The Increasing Channels and Platforms for Fan Engagement and Content

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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.

Episode 92 Snippets: Geoff Blosat Shows ROI and Communicates Insight from the Redskins digital and social content

On episode 92 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Geoff Blosat, Digital Media Analyst for the Washington Redskins.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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A List of Sports Biz Insights and Stats from the Sloan Conference

The leaders in the sports business world are constantly on a quest to get bigger and better. They’re studying, predicting, measuring, analyzing, evolving. And many of them came together for the 2017 Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference. While the conference is very much about athlete and team performance, there is also a wealth of sports business stats and insights shared.

Here are 29 quick sports biz bytes from the conference, shared via Twitter from #SSAC17:
[See full recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 here. Lots more.]
*Leagues are evolving in their relationships with sponsors. The NFL talked about actively collaborating with corporate partners on all facets of the business of the league and he game. The success with Microsoft Surface was highlighted as a win.

*Fanatics has become such a dominant player in the sports merchandise space because of its robust digital offering that can act upon demand in an instant. An example cited was that after just five games into his breakout career, with his name hotter than ever, Joel Embiid’s jersey was one of the top-selling in the NBA, thanks to the speed of Fanatics.

*While this principle was stated from the NFL and MLB, it was a theme (and has been) for thought leaders for a while – content must be disseminated to reach fans at the places and on the platforms on which fans are consuming their content. Simple enough, right?

*Also from the NFL and MLB [and another recurring lesson] – a major key to the growth of any sport is youth participation. Get them playing, make them a fan while they’re, and there’s a better chance they’ll be fans for life.

*It’s great if you can collect data, but it’s all about what you do with it. Casey Wasserman clearly shared a lot of wisdom to SSAC attendees and this one resonated, as it should.

*Teams and leagues are now seeking to serve every fan, regardless of where or how they’re consuming and engaging. That means focusing during games on digital engagement, on the in-venue experience, and on the TV broadcast. Each offers an opportunity to engage, and treats every fan of the team with care.

*The FOMO acronym seemed to be another common consideration. It’s still about making others want to be there, at the game.

*Lots of talk about personalization. Ticketmaster envisioned reaching a place, soon, where every experience for fans is personalized – discovery, purchase, amenities. Team execs are similarly focused on personalization, particularly with fan messaging and in-venue experiences. The new norm is personalization, and it’s only going to get better.

*A stat that certainly stood out – 50-70% of Fanatics listings on Amazon are counterfeit. Bad news for consumers, perhaps fodder for teams to convince fans to buy from their stores. Or maybe teams should sell directly on Amazon.

*Every league is worried about the waning attention spans, and desire for ‘content snacks,’ of Millennials and Generation Z. The objective is not so much focused on shaving minutes off games, but more so about reducing dead time in games [NFL, MLB, NBA]. Less time between action. The NFL also noted adjusting their commercial ad structure, for something more fan-friendly.

*Some interesting findings from stats around Los Angeles Dodgers concessions – alcohol comprises 49% of concessions revenue. Perhaps not surprising, but interesting. Also from the Dodgers – fan cart size increased with self-serve kiosks, and the Dodgers saw concessions revenue and sales decrease when Clayton Kershaw pitch, because his starts were so much shorter. (And fans likely want to be in their seats to see the ace in action)

*Stats to consider from WWE – While we focus on so much on mobile TV viewing, just 15-20% of WWE Network viewing is on mobile devices. Even on the digital-only WWE Network, fans still seek out the big TV for their sports. Another eye-popping stat from WWE – 70% of their content consumption comes from outside the US.

*Wasserman Managing Partner Elizabeth Lindsey noted the need for sports leagues to focus on international growth, despite so much attention at home paid to driving youth, female, and minority viewership growth. The NBA has their eyes on India (looking for India’s version of Yao Ming), while the NFL is hoping to crack China. The NBA, in discussing their success growing the game and the league in China, noted that content was provided for free to a Chinese network to show on TV, building in exposure for the NBA and the game.
*Pretty impressive user and user engagement stats from Twitch. The esports and video game streaming platform boasts 100 million monthly active users, and their users average  a mind-blowing 140 minutes per day on Twitch.

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*The aspects of personalization are also of increasing concern when it comes to content and digital marketing. As more data is collected and put into action, greater degrees of custom experiences with content is a goal for the sports business industry, as well.

