¡GOOOL!: Meet the team behind the scoop that brought down Spain's football chief
The context and the speakers
Soon after Spain won the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the celebration turned into outrage when Spanish Football chief Luis Rubiales kissed Spanish player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent. Prompted by criticism in Spain and beyond, Rubiales recorded a non-apology apology and put out a statement from Hermoso saying the kiss had been consensual. But those were not Hermoso’s words. Rubiales’ team had made them up.
Spaniards learnt about the coverup from Relevo, a young sports news site founded in 2022. Relevo revealed two crucial things: that Hermoso never said the words in the statement and that she refrained from helping Rubiales, who pressed her to appear in the video in which he apologised. Relevo's exclusive story put further pressure on the Spanish football chief, who was suspended by FIFA in late August and resigned from his position two weeks later.
This piece we published in early September explains that this crucial scoop felt like a coming of age for Relevo, a sports news site with a young newsroom and an innovative strategy. From its launch in the spring of 2022, Relevo has covered women’s sports much more extensively than any other news brand in Spain. In this seminar we heard from two key members of Relevo's newsroom: its Video Editor Marta Caparrós and its Communities Editor Fermín Elizari, who's leading an innovative social media strategy with a focus on TikTok, Instagram and Twitch.
Five takeaways from the discussion
1. An early focus on women’s sport helped Relevo frame the story. Relevo’s newsroom didn’t immediately realise the relevance of Rubiales’ unwanted kiss. They were hosting a watch party for 200 readers and were focusing on other angles as Spain had won its first Women’s World Cup.
“It was only a few hours later when we started talking about the implications of the story, “Caparrós said. “Not only because of what happened that day, but also because of the Spanish Federation's relationship with the players.”
A few months before the World Cup, several Spanish players had confronted Rubiales and his team and demanded better working conditions. Rubiales’ behaviour in the final was just the most blatant example of the toxic environment the players had endured for a long time. Relevo’s early bet on women’s sports and its coverage of these issues helped the newsroom understand the extent of the problem before others did.
Not everyone in the newsroom agreed. “We had some discussions on our WhatsApp group,” Caparrós said. “There was a debate because some of our colleagues didn't see this as a story but as an anecdote. But we said this is not an anecdote. This is huge. And as Rubiales, the players and their families were flying home from Sydney, our colleague Natalia Torrente saw Jenni’s statement and thought, ‘This doesn’t sound like her.’” She was right. A few hours later, Torrente published the scoop that changed Rubiales’ fate.
2. Relevo didn’t care about losing access. Many sports journalists would hesitate before pursuing a story about the most powerful man in Spanish football for fear of losing access to players. Relevo’s newsroom went ahead as they saw this as an opportunity to fulfil its original mission, which includes using sports as a tool for changing society.
“We see ourselves as very independent, so access is not something we are worried about,” Caparrós said. “We are more concerned about changing the world we live in. What happened has had a real impact on Spanish football.”
As an example, Caparrós mentioned the case of a woman who suffered verbal abuse from one of her male bosses while working as a coach at a Spanish football team. The story had been silenced by the team and not pursued by other news organisations. But she decided to go public and speak with Relevo after seeing how the newsroom was covering the Rubiales’ scandal.
“Covering these stories is very important because it has an impact on the lives of specific women who have been impacted by these structures,” Caparrós said. “This woman told me, ‘You have heard me like no one else has ever done.’”
3. Building a diverse newsroom in terms of age and gender paid off. Around one-third of Relevo’s journalists are women and most are under 40. Most sports newsrooms in Spain skew much older and much more male. This made a difference when covering Rubiales’ scandal as Relevo understood the nuances of the story and avoided some of the pitfalls its competitors fell into.
“One of the things that makes us different from our competitors is the presence of women in the newsroom,” Caparrós said. “That's what made us put our eyes on this story and see the importance of what happened.”
Journalists often debated how to cover the story. But with such a diverse newsroom it was easier to get it right. “The most senior journalists learnt from women and from younger journalists and realised they were right,” Elizari said. “We were ready to cover the story in a different way because we were ready to speak in a different way.”
4. Relevo is much more than a website and its journalism lives on many platforms. Before even launching its website, Relevo had more than half a million followers on its social media channels. Today it has more than a million. This social launch helped them fine-tune the tone of its coverage and experiment with language and formats before launching their product in full.
Elizari explained they decided to focus on three groups: young Millennials disappointed with traditional sports outlets, women who like sports but want a different kind of coverage and Gen Z audiences who only consume news on social media. They didn’t launch on every network. They focused on Twitter, Instagram, Twitch and TikTok, and designed a different strategy for each of those channels. They also decided against multi-tasking and hired young journalists who were fluent in the language of social media so they could be Relevo’s faces on each platform.
Today Relevo is the Spanish sports outlet with the most views on TikTok and they’ve been nominated for one of TikTok global awards.
This emphasis on video content and on this multi-channel strategy has paid off in a different way. Caparrós revealed they are working with an international streaming company on a documentary on the drama around the Spanish women’s national team.
5. Good journalism is good for business. Relevo’s relentless coverage of the scandal attracted new audiences to its website. Caparrós explained that Relevo’s audience increased 50% in August as a result of this story and that 20% of its traffic in August and September came from the coverage of the case.
The focus on women’s sports has paid off too. According to internal data, around 77% of Relevo’s traffic so far in 2023 has come from stories about women’s sports, an area most sports news organisations in Spain either ignore or pay much less attention to.
The bottom line
Strategy is about being different. In a country with so many legacy sports outlets, Relevo created a different product for a different audience. It built a younger newsroom, covered women’s sports relentlessly, hired experienced investigative journalists and pursued younger people on their own terms. These early bets paid off when covering the Rubiales’ scandal. They helped Relevo get the story right, reach new audiences and ride a wave of social change.