The sports leaders at Leaders Summit all understand the value their organizations/teams produce, and how they can continue to evolve and leverage the value of their reach and their fans. No matter where one is situated in the sports landscape, the way sports are being consumed are changing rapidly, and, with paradigms shifting, there has to be constant anticipation of what may lie ahead.
These were among the themes at the Leaders Summit conference, where sports business leaders converged and offered a lot to think about with their practices, what’s working, and their thoughts on the future. Here is part 2 of my takeaways via #Leaders17. (See part 1 here).
The NHL has plans to grow the business
The NHL will welcome the expansion team Vegas Golden Knights next season, but their vision is far grander, as alluded to by Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was among the speakers at Leaders17. They have their eyes set on China (as many sports leagues do) and will make a concerted effort to grow the sport and the league there.
They’re also looking at different ways to reach fans, and types of fans. Notably, Bettman discussed the idea of NHL clubs creating esports teams (perhaps around a game like NHL2k) and setting up a competition to market. It’s all about creating content for their sport that can penetrate younger consumers and fans.
“We need to particularly focus on Millennials and Gen Y and how they consume entertainment, and particularly sports,” said Bettman.
How sports franchises are beacons for the community and treasure troves of consumer data
There were multiple sports team owners speaking at Leaders17 and they offered tremendous insight into how they think of their team as organizations and businesses. No longer is a sports team just a sports team, they are an embedded part of the community and, really, a part of the identity of the city. Owner Ted Leonsis thinks of his teams – the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards – as part of the ‘fabric and identity’ of the city. Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics, characterized sports that could bring people and channels together. “Sports us a huge aggregator in a world of fragmentation,” he said.
And with sports capturing such a wide swath of consumers, teams and leagues are starting to realize the volume of interactions with fans, and the tracking of such interactions and transactions, means teams are acquiring a lot of valuable information.
“We are no longer a sports franchise,” said Leonsis. “We’re in the customer data analytics acquisition business.”
Amazon was pointed out as a beacon for inspiration, a level of analytics to which sports teams can aspire, particularly as it pertains to ‘secondary’ customers. Sports franchises more and more are recognizing and trying to solve this gap in knowledge about the fans attending games acquiring admission/tickets through secondary means.
Finally, owners seem to be softening on, and recognizing the value of, sports gambling. Ever cognizant of the competition for attention with fans. While a lot of angles were discussed, the notion that sports betting can be a key to capturing and holding fan attention is notable. This, as much as anything else, could be integral to getting more mainstream integration and acceptance of gambling in sports. It could be a keystone for growth and maintenance of revenues elsewhere.
The Bundesliga stands out among their football (soccer) counterparts
When one think of football leagues, the first thought is probably the English Premier League, maybe La Liga, and then likely either MLS, Italian Serie A, or the German Bundesliga. The Bundesliga is taking active steps to remain a top league and to constantly cultivate fans and evolve in partnerships.
First, they boasted (and showed a chart) about their ticket prices, which are the lowest of all the leagues. That at a time when articles have been written about the cost of Premier League tickets starting to gentrify the crowds a bit up there. The Bundesliga also commits to youth development of the game. It is not just an aspiration, but an obligation for the league and, indeed, each of its clubs must (by rule) have a youth academy. This certainly helps foster more football players and kids who identify with a club, starting at a young age.
I loved the slide envisioning the new way of doing things for a sports organization like Bundesliga, shared by CEO Christian Seifert. It visualized and articulated the way paradigms have shifted — previously it was all about selling, about rights, broadcasting, and getting fans to watch. Now rights have been replaced with a mindset focused on content, broadcast rights holders are partners, and just having fans watch is not good enough, participatory experiences are the goal. A great, thought-provoking way to characterize the way things have changed.
What’s to come in Esports
There was a lot of interesting insight from a handful of (business) players in the esports space. In a talk about Overwatch, it was revealed that game has 25 million players, 80% of whom are in the coveted 13-34 demographic. They don’t think of themselves as building a ‘sport,’ but more so a competitive game. While no one can deny the audience, the revenue being made in esports does need to mature. One stat dropped at the summit was that esports fans net out at $8/fan of value, compared to the NFL and its $60/fan return.
In discussing Anheuser-Busch InBev’s interest in the space, Jesse Wofford, who works for AB on digital engagement and platforms, thinks the sport is ripe to evolve to catch up with its traditional sport brethren. And it starts with fan connections.
‘Emotional investment in eSports is key to casual growth,” said Wofford. “It’s what traditional sports already had.”
