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Optimizing User Experience Design: Learning from Local News Networks

What smaller companies can learn about UX optimization and design from the challenges local news networks face.

The world loves an underdog story, but being an underdog is hard work. In a world of digital media giants and national networks, local news networks face the dual challenge of upholding their core values while staying competitive. These sentiments have come to span any industry where smaller platforms are trying to hold their own against giants.

Users often expect the core functionality that more prominent apps have, like search, filtering, and a smooth UX. However, beyond these basics, there are ways smaller platforms can serve a niche audience to set them apart from their larger counterparts. To identify the opportunities and challenges, we dove into video and survey data from our Mobile UX for NFL News series to learn more.

NFL Allegiances vs. Local Bias: Uncovering the Fan Dilemma

Upon close examination of the user experience of our research participants, we made an interesting discovery: the match (or mismatch) between a user's favorite NFL team and the team most covered by their local news network significantly impacted user perception of the news network. We found that, in most cases, users whose allegiance aligned with their local team tended to report somewhat more positive local news experiences than those with mismatched teams. 

However, when users aren't fans of the local team, there are lower satisfaction rates and we found that, in our sample, 43% of our users didn't support the home team. Especially for transplants who support teams from their home state, these users frequently voiced concerns that local news limited coverage showed a perceived bias in favor of the local team. Even some home team fans would prefer a more objective reporting and rely on other sources to get an unbiased view.

“I like to keep them honest.”

A fan explains that even though he likes the content of Delaware Online, he finds them rooting for the home team.

—David, Gen X, Philadelphia Eagles, Super Fan

“They are only tearing down the Browns, and not praising the Steelers.”

A Steelers fan explains why WKYC will be biased to the home team Browns.

—Kaitlyn, Gen Z, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Fan

In our study we also found that local news networks apps and websites had the lowest satisfaction, with only 29% of participants are very satisfied with local news networks for NFL news and content. This is substantially lower than the user satisfaction levels for national and other digital platforms that have bigger budgets to invest in their web and mobile user experiences. 

(Want to learn more about what's driving YouTube's success? Check out our story The NFL Video Playbook.)

App Installation Lags for Local News

We discovered that the majority of users tended to use the mobile website rather than an app for accessing local news. Interestingly, many users were unaware of the existence of a mobile app for their local news source and a few were taken by surprise when prompted to download it during their mobile website visits. Per our research, the mobile web experience, though familiar, lacked certain user experience design functionalities, such as streamlined search, section navigation, and information filtering, which are typically present in an app. This limited mobile functionality contributed to overall lower satisfaction levels among users. 

“​​I use these sites daily. I mostly like them, but they could use a little improvement. They provide the basic news I'm looking for, but I wish there was more and they had more interactive features.”

—Ian, Gen X, Chicago Bears, Super Fan

NFL Fans Seek an Immersive User Experience, but Local Networks Don’t Deliver

We found several gaps between expectation and experience when NFL fans engage with local news networks. A prevalent desire for enriched video content, integrated within articles, emerges as a prominent expectation, especially among younger fans who favor video over written content.

Users have come to expect robust search functions, filters, and sorting options as part of the "standard" user experience requirement for apps and websites they visit. Most found this lacking in local news experiences and this was a significant contributor to low user satisfaction. Many expect enhanced navigation options such as sidebars and filters to facilitate content discovery. Additionally, for this particular audience, users expected up-to-date information, not articles that are weeks or months old.

“I would like them to add filter tags to team pages. And embed more videos into story articles, so that I don’t have to go elsewhere to look for videos.”

—Paul, Gen X, Los Angeles Rams, Casual Fan

UX optimization tip: The appetite for more interactive features and seamless social media integrations is a common desire among users, as it fosters engagement and fan interaction.

“I want updated news, I don’t want to look at news that is 6-days-old.”

A fan explains he was not getting recent news on Pix11 and the information was not easy to find.

—Jake, Gen X, New York Jets, Casual Fan

Some Fans are Vocal for Local 

When trying to stand out on a crowded field, smaller companies must play to their strengths. Local networks certainly have their strengths too when it comes to NFL content, and users acknowledge these positive aspects. Users that root for the home team particularly value the depth of content dedicated to their favorite NFL team. The convenience of finding ticket information prominently displayed on the homepage was a favorite, making it easier for fans to access important details. 

UX optimization tip: For networks that can pair this content strength with better app and website UX, it's a winning combination.

Many users exhibited a favorable disposition towards the regional pages of nationwide platforms and networks. Several fans appreciated the local websites of their NBC and ABC affiliates for their robust local coverage and satisfying user experiences.

“The reporters are traveling with the team, so the coverage is very good.”

A fan explains why he enjoys the depth of content and user experience of NBC Washington.

—Patrick, Millennial, Washington Commanders, Super Fan

In addition, users appreciate the in-depth player profiles and detailed editorial pieces about their beloved NFL stars. These insightful pieces provide fans with a deeper understanding of their favorite players and add to the overall fan experience. Furthermore, users enjoy seeing tweets about their favorite team right on the homepage, as it fosters a sense of connection with the team's broader fan community.

“I see the tweets come up, which is interesting!”

A fan explains why she finds the ticket information and tweets useful on

—Maleah, Gen Z, Dallas Cowboys, Casual Fan


To stand out from the crowd and compete with top players, app and website owners can incorporate these learnings to bolster their overall UX. When making product decisions, remember to play to your strengths and focus on these five key plays to help you win:

  1. Evangelize mobile apps to increase installation: Most of the users in our study leaned towards using a mobile web experience rather than installing the app. To encourage app installation, companies should promote it by emphasizing its distinct advantages, such as improved search, section navigation, and information filtering.
  2. Improve search and navigation: Enhancing search functions, filters, and sorting options for news articles is essential to an optimal user experience design. Users desire streamlined navigation with sidebars and filters, making content discovery a more efficient process.
  3. Foster community connection: Utilizing features that connect audiences with their interests, such as displaying tweets about local teams on the homepage can help optimize a user's experience. This enables enthusiasts to feel more engaged and connected to their favorite topics and the broader community.
  4. Offer more enriched video content: Given the growing preference for video, especially among younger audiences, companies should prioritize embedding more videos into their articles within content streams. This UX optimization not only caters to younger groups but also enhances the overall user experience.
  5. Prioritize displaying timely updates front and center: For news organizations that want to capture the eyes of NFL fans and the associated ad revenue, addressing the concern about outdated content is paramount. To play ball in any arena where news is fast-moving, companies must ensure main page features have up-to-date information, showing that should be a priority.

By addressing these, newcomers and smaller platforms have the chance to play in the big leagues, remain competitive and hold their own. Stay tuned for more insights from Pulse Labs IQ™ and sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter. Want to learn more about the tools we use for our research and how they can help you power your user experience and product design?