8 Ways Large Sports Orgs are Evolving their Media Content Strategy

By Steve Paddon

The biggest brands and organizations in sports have come to a common conclusion: The current trends are troubling. If they keep doing business the way they have for the last several decades, ticket sales will plummet. Engagement will decrease. Fans have – and will continue to – go elsewhere, and that is online. But necessity breeds innovation, and the large sports organizations are coming up with new, very interesting ways to adapt. And, most of these techniques and ideas can easily be adapted to smaller content producers. Here are eight of our favorite innovations.


1. Move from Major Network Deals to Social Media

“The best thing that Twitter does is live” –Anthony Noto, CFO of Twitter & former CFO of the NFL

Bloomberg recently reported that the NFL gave $10 Million dollars to Twitter to live-stream 10 Thursday night games, beating out other bidders that included Facebook. That’s eye-brow raising enough, but even more so when you consider Twitter’s incumbent competition for those game broadcasts: CBS and the NFL Network itself. The largest sports brand in the U.S. passed over their own network and the major network players to experiment with broadcasting over social media.

This is Twitter’s first broadcast deal, and it’s a good one on multiple levels (not just the $10M). Twitter has been working to expand its content offerings into videos, political content and entertainment.

In other words – Twitter, Facebook and social media platforms in general are looking for content creators with whom to partner. The NFL is just the tip of the iceberg.


2. Go Direct

The Liverpool Football Club was the ninth highest-earning football club in the world for 2013-2014, and the world’s eighth most valuable football club in 2015 – valued at $982 million. Not an organization to rest on its laurels, Liverpool is constantly searching for ways to add value for their fan base, resulting in the decision to Go Direct by offering exclusive content on their website.

The Liverpool Football Club offers LFC news, videos, exclusive interviews, history, match information and full stats on LFC players – becoming the go-to website for fans all over the world. If you’re a Liverpool fan, you have every reason to sign up to LFCTV GO (including exclusive access to live news, full match replays, interviews, features and documentaries, pre and post-match analysis, live coverage and highlights).

German football club FC Bayern Munich is going a similar route with their “Digital 4.0” project – an effort to gain control and flexibility over the content it produces, as well as control over how their global fan base consumes that content. When you’re looking at the needs of a global audience, having this much control and flexibility makes sense. As Stefan Mennerich, Director of IT and New Media at Bayern Munich Football Club, said in a recent interview:

“We see that the fans in China and the United States, that they love these Bavarian roots and we want to bring our history and our background to the fans in China and the United States, and we want to contextualize the content, that means want to be able to bring another content to a mobile phone user in Japan in the morning than to a desktop user in the evening in Brazil, and we want to be able to bring the content in the way that people expect it.”

Bayern Munich has been building a reputation in recent years for increasing fan engagement through digital channels, like when they teamed up with Snapchat in September 2015 and partnered with Yahoo to produce engaging, fan-friendly content. Going direct, for them, was the next logical step in a very long game.


3. Aggregate a  network around a geographic region rather than a team or league

Monumental Sports & Entertainment is community-driven enterprise that showcases Washington D.C.-based teams and entertainment venues. MSE has its hands in many pots, owning the NBA’s Washington Wizards, NHL’s Washington Capitals, WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the Verizon Center, as well as managing Kettler Capitals Iceplex and the Eagle Bank Arena at George Mason University.

For them, it made more sense to create one “home” for these local teams and event venues, in addition to separate sites for each team and venue. With one massive site, they can cross-promote, build on existing fan bases – and build a sense of local community at the same time.

The community building continues on the individual sites with multimedia offerings like the “Mystics Minute,” WNBA Live Access FAQ’s, and the Mystics Mobile App. But having one central place for local fans to check out several sports and entertainment opportunities  at once creates a synergy that raises awareness for all.


4. Expand content creation beyond game play

Live games, recorded games, highlights and recaps are a great place to start when brainstorming the content that will go on your website/video channel – as fans love it. But fans also love sports teams that give them something new, exciting and exclusive. Some sports organizations are going beyond behind-the-scenes interviews into full-on reality series.

Amazon’s new NFL reality series follows one team for the entire 2015 season – the Arizona Cardinals. It’s a week-to-week drama of players, coaches and owners fighting to reach the championships, and, of course, to win them. Riveting stuff.

But, documentaries and reality shows aren’t for the faint of heart. There’s a considerable investment of time and money. Amazon hopes that its investment will boost Amazon Prime memberships and sell more Fire TV boxes.

You don’t have to produce a full reality television series to reap the rewards of expanding your content creation outside the game. Think creatively – but remember to tie your creative ideas to practical revenue streams.


5. Localize content for better international appeal

Global sports brands like FC Bayern Munich have to get into the localization game at some point to stay relevant and competitive in foreign markets – and to serve their far-flung fans in the best way possible. That could mean contextualizing content by time zone, or – as the NBA is doing – enabling natural language queries on online stats pages.

Using HANA native text analysis, the natural language query feature allows users to search NBA stats with questions like “who is the leading scorer in the NBA this year?” making it quick and easy for fans to test their knowledge and win arguments.

The NBA hasn’t extended this capability to foreign languages yet, but if your team is beloved by fans in two different parts of the world – it’s not a stretch to consider localizing all of your content in those languages and for those time zones.


6. In-game technology offers (up-sells)

Picture this: You’re sitting in your stadium seat and it’s almost halftime. You’re cold, hungry, and wet (because it’s raining), and the girlfriend you brought along is huddled in her windbreaker – all you can see are two eyes peering out between her scarf and beanie. You’re pretty sure she’s glaring at you. Problem-solver that you are, you take out your phone, tap a few buttons on your stadium app, and order hot chocolate and hot dogs to be delivered to your seat. Whatever happens with the game, you just won – at life.

This is the promise that new technology offers stadiums: The chance to serve loyal fans better, while upselling at the same time. Not to mention selling more arena tickets. As more fans opt to watch games at home, sports teams are searching for ways to get them back into stadium seats.

12 games into Levi’s Stadium’s inaugural season, I headed to catch a game to get a sense of how successful all that new technology has been. I can report the new features have made the arena experience much more immersive and interactive, putting it on-par with watching a game in the comfort of your own home. – Tim Bajarin, TIME magazine

Many Major League Baseball stadiums, like AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants), are outfitting themselves with iBeacons that ping visitors’ smartphones with exclusive offers and sports trivia. The Oakland Warriors, for example, send out welcome messages, promotions for things like free socks, offers to upgrade to better seats, concession deals and team store promotions.

Selling seats isn’t the only hurdle technology can help overcome – keeping fans in those seats for the entire game is another. The Dallas stadium has installed large, interactive LED displays to keep fans involved in the game for longer – whether or not it’s going their way.


7. Extend the game experience

The Sacramento Kings President, Chris Granger, says they’re looking into using virtual reality, e-gaming and other technology to provide content for fans at home, extending what he calls the “Kings Experience.” The NFL certainly has contributed to its fair share of games, as has tennis, the PGA tour, and even skating. But you don’t have to partner with Xbox to produce a game your fans will love. A simple, well-conceived app could lay the foundation for extended fan engagement.


8. Don’t just focus on the athletes who made the team

NFL’s new series Undrafted follows college football players who dream of a career in the NFL. They’re not top tier picks, but they’re not far from it, and they have to convince coaches and executives that they deserve a place – even if that place is mostly on the bench.

Stories about people who aspire to do great things naturally attract and engage wide audiences. When looking into different types of content to offer your fans, consider all potential stories – maybe even stories about team’s behind-the-scenes staff. After all, these are dream jobs for a lot of people, and more relatable to the average person not blessed with the generally unattainable physical gifts of professional athletes.

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