*Virtual reality and augmented reality were not surprisingly popular topics. A stat that stood out that either means future growth or stuck in the rut for VR is that the Consumer headset market for VR in the US is currently around six to ten million. One definite positive was the news from sports VR company STRVIR, which reported that it has been profitable the last two years.
*NBA Commissioner Adam Silver talked about how lucky they are to have players that market the league themselves, with all their activity on social media and in the media. The league also focuses on social media education and empowerment, which, along with willing and already social media-savvy players, makes for great success there.

*170+ million fans watched March Madness games in 2016. That’s a helluva number, and is certainly happening on an ever more diverse array of platforms now.

*Uninterrupted, the player-driven and video-focused content network co-founded by LeBron James, is not trying to displace journalism outlets like ESPN. Instead, explained Maverick Carter, their competition is more premium content producers, like HBO.

* This stat just stood out to me a bit…Which sport would you guess has the fifth most estimated fans in the world? I’ll give you a second…

It’s volleyball. I wouldn’t have guessed correctly.

*Good gambling stats to heed, as legalization expands in the US –> In Europe, sports gambling via mobile comprises 80% of the market and in-play [during the game/match] gambling makes up over 50% of total handle. Lots of $$ to come in this space for the US. That said, one limiting factor for such real-time gambling, it was noted, is the slowness/lag of data feeds delivering the stats.

*The CTO of Ticketmaster provided some fascinating insights on a panel at the conference. One that stood out to poder was that 68% of all tickets on Ticketmaster are sold after the original on-sale and presale. This could mean a lot of things, but mainly that most tickets are not bought early, which aligns with notion that fans are waiting to buy tickets.
Another ticket sales stat, that ws quite mind-blowing, was that there is an estimated $7 BILLION worth of arbitrage in the ticket sales market. You think teams want some of that/

*Another stat that opens some eyes for teams (via Ticketmaster) is that the names captured to tickets sold ratio is 1:2.8. Yep, nearly 3 of every 4 tickets are sold without teams knowing the identity of the buyer.

*The point was raised that there are two main cohorts of fans attending games. There are those fans that are there because they’re fans of the team and feel invested in them. And there are those who are there for the experience of attending the event, the spectacle (and, yeah, probably the social media fodder).

* A great insight from the San Francisco 49ers VP of Sales & Serivce Jamie Brandt, as he noted that, for Millennial fans, share-able experiences are valued far more than expensive things/items. Something to keep in mind for memorable fan experiences.

*An interesting stat from the panel on gambling was a study estimating that legalization of gambling would result in an average 10% increase in viewership for pro sports. Fans that are invested, literally, are engaged and don’t miss the game.

*In the ever-evolving world of tickets, paper and paperless, the 49es talked about everything from all-mobile ticketing to even a ‘biometric’ solution for fans of the future to gain entry into the game.

*As teams, leagues, and brands continue to try and do social media the right way, a statement that permeated and penetrated was that ‘Social media is for consuming content, not [conducting] transactions.’ (Though, Facebook Ads do work pretty well). Don’t forget why fans are there in their Feeds in the first place.

*There was a fascinating panel on sports journalism with Adrian Wojnarowski, Adam Schefter, and Ken Rosenthal that was full of good nuggets, some of which you can see in the SSAC recap. The powerhouse reporters talked about the nature of breaking news and how it’s not always so simple when you want to balance confirming vs. getting beat, and throwing in promises to sources to hold info until a certain time. They also spoke about the importance of building relationships and getting to know a lot of people in the industry, as well as getting to know the athletes as people. Other tips included a warning against burning bridges  (because word spreads quickly) and when reporting news answer and bring out the why and the how, not just the what.

*It’s a dialogue, not a monologue on social media. This is paraphrased from VP of Wasserman Mike Bernstein, which succinctly reinforces the need to remember the social in social media. If you’re the only one talking, that’s broadcasting, not relationship building. Creating conversation through content is powerful.

 

I’m always thirsty to learn more and greatly enjoyed picking up on some insights via #SSAC17. Be sure to check out the recaps.

 

16 Sportsbiz Things from the #PacNet17 Conference

In February 2017, Spectra / Paciolan held their annual conference, bringing together thought leaders and pros in the world of college athletics and venues for discussions on ticket sales techniques, fan engagement, digital and social marketing strategies, and more.

