On episode 96 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Brian Wagner, Digital Strategy and Creative Lead for Michigan Athletics
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
There are only so many things in which a team or athletics program can invest. And the vendor exhibition at the annual NACDA conference is a visual manifestation of just that – from compelling new products to nice-to-haves to innovations, and enough to stretch the budget of even the boldest behemoths.
I love these things. Because, if nothing else, it is a showcase of what college athletics folks, in this case, want and need; and at what those out there think they want and need. (Except free booze; always free booze). It is also an opportunity to identify pain points for college athletics programs, because these businesses should, in theory, help solve a pain point or at least enhance or streamline a strength.
With that in mind, here are eight of the most common solutions and types of vendors I saw pitching their services to the college athletics folks (in digital, in marketing, in development/fundraising, in ticket sales, in operations, in media relations, in external relations…all over) at the 2017 NACDA Conference vendor showcase
Everywhere you turn, there is a new and novel way to propagate your brand. While digital is growing more and more, there is still a lot of faith, and a lot of value, in physical, visual branding. From logos on the carpet to branded accessories to wrapping a bus, and just about anything you can imagine, there is a way to find a branded version for anything, a way to make sure the school’s logo is front and center all over. Colleges are getting more and more savvy and self-sufficient with graphic design, but sometimes you need someone that specializes in pool tables, corn hole boards, or gymnasium floors.
You may have heard about the University of Texas football program’s new $10,000 lockers. Not sure there any that ostentatious, but there were plenty of locker companies and displays there that could no doubt make them. Lockers aren’t just a utility anymore, they’re an attraction and a sign of brand and grandeur for a college athletics program looking to impress recruits. It is another cog in the arms race and vendors pitching the latest and greatest and most innovative and visually appealing lockers were not in short supply at NACDA.
Digital / Video
With the proliferation of social, mobile, and digital among fans (and, well, everybody), colleges know they need to have the digital and video capability and output of a colossal conglomerate. Content is key to affect all departments in athletics, and video and digital offers the youngest and largest audience, and the best bang for the literal and figurative buck, in many cases. These companies help hook up complex camera and video / video replay systems, offer streaming solutions across platforms, streamline the transfer of content from phone or camera to social or web, allowing any associate SID to provide amazing content, that gets disseminated, at the drop of a dime. The mind is ahead of the body for some athletics departments – they know what they want to do, but may lack the resources, bandwidth, or knowledge to make it happen. That’s where these guys seek to come in.
There’s nothing college athletics loves more than scaffolding. Perpetual construction connotes shiny new facilities or additions, a sign of financial health and progress for their athletics programs. And I was struck by the number of architecture firms specializing in sports facilities seeking to catch the eye of attendees to design their next new buildings funded by the next successful campaigns. There is indeed big business here, and a number of firms were there trying their best to stand out as best-in-class, most trusted, or most creative.
There were also a handful of artificial turf companies, which seemed fairly indistinguishable. There is still demand for the product and therefore an opportunity to win market share (maybe someone has?) and seek to stand out through innovation, creativity, and/or relationships.
Screens, screens, and more screens. Society has a surfeit of screens, and there are solutions that want to help fill and organize those screens, and other digital signs of all shapes and sizes. There is opportunity to expose more fans to more content, more marketing, and more sponsors. It’s not easy to serve and organize all the content across those screens, and measure it; let alone come up with the physical signs and screens themselves. Another case of knowing what one can and should be doing, and seeking a solution to make it happen.
Digital has certainly penetrated content, ticketing, marketing, media relations, and operations. But fundraising, a major part of college athletics, have yet, it seems to reach full digital maturation. There weren’t a ton of solutions targeting this space, but there were some. Solutions helping to marry technology, data, and digital with fundraising and donations. This is a unique space that no doubt catches the eye of the development folks there, as these businesses seem to have things streamlined and figured out to make donation via digital both optimized and in compliance with the oh-so-many regulations.
While many can name the major players in ticketing for college athletics, there remains opportunity for a number of smaller players to get a small piece of the pie. Almost every program needs a ticketing solution and there is increasing demand for digital, for mobile, and for data among every one of those programs, of any size.
In the end, industries will evolve by seeking to make things better, easier, more successful. The vendors that win the value prop equation and have feasible, actionable solutions will capture college.
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)…
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.
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.’
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 2 of the event. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap!
Check out the Day 1 recap, too.