Of course, not everyone grows up playing video games, let alone the same game. In fact, Wofford pointed out, the fragmentation of the various game properties could continue to be a challenge for a number of reasons as esports, as an industry, seeks to mature.
“MLB [Major League Baseball] is not worried about a new MLB,” Wofford pointed out to explain with an analogy. “Games worry about new games taking space; [and it’s a ] big challenge for eSports.”
The key differences between esports and traditional sports, it was stated, is that esports evolves at an extremely rapid pace (which can present challenges, as alluded to by Wofford) and that it lives online, meeting fans where they are. For esports streaming platform Twitch, they don’t see esports’s digital nature as a rival for TV content, but, more so an opportunity for collaboration, said their Director of esports Nathan Lindberg. There appears to be opportunity for several screens for Twitch, with 45% of Twitch viewing coming on mobile.
The reason for the $/fan disparity is partly due to gradual movement with sponsors. According to PJ Warman, who works with esports intelligence firm Newzoo, there is a lack of ROI currently being shown in esports sponsorships. But he characterized not as a failing, but just a state of immaturity as eports must evolve in the metrics they provide for sponsorships.
Lastly, there was the element of pro sports teams investing in esports teams. The doors these could open could be massive, with pro esports players accessing team facilities, managements, pro agents, trainers, and more. There are also tons of stories waiting to be told about these esports competitors, within which could lie another building block for growth and maturity.
Excellent Insights on Content
Every entity in the sports world knows the value and importance of content. Creating it, curating it, owning it, learning from it, using it to capture attention. And some of the best i the biz dropped some knowledge, honing in how content has evolved and the bar has never been higher.
First, it was noted, the culture of content is changing. Because there is an unquenching thirst for it. It may seem like there’s always a game on or around the corner, but as fan demand for content has grown (as shown by consumption) between games, the ‘hot take’ culture (most personified by Skip Bayless) has risen toe surface. But in other ways content is also seeking to go deeper and to deliver more.
“Disruption is not the way to reach the consumer,” said Joe Puglisi, Director of Branded Content for The Players’ Tribune. By focusing on higher production and higher value content, The Tribune’s visitors spend an average of around 5 minutes on the site per session, which is impressive these days. FC Barcelona has begun adopting a similar focus on higher value in fewer servings. “t the moment we are rethinking out platform from scratch, said FC Barcelona Commercial Director Francesco Calvo. “Focus on quality, instead of quantity.”
When it comes to content strategy, among the leaders in the game is Buzzfeed. They have taken a user-centric approach bringing the content to them and understanding how it’s consumed and what is performing well. Some numbers to bear that out — 75% of their content is found on platforms besides their own, and 80% of that content is consumed on mobile. It’s not hard to draw actionable strategy from that. For Buzzfeed, it’s a mixture of art and science. But they’re always learning.
“We create 600 pieces of content per day, said Elssa Byck, Head of Partnership Sales and Strategy or Buzzfeed. “That means we learn 600 times per day.” The underlying principle for Buzzfeed is a harmonious marriage between data and creative. That’s a powerful message when, for many, these are not as integrated and synergistic as they should be.
Byck boiled down good content to three major keys. Good content provides or evokes Identity, Emotion, and/or Information. If your content appeals to a sense of identity (or helps one reinforce their identity), if it causes emotion, or if it is providing some new or valuable information – it has the marks of good content, and is the start of something special.
The NFL remains bullish
The NFL was represented at the Leaders Summit and their story was one of size as big as ever, with a Super Bowl that may have seen diminished TV ratings, but ‘reached’ more people than ever before. They have also continued to make progress, they said, in turning the NFL into a 365 day/year league, noting the success of last year’s NFL Draft in Chicago as a piece of proof. The NFL is also proud of their relative league parity, citing the ticket and TV revenue all going into one pot.
The league is ready for a world where TV ratings will be superseded by other metrics and modes of consumption. But the pace at which they’ll evolve is that at which their fans do. For right now, the big screen remains the best option for fans, but the NFL is taking taking active steps to ensure fans can ‘take the game with them.’ In a best screen available world, the NFL is remaining cognizant of all those screens, to make sure their content is accessible for fans.
The sports industry is so much more about sports now. It’s global business, fan data, coveted and creative content, and fodder for earned attention from fans. The stories will still be told, but the way they’re told, to whom they’re told, and the science and art behind it are more informed than ever. The result is an exciting time in sports business, when organizations are keenly aware of the value and opportunity that lies before them.