Has the Sun+ football move paid off?

Is using Premier League highlights as the main selling point the right strategy for The Sun, Mark Banham wonders.

The legendary Liverpool manager and three times European Cup winner Bob Paisley once said: "It’s not about the long ball or the short ball. It’s about the right ball." It’s a saying that could be applied to most things in life, including the media business.

When it comes to The Sun, the largest red-top in the UK, with its focus on tabloid headlines, Page 3 and a respected back page, sport seems to be the right ball – and that ball is primarily football.

It is therefore no surprise that The Sun looked to leverage its football heritage when it unveiled the Sun+ paywalled online offering.

Leading the push was the exclusive online rights to show Premier League goals and highlights in a three-year deal worth a reported £20 million. It has also just won the rights to show Champions League highlights.

In addition, Sun+ has the usual online offerings of up-to-date news and offers and promotions – all for £2 a week across web, mobile and tablet.

The first set of user figures from any online product launch is always anticipated. The first ones from The Sun since the roll-out of Sun+ have been produced by comScore on behalf of the online body UKOM.

The results show that, since the premium service got under way in August, The Sun online had a total of 6,244,489 unique users – with 2,389,764 arriving by smartphone or tablet. In September, unique users had fallen 32.9 per cent to 4,188,720, with mobile and tablet visits dropping to 1,012,450.

Of course, The Sun’s traffic was bound to fall following the paywall, but the figures fail to look at the quality and engagement of The Sun’s remaining audience.

Key metrics for the publisher now are dwell times, page impressions per user, where users went before and after visiting the site, and how likely they are to return. The dissection of any figures must be viewed with the caveat that this is a long-term strategic play for the brand.

For a title with such a strong history in sport, it was inevitable that The Sun would play to its strengths when it came to launching the paywall. But has Sun+ scored an own goal with its concentration on Premier League coverage?