Lessons from Sports Illustrated’s Special Augmented Reality Issue

For about a decade now, may of us have been walking around with mini computers in our pockets. Access to media, to information, to apps, to, well the World Wide Web. So the question for content producers and brands becomes – how can that mini computer be utilized to add to experiences.

Augmented reality – and how it uses the phone’s camera to bring up content based on trigger recognition of physical objects. Pictures can literally come to life. For the most part, AR is being used to trigger content delivery, to be overlayed in the real world using the camera.

You have likely seen AR in the Pokemon Go App, and it is now making inroads in sports and sports media more than ever. From bringing up interactive games to supplemental info and content, AR is allowing content to be found and enjoyed using nothing more than the phone’s camera and some trigger.

I recently checked out an AR-fueled edition of the Sports Illustrated magazine. While their print sales have no doubt fallen over the years, they’re bringing more value by making their magazine come to life, and delivering content that goes beyond just the pages in the mag. The use of AR should evolve quickly, but here are a couple of takeaways from the SI experience (which also included 360 videos, as well as VR content – which I plan to try)…

Additive Content

There was an article about a college football player, which included quotes from his friends and family. Want more? Hold your phone over the page and a video feature story pops up that goes beyond the content in the article and greatly enhance the emotional response to the story.

Not Perfect

While the functionality wasn’t perfect at first, I was more than willing to spend a handful of extra seconds to get it going. This delay and imperfect quality is okay for now – the novelty and the ‘I gotta see this’ is still kickin’ – but it will become less tolerable over time. The Life VR app – while very large data-wise – easy to use to access the AR content and 360 videos.


What kind of content?

A story about an NFL draft pick gave a glimpse at the interview between the author and the player, allowing deeper insight into the content of the article. This was a solid supplement  and there is a certain novelty to watching the video on the pages of the magazine as opposed to directly on my phone’s screen [the only ‘AR’ thing happening here, differentiating it from a QR code pulling up a link on my phone].

The novelty of watching the video on the page was there, but even the best supplemental content is still, well, the same content I could see on the phone screen, while I continue reading the pages, too. So where can this all go? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine, but it’s going to be about making the content smarter and more aligned with the physical world aspects triggering it.

What could this mean? Maybe it’s a full page photo showing our player on behind center, and all of a sudden he takes the snap and drops back for a touchdown pass right there in front of us, almost like a hologram. Or maybe he has a tattoo that means a lot to the story and – boom – that tattoo appears on my forearm [through my phone’s camera] to step into his shoes and get a closer look.


We’re just getting started with focusing on the reality part of AR, and it will be cool to see our connected world get even cooler.

Where it can go next

How can sports media capture more and more attention and bring more fans to their real estate (apps, et al.), especially during live games – that most valuable of all time? Augment real-time reality. One can only imagine what that could look like. Hold your phone’s camera over the football field and maybe you can toggle to track the speed of a wide receiver on a given play, get a player in your phone camera while he’s in the batter;s box and check out his fantasy stats and whether he’s available in your league, scan your phone over the crowd and see small dots or spotlights noting the presence of a Facebook friend or LinkedIn connection. When augmented gets more real, the usefulness of the use cases are, well, augmented.

But there’s also VR and 360 video

In addition to the AR content, the Life VR app also had 360-degree video and virtual reality content to go along with the story in SI capturing a journey up Mount Everest. This more immersive content, which requires undivided attention, brings another element to the content not possible with just AR. With every VR and 360 experience [perhaps still because of novelty a bit], I am overcome with the desire to, well, look around. To check out of all the surroundings with an air of anticipation, not knowing what could be behind me, next to me, or above me.


There is a value to being an early mover in VR and AR, capitalizing on the curiosity, novelty, and interest [provided more and more sample the tech and adopt it] in thee new media features. The best thing one can do for now is to sample the content out there, learn about it, study it, talk to others about their experience with it (especially the newbies! And especially the youngsters!), and, then, figure out if it’s right for your fans, for your content, and for your objectives.

Remember to be additive to the experience. And remember, in the long run,  to try and heed both words in the term ‘augmented reality.’


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

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

Recognizing and Valuing the Big Picture for Sports Biz & Content: Leaders Insights Part 2

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).

(Also see the Leaders Day 1 and Day 2 recaps)

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.




Leaders Summit Day 1 Recap: Twitter & Sports, NHL Biz, Buzzfeed Content Insights, & More

In March 2017, Leaders Performance Institute held their annual Leaders Summit in New York, bringing together leaders from the sports business world.

This is a collection of the best quotes, stats, insights, and observations shared via #Leaders17 on Day 1 of the event. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap!

See the Day 2 Recap.

Episode 89 Snippets: Chris Littmann is Bringing Excitement and Storytelling to NASCAR’s Content

On episode 89 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Chris Littmann, Senior Manager, Content and Platform Strategy for NASCAR.

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

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn