The Increasing Channels and Platforms for Fan Engagement and Content


The art of reaching and engaging fans is always evolving, even as some core principles still remain. There is more fan input and involvement than ever, and it makes or stimulating conversation every time professionals in the space get together to talk about it. That happened at the recent Hashtag Sports Conference, where a collection of thought leaders offered insight. Following from afar, here are 25 insights that came from the conference (part 1 of 3). See the Day 1 recap.

  1. There was a discussion of how the NBA has become so prolific with their social media following, and it centered around Adam Silver’s forward thinking with content. Adapting to new platforms, and inviting fans to consume more and more of the NBA product, making them more engaged fans overall.
  2. On the subject of platforms and highlights, former NBA Commissioner made a telling statement. Following his praise of the omnipresence of NBA content, he also lamented, saying “We’re enabling fans to watch us less. You can slice the salami so much and then it’s indelible.”
  3. The NBA players have also embraced social media. Of course, individual player stars have been a staple of the NBA for decades. Said former NBA player, NBPA rep, and current Big3 Commissioner Roger Mason – “Personalities drive culture & change in sports, and you’ve seen that prominently in the NBA.”
  4. A notable statement from UnInterrupted’s Head of Athlete Content Jimmy Spencer: “Uninterrupted is entertainment, not journalism. If our athletes want to break news, they will.” All news is content, but not all content is news.
  5. The NFL seeks to reach the widest audience, prioritizing new fans, more fans, more distribution channels. This plays out in their embrace of new channels and fan development efforts across continents and cultures.
  6. Audio is having a moment or rebirth, or so it would seem. The NBA made clear the power of audio, for them, to reach so many of their international fans.
  7. This stat from Nielsen stood out: 50 million people listen to podcasts on a weekly basis. Speaking of audio…
  8. Twitter noticed the amount of engagement around esports is strong. And boy did the stats bear that out for the Halo Championships – watched by over 10 million fans on Twitter.
  9. Part of Twitter Sports’s strategy is to reach niche, under-served audiences in sports. The NLL [National Lacrosse League] there was a particular example of a successful partnership, among others.
  10. Insightful and true quote from Players Tribune Head of Partnerships Raphael Poplock – “Advertisers want to be closer and closer to the content.”
  11. Along with the realization that partner-integrated content is at a premium and in demand, the theme prevailed that branded content is NOT just content with a logo on it. It’s better than that.
  12. I love Bleacher Report and I thought this line from was great that B/R “curates the Internet and thinks about how they can enhance it through their content.” Adding to the conversation…with content. [Lots of good stuff on Bleacher Report to follow…]
  13. B/R’s Senior VP of Content Joe Yanarella reinforced that point, saying: “How do we stat a conversation a opposed to how do we cover sports?”
  14. And Bleacher Report backs it up, coming prepared. They have a 40 person staff that create visual content. Wow.
  15. While B/R produces a ton of content, it all has to be quality and they’d prefer quality over quantity.
  16. A fascinating evolution plays out, as the chicken and egg argument for brand starts with distribution. That then evolves into a battle for continued attention, which is where brand comes in.
  17. There is an emphasis in producing real-time content in sports that revolves around preparation for outcomes. It’s often pretty binary (win or lose!), and one can be polished and prepared for both outcome.
  18. B/R takes a specific, thoughtful approach to eacho social platform, treating each like a magazine and haing staff specialize. That’s how you dominate and understand a platform. Of course, not so many have such resources.
  19. Everyone has their philosophies on the social platforms, and this was a decent way for a publisher like B/R to differentiate the platforms – Snapchat is for short form content; Instagram for true moments
  20. How does Bleacher Report’s brand transcend and connect? They celebrate the fan and the athlete more so than the actual game.
  21. There is necessarily a high bar for branded content, and Will McDonough, a VP with Copa90, put it succinctly and accurately, saying “Kids can smell the bullshit.” –
  22. At a premium for sports publishers is to create more partnerships with players and capturing more consistent, constant attention throughout the day, with live streaming content.
  23. Amidst talk about live video on digital and social, the point hammered home the most about the added value of those eyeballs – it comes with the power of data for ad targeting, along with instantly actionable CTA’s.
  24. A good point made about how fan loyalty is formed nowadays. In the past, it was all about parents and location to define loyalties; now social and digital media, along with fantasy, make for so many more elements to influence which teams fans choose to support.
  25. The National Lacrosse League had a compelling story to tell, dropping some attendance numbers (10,000+ per game) and Twitter viewing audience (380,000 average). The Twitter audience, incidentally and notably vastly outrated that on NLL.TV, of 25,000 viewers.
  26. With the NLL’s content being digital first, it has influenced the way they produce broadcasts. It’s not a linear broadcast distributed via another channel, but a broadcast produced for the digital viewer. The NLL also looks to innovate, and did so this season with a player POV camera in a live game, post-produced right after.
  27. There was an intriguing discussion with ESPN there. When it comes to their story telling, there is a lot of thought put into deciding how [and when] each department at ESPN is the best way to tell the story.
  28. That said, ESPN embraces all of the platforms on which fans consume content and spend time, operating with each platform supporting one another, finding synergy with a story.
  29. On the challenge and opportunity of cross platform distribution, ESPN VP Chad Millman notably said he spends more time thinking about who should be on an than what is in the email.
  30. How the NHL uses live video; three key ways: Drive tune-in, expand audience, elevate players with fans
  31. With their streaming and social content, the NHL focuses on additive live content, they’re seeking unique digital content, not to take away from the linear broadcast.
  32. The NHL streamed 12 games on Twitter this year, and while they didn’t share exact stats, they did say they got ‘Several hundreds of thousands of viewers’ for each game on Twitter last season.
  33. The World Surfing League has seen big growth thanks to distributing its competition content and more via Facebook Live. Their video strategy has been to build an audience, and then figure out how to monetize. WSL video strategy is to build audience; FB Live, and then figure out how to monetize
  34. Like the NLL, the WSL is also creating broadcasts built for digital. They’re also diving into their live broadcast analytics, learning how fans watch and want to watch their content, constantly improving their product, even in real time.
  35. A key takeaway from the success of many when it comes to digital and social sports content is, well, creating content for digital and social. It mean unique content, content clearly optimized and made for that platform. It sounds so simple (and it is, granted time and resources are always a factor) and can make a world of difference.

See Part 2 and 3, too.

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