sports news site that is shaking up the comfortable world of Spanish sports reporting.

Founded in May 2022, the media site Relevo wanted to focus attention on teams and women's sports that receive less coverage by its more established competitors, and to engage more with younger audiences.

Fermin Elizari, Relevo's new communities' manager, said unlike most traditional media, journalists worked closely with social media, commercial and branding teams.

'Our values ... make us quite different,' he told VOA. 'Spanish sports news is very traditional, very focused on men and not women and not very innovative. So, we thought that, let's be very innovative, very inclusive and independent.'

That method was tested with the website's coverage of the Rubiales incident. And with it, said Elizari, 'We have proved (our model) works.'

The scandal

The soccer scandal came in the wake of Spain's victory in the FIFA Women's World Cup.

To many, Rubiales' actions in kissing Hermoso seemed out of place, but Rubiales insisted the player consented, even though she was later filmed in the dressing room telling teammates, 'I didn't like it.'

The incident, along with footage of Rubiales clutching his crotch during the match against England in August while standing near the teenage daughter of Queen Letizia of Spain, sparked controversy around the world.

As the Spanish team flew back to Madrid, Rubiales sought to quell the row by issuing an apology, putting out a statement in which Hermoso was quoted as saying, '[The kiss] was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the huge joy of winning a World Cup.'

But Revelo revealed that Hermoso never uttered those words and even refused to appear alongside Rubiales in a video recording of his apology.

The exclusive put pressure on Rubiales, who resigned from his post. He is now facing a criminal investigation for sexual assault and coercion. He insists the kiss was consensual.

The judge in the case has widened the investigation to include Jorge Vilda, the soccer team manager, until he was fired on September 5, along with two other officials.

Those officials have been placed under investigation for alleged coercion and will appear in court on October 10.

Part of the success of Relevo was due to a deliberate strategy in a world of Spanish sports coverage dominated by daily newspapers like Marca, Sport, and AS, which focus coverage on Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

Until recently, these established newspapers paid scant attention to women's soccer, whereas Relevo reported widely on women's sports, sharing its scoops on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitch.

Natalia Torrente, the Relevo journalist who landed the Rubiales exclusive, said they carried out a survey that found women, Generation Z (aged 10-24) and millennials were dissatisfied with existing sports reporting.

'Our journalism does not just talk to women; it talks to Generation Zers and millennials. We use their language, and we report things in a style and a platform which they read. That is why the site looks a bit like TikTok,' she told VOA.

Torrente said she landed her scoop after realizing words attributed to Hermoso did not appear to be something she would ever say.

'When the soccer federation put out the statement with Hermoso's words, we said they were words 'attributed to' her. Then I spoke to three independent sources who confirmed that she and her family were put under pressure, but she refused,' she said.

Her reporting is indicative of what Revelo had set out to achieve in its approach.

When it was being set up, managers offered the most promising journalists with major sports newspapers - good salaries and the chance to do in-depth reports.

Alfredo Matilla, head of news at Relevo, said the project was launched on social media in May of last year, becoming a website only in October, after it had built up a following.

'We were surprised at the strategy, but the idea was to build up a following who knew us and liked what we were doing before we launched the website,' he told VOA.

Matilla said another part of the strategy that distinguishes Relevo from other Spanish sports media: launching website content that is different from what's posted to X (formerly known as Twitter), TikTok or Twitch.

'We have specialists for each social media who can help us adapt the content,' he said. 'We don't just put the same stuff on every [platform].'

With a young staff - Matilla estimates an average age of 33 - Relevo has also tried to get as many women working for the site as men.

'I am sure the fact that we had so many women allowed a greater sensitivity to things during the Rubiales case,' Matilla said.

'We want to establish ... trust'

For a media organization dedicated to sports, Matilla said getting sports people 'to want to talk to us' was crucial.

'At the moment, they don't want to talk to the media, and they just say things which their [media relations professionals] allow them to say,' he said. 'We don't want that. We want to establish the trust so that they come to us.'

Fernando Kallas, Iberia sports correspondent for Reuters news agency, said Relevo was good for Spanish journalism.

'It has taken something from The Athletic model and many of the best journalists have gone from newspapers like,' he said. 'Some of the older journalists on the established papers say it will not work, but it is doing well so far.'

Graham Hunter, a British journalist who is an expert on Spanish football, said Relevo was shaking up the traditional media, whose relationship with the sports establishment has become too 'comfortable.'

'Refreshing, defiant'

'Relevo in Spanish can be a military term meaning the relief watch, the people who take over. There is a refreshing, defiant, non-institutional attitude [or] tone to what they report on,' he said. 'Slightly more fearless than the established media, many of whom have earned their reputation by not kowtowing to the grand institutions but by having contacts there which are too symbiotic, which perhaps become too comfortable.

'Relevo has set themselves to become more independent, more challenging,' Hunter added. 'It is having an impact both for readers and for the traditional media who need to look over their shoulder and think 'Are we a bit too stuffy? Are we a bit too safe?''

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