I had the opportunity to attend much of this great conference down in Newport Beach, CA, and picked up countless nuggets of wisdom, as well as insights from the presentations, stats, and examples and case studies presented. Here are 15 of them:

Fans are looking for tickets on mobile, but more of the money is still on desktop

There are 483,000 searches or live event on Google EVERY DAY. While other digital channels and ads have certainly grown, fans are still most inclined to search for something they want, especially on mobile. In fact, 64% of Google’s ticket sales queries in 2016 came via mobile search.
The one caveat, however, is that conversion rates and overall sales revenue remain higher on desktop. The reasons why are not entirely clear, but a supposed combination of a different mindset of the mobile user and the so-so mobile purchase flow on most platforms. But it’s growing and improving. A compelling stat from the conference revealed that, for the first time ever, mobile comprised the majority of overall ticket sales (by quantity) at 52%.
Broad lesson: Make sure you’re thinking ahead. If you’re posting a link on Twitter, where most user are mobile, are you linking to a mobile-friendly page? Is there a better way?

Personalization is prime

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It may be a bit more convenience and novelty to click on a merchandise link and see that offer personalized with one’s name or favorite player. Such personalization is becoming more of an expectation on the consumer side. But it has only just begun and will only grow, but is only as effective as the data collected and the nuts and bolts to execute it.

UVA is getting the most they can out of social media

Many marvel at the social media of a handful of college athletics programs, often citing Clemson as the best of breed. They have a talented, sizable team that helps create such content and experiences. Greg Driscoll, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Promotions at the University of Virginia, noted the Cavaliers have a social media hub/team staffed with ten students. The students are unpaid, but UVA rewards them with experience and opportunities to network and learn. With a focus on driving fan engagement through user-generated content, Driscoll noted that, especially for video, Snapchat drives more UGC to use than Twitter or other platforms.

New fans are tougher to come by than retaining old fans

The keynote speaker to open the conference was former NFL player and longtime college athletics and pro sports leader Oliver Luck. He was quite charismatic and offered a notable opinion that developing younger fans is more important, even at the expense of worrying about alienating older fans [because they’re hard to alienate]. Younger fans need to be excited to go to a game, to an event, and won’t just go because there’s nothing better to do, combined with a sense of loyalty.

Groups getting easier

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In an age of Venmo, Messenger, and group communication and experiences, streamlining and improving the group buying experience is an exciting opportunity for new sales  and facilitate games becoming fun social outings. It’s less about group leaders and more about making it easier to invite a few friends to a group and each individual pay their way. The key is to mind it or mobile, too.

Michigan is mixing marketing with excitement

Many of us can appreciate the moments when fans are on an emotional high, when they’re most likely to want to eagerly anticipate seeing their favorite team[s] play. The Wolverines seek to capitalize on the excitement of football season starting, by packaging along with them, hockey and basketball. The result – 93% of multi-sport student season tickets are sold in single sales to students. When your biggest fans are ready to buy, one can anticipate their future possible desires, that’ll give them more of that excitement and emotion.
Michigan also wants to incentivize early arrival, so has a points system that rewards fans for arriving earlier, which affects their priority for seat selection the next year.

Mike Veeck says fear of failure can’t hinder innovation and creativity

Longtime baseball marketing exec (and son of the famous Bill Veeck) Mike Veeck was a delight and full of great knowledge gleaned through decades of experience and growing up in the space. His first piece of advice was to “Hire braves souls who aren’t afraid to fail.” Tying that to embracing creativity, he exhorted us all to ‘hold creative meetings with the same respect we hold sales meetings.’
It means treating creativity and innovation like it’s part of your job. It is! It’ also important to not be afraid of a bad idea or failure, lest one’s creativity and thirst to innovate is stifled.

Experience their experience

Another sage piece of advice delivered from Veeck was to have staff live the fan experience, to experience the pain points, and to just walk a day in their shoes. Sitting in traffic around game time, instead of arriving hours earlier, and attempting to leave after the game ended, instead of long after the lots have emptied. Surveys, studies, and social can give clues to fan experience, good and bad, but there’s nothing like just experiencing it onself.

