Building a digital ecosystem for a sports media company

What we did

Strategy, UX / UI design, Drupal Back End, JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3 Front End, DevOps, Continuous development and maintenance

Humble beginnings

When Jokerit became our client the original commission was to renew the graphic design of their website. However, it quickly became clear that simply renewing the look of the site would not be enough; there was a need for renewal everywhere. As a whole, they needed a jump into the digital age. Any work that we did would have to be based on a wider digital strategy that would be aligned with the core of the business.

Jokerit was a small media company. The existence of the brand Jokerit was based on the creation of feelings and stories that made their followers’ lives richer. This was the hard core of what they did. The bond between the brand and followers was so strong, that other companies wanted to buy their piece of it by being sponsors. Jokerit had something that most companies didn’t – emotionally-charged, engaging content and loyal followers.

Service design

Designing the story

The existence of Jokerit was based on the creation of feelings and stories that made their followers’ lives richer. This was the hard core of the product.

We began by familiarizing ourselves with what Jokerit was already doing. Everything would have to be based on a carefully planned publishing schedule. This schedule would allow fans to experience the emotional highs and lows with their team. Our job was to make sure that the fans and media had stories and topics to grab onto. Together with the client, we carefully examined all the media work that was being done at the time. How was the job done? When? Where? With what tools?

We gathered as much information as possible about our future users from different sources – from Jokerit, from the fans themselves, but also by looking at where fans were meeting and what they were writing online. With this documentation, we began designing. Before anything else, we needed the tools and clear definitions of work tasks.

Jokerit illustration

How do we build and release tension around an event?

Next, we put our attention on the contents of the stories. What was a good story like? How was that ‘goodness’ defined? And was ‘goodness’ enough, since we also had commercial goals? In some parts, the task was straightforwardly commercial, tickets had to be sold.

Ipad mockup of Jokerit website

We discussed all this in depth internally and with the client. Where would we draw the line when it came to selling? All the members of our team were sports fans in one way or another. The experience could easily be ruined with too much marketing. Nobody wants to sit next to an overenthusiastic salesman at a game. The emotional experience needs room to breathe. In marketing, there is a saturation point, and we had to keep this fact clear in our minds. During the design phase, we defined a good story also on the level of a single news article.

Illustration about story

A good news article would include most of these basic elements. We focused on grabbing stories that are born in the present moment. We wouldn’t create anything ourselves. Our job was to recognize the stories that would appeal to emotions and build on them. The stories already existed, our job was to refine, heighten, clarify, and offer topics for discussion. 


The research phase

The basic structure of marketing and communications was built around game events. The question at the core was how to best grow and deepen the intensity around the event while at the same time offering the basic information and a retail channel for the event.

We benchmarked other online services. The biggest football clubs were clearly on the same path as we were. We even managed to set up a meeting with FC Barcelona to discuss the subtleties of digital sports marketing. The ice hockey world proved to be very statistic-oriented in its approach. We abandoned this approach in the first stages. Statistics were too cold and calculative. They would follow later, if ever. Our main task was to strengthen and clarify the emotional bond. We focused on stories, people and viewpoints. 

We found points of comparison in other fields of sports. MMA organization UFC turned out to be a big pioneer, who had clearly understood the standards of modern digital marketing. Communications were focused on people and emotions and the whole digital ecosystem had been skillfully built. Red Bull was another brand that had brought a completely new way of thinking into the sports world by creating their own content channels and focusing on online live events and video in their communications.

Prototype phase

Putting our ideas to practice

We had all the ideas, now we needed implementation. During two weeks we built prototypes for evaluation, the client working closely with us as part of our team. We also made the technical choices. Since Jokerit was a media company, we chose Drupal, the technical solution used by many small media organizations. We also needed our own CMS tools, which we designed. The publishing process and tools were designed around game events and a recurring schedule. 

These first prototypes not only helped to present our ideas to Jokerit, but also to ourselves. We tried technical solutions, different ways of presenting content, different contents, publishing schedules and how we would grow and release tension around a single event. Based on the user data we gathered, we defined several different use cases and structured the contents by scoring around these basic usage needs. The work was very rewarding and many of the ideas we came up with are visible in the service today.

As soon as we were happy with our design, a graphic designer from Republic of Communications joined forces with us. The train was moving forward… until it suddenly came to a halt.


The KHL bomb

All of a sudden the project came to a standstill and we realized we were making dozens of versions of how it would all look. Something was brewing under the surface. Were they not happy with us? Were we about to get sacked? Why wasn’t anything moving forward? Why was everybody so quiet?

For a long time, nothing happened. We got the answer to our questions when the KHL bomb was dropped. Jokerit left the Finnish Hockey League and moved into the international KHL. The change was headline news in all medias. We understood what the silence had been about, the slowing-down of the project and emotional tension under the surface. We faced a new design challenge. How would this affect all the solutions we had already developed?

We needed a new iteration round. This time we were planning for this season, to be published immediately, but we had to take into account also the immediate future. The whole visual brand would change. All the technical solutions we had designed for the Finnish Hockey League would become obsolete in a few months.

We sat down and opened the conversation again. We were happy with most of the changes, but we also saw how moving the team to international waters would change the context. We decided to go live with the then-current version immediately, and we did so with minimal beta testing in February 2014. We fixed bugs as they came up – and they did.

Simultaneously we re-evaluated the way Jokerit used social media. Together we made some well-considered changes that resulted in a significant increase of traffic right up to the next level.

The next iteration

KHL in the horizon

After the first version went live, it was time to focus on the KHL-season that was to come. We needed Live coverage. We needed language versions. In addition, we had to re-evaluate the online communications as a whole. What had changed? Everything that Jokerit did was analyzed in an instant by the media. All of a sudden the stakes were higher and the challenge tougher.

Technically we faced several challenges from weak internet signals in Russian hockey towns to KHL’s API solutions. The pace was breathtaking. To our advantage we managed to get to the core of conversations and get a few well-thought comments in the right places regarding the whole change of league. 

Gif test

A few of our central team members were closely involved in the planning of the repositioning of the brand. This work was a great success. We were extremely happy with the new direction. 

In retrospective, everything went surprisingly well. We quickly re-designed the visual look of the website and the season at KHL began without any problems. The solution worked as a whole and we focused on improving the service based on statistics and user experiences. 

KHL was a huge success. Jokerit did great as a team. The interest towards the team was gigantic, and our own worked turned out to be sustainable. We held regular meetings with Jokerit where we agreed on small fixes and improvements. No major changes were needed.


Numbers don't lie

We can say nice things about design drivers and service design, but at the end of the day it’s all about numbers. This is true at least for every single conversion-optimization agency, who regularly tell us to simplify everything and to put one giant orange button on the front page.

We don’t agree entirely, because there are many ways to convert. In the Jokerit case, focusing on the core product would make the whole product more desirable. Right from the beginning we had several other goals besides converting every visitor. Such goals were for example strengthening the emotional bond and getting our own stories in medias. Success in these will not show directly as conversion percentages on a Google Analytics report. 

A major part of the traffic to the Jokerit site is still from organic Google searches. We don’t pay anything for these links. Yet, at the same time we’ve carefully designed and built a digital ecosystem that reaches users where they already are. The users are more likely to want to read one article that is meaningful to them, and they find it through their own channel. This channel may be a direct search, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp, or another service.

The most important thing nevertheless is the quality of the core product and Product/Market Fit. If our work does not support and improve the core product, we might as well be burning hard cash. As a reminder – we defined feelings and stories as the core product.

Of course, there is still a place for traditional conversion-optimization in our work, but it needs to be built on a purposeful product/ market fit, and the product itself always needs to be the focus. 

So we don’t have numbers?
Yes, we do. 

When we began cooperation, Jokerit had about 50 000 unique visits per month. At the highest we raised it to 1.35 million.

The number of visits has levelled out to about a million. At the best we were the fifth most-used sports website in Finland, way above the Finnish Hockey League. 67% of ticket sales is now through Jokerit's own web service. We began with 0%.

What then?

The story still goes on. We do iterative product development and continuously improve and maintain the service as a whole. 

It will be interesting to see how the journey continues. Meanwhile, check out

Do you want to know more about this project? Get in touch with the product owner.

Mikael Koskimaa

+358 50 371 9516