Summer 2021 is shaping up to be a busy season for sports fans. With more options to watch than ever, how does a sports organization stand out amongst the crowd?
We assembled a panel of experts from various sports media backgrounds to discuss their perspectives on growing trends in the industry that organizations can capitalize on.
Our experts from broadcast, editorial, social media, research and development, and analytics backgrounds brought a broad, yet timely discussion full of useful advice. Below are the top 5 takeaways from our session, perfect for any sports-related organization that is feeling the crunch of the cramped Summer season.
The venue has changed, but the challenges remain the same.
Between delayed events and empty stadiums, sports organizations are facing a challenge never before seen: how do you deliver quality content when you cannot be on-site?
“It’s hard to make stuff,” says panellist Richard Hughes, Research & Development for the BBC, “a year ago we were in Paris to talk to Paul Pogba’s school friends, now we can’t even speak to Paul Pogba at Manchester United. How do we work around this and deliver what people expect?”
Pete Marshall, VP of Content Production at Stats Perform, sees this as a new and unique challenge that can lead to innovation. “There is so much pent-up demand for sport,” says Marshall, “this is an opportunity to reach new eyes around the world.”
…A year ago we were in Paris to talk to Paul Pogba’s school friends, now we can’t even speak to Paul Pogba at Manchester United. How do we work around this and deliver what people expect?
The question becomes, “how can a sports organisation cover the sheer breadth of sporting events occurring this summer without compromising quality?” The answer lies in automation. Our panel turned the discussion to automation to provide a greater range of coverage. Tools like automated player tracking, artificial intelligence, and natural language generation all facilitate the need for increased coverage without the need for rapidly increasing headcount.
Even though COVID-19 has presented new challenges to sports-related companies, one thing remains the same: those who remain authentic will always stand out amongst the competition.
Don’t be afraid to try new things but stay authentic to your fans.
It’s no secret that the way fans consume sports content has changed drastically. Linear broadcast providers have had to grow and adapt their offerings to reach new audiences but make a point to remain true to their identity.
“The focus for me is television,” says Hughes, “but we do try to build in social media-friendly sections in our broadcast.” Hughes, who works on the BBC program, Match of the Day, explained that the show had made some attempts at working in more sharable sections, but ultimately found that delivering their core content is what viewers truly wanted. “Match of the Day has to be authentic, and people appreciate that. Even though it’s an outdated design, three middle-aged guys discussing football in a studio, it resonates with viewers, and with a younger audience. People appreciate authentic content,” said Hughes.
Pete Marshall praised the work the NFL did in partnership with Nickelodeon to air kid-friendly segments during Super Bowl LV, saying that “major events are always a chance to innovate – a chance to show off your capabilities.” Marshall says that he looks forward to other partnerships like the NFL and Nickelodeon because he sees these as a way for outlets to work together to reach new fans. By each playing to their respective strengths, partnerships like these become mutually beneficial.
When you try new things, commit to them – give the right people the tools they need to be successful.
When it comes to partnerships, our panel discussed the upcoming exclusivity partnerships publishers and channels are making with social media outlets. Recently, UEFA announced an exclusive partnership with TikTok to deliver bite-sized video clips of the upcoming Euros tournament. In a similar vein, Snap will be exclusively partnering with Discovery for coverage and news surrounding the 2021 Olympics. Capturing exclusivity rights is key in being the stand-out provider, but it is crucial that when you try something like this, you commit entirely.
“You need to get people involved who know the medium,” says panellist Duncan Alexander, VP of Data Editorial, Analytics, and Innovation at Stats Perform. Alexander, known for his work with the OptaJoe social media brand, has organically accumulated over 1.2 million followers on Twitter. “Social media closes the gap between fans and broadcasters,” he added, “and people are quick to tell you when they don’t like something.”
“Social is a conversation, whereas broadcast is one-way,” added Marshall, “you have to be constantly plugged in to social. Brands that do that well go hard and commit to it.” Marshall described the recent Weetabix and Heinz beans campaign as an example of a successful commit to an advertising campaign.
Look at what you’ve done now … pic.twitter.com/XdVD3uTOJf
— Google UK (@GoogleUK) February 9, 2021
The campaign, which started with a viral tweet on Twitter, went on to generate over 250,000 engagements and earn a space on the trending section of Twitter. Countless brands, from Google to Domino’s Pizza, chimed in to deliver their own branded commentary, each generating hundreds of thousands of impressions.
Casual fans and hardcore fans alike flock to stories.
Events like the Euros and the Olympics draw fans of differing knowledge levels, and it is the publisher’s responsibility to ensure that the content is not only unique but accessible.
“There is a big appetite for stories in sports, as we saw with programs like The Last Dance,” said Hughes. The Last Dance, a recent ESPN documentary series, followed Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during the 1997-98 season, their final NBA championship. Through the use of exclusive interviews and never-before-seen footage, The Last Dance became ESPN’s