The difference between creating demand and meeting demand

The Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group has some games and events to promote that are seeking to get fans to buy tickets — when there is a need to create demand. Other OSEG events are highly desired and, therefore, the objective seeks to best meet that demand, and capitalize on it. The strategy and tactics for each goal are different and, while you’re still promoting an event and excitement for it, the two distinct scenarios necessitate different actions.

Keys to hiring right, from Disney

I was struck by the simple, succinct points around what makes for the best job candidates, according to David Millay of Disney. They look for people that truly buy into the mission of the organization, and such belief seeps through. They care about the organization and purpose, not just the job. Another good note was to seek people that can communicate well. I have yet to notice any role and any job that isn’t optimized by the ability to effectively communicate.

If you’re resolving pain points, make sure the people who need to know, know

Fan experience and taking active steps to improve it are laudable considerations and goals. But communicating those improvements, especially to the people whom it affects the most, is essential. Communicating the fix/change/improvements is just as important as making the improvements itself.

Data is useless without strategy and organization

Every year, sophistication of data collection grows and grows. Some organizations are just starting out and not as far along as others. But there were some great lessons presented from a panel at PacNet featuring speakers from Turnkey Intelligence, SSB, and USC. The initial consensus was that a full-time data person was needed to pull it all together and interpret and communicate it effectively. USC Senior Associate Athletic Director or Development Tim Martin noted the importance of having an internal champion behind putting the data into action.
When actively deployed through messaging and content, there is no more spam, it’s tailored and, therefore, welcomed, said Steve Hank of data warehouse and strategy group SSB. He emphasized the need to find ‘early wins’ to earn the buy-in to the use of such big data. Erika Gunerman of Turnkey added that data strategy needs to be well-organized (consistent nomenclature, for example) and that all data, just about, CAN be used, even if it’s the more ‘dark’ social and engagement metric, to separate the casual fans from the potential diehards; the leads with better ‘scores.’
Regarding the future of data deployment, Martin foresaw it all becoming more dynamic (responsive and reactive) and progressively more personalized (smarter with each input). An exciting time ahead!

Stanford is making it easier on mobile

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Stanford had an impressive strategy presented, revolved around a synergy of search, social, and optimizing purchase flow as much as they were able in controlled environments. They utilized microsites, mobile landing pages, Twitter cards, and Spectra’s integration with the Facebook Events API to, as much as possible, cut down on clicks to confirmation [of purchase]. Even if each little step isn’t going to explode the sales, each step together will move the needle and will result in better, more effective fan experiences on the platforms and place they’re spending their time.

Authenticity has a look…and it’s not highly produced

On a panel discussing digital marketing, content, and advertising strategy, an oh-so-simple, but oft-overlooked insight was reiterated — younger audiences want authenticity. And, for digital and social content, authentic has a certain appearance that shows it’s real, it’s in the moment, it wasn’t carefully prepared for its advertising audience. Along with that, too, was the a-ha to repurpose content that garners social proof (and proof of success among the consumer base) from social to other creative channels. Social is your focus group that will be real and respond when you keep it real and authentic.

Fan Development and Feverish Fan Development

Everybody is out to add more to their fan base. But identifying and cultivating more avidity among current fans can be just as valuable. It was interesting to hear Ole Miss makes this point, with the success to back it up. They appreciate on not just creating customers to come out to games, but fans that live and breathe the Rebels brand every day, and feel a part of something bigger than themselves. When fans can think about you daily, that’s powerful. “We want to turn fans into followers…[so that] It consumes you,” said Jim Hanauer, Assistant Athletic Director for Digital Strategy and Analytics for Ole Miss Athletics.

A little mobile can go a long way

Everyone at PacNet (and everywhere) knows that mobile is growing and growing in importance. But one stat stood out from one of the panels, coming from Ticketpop – a primary ticket provider based in Puerto Rico. One year, they had a website not too friendly to mobile users and no app presence. One year later, thanks to a mobile-friendly website, a mobile app, and a focus on putting ad dollars behind mobile platforms on search and social, they saw, well, massive growth. Ticketpop had a 742% growth in transactions on mobile and 615% growth in revenue from mobile web and app ticket sales. Impressive.

 

There was tremendous insight and knowledge shared at the Spectra-Paciolan conference, as there is every year, and it’s clear that innovation continues, that digital and social is  becoming more important and more sophisticated, and, more than ever, folks are walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, when it comes to putting fans first and considering their needs, their personalization, and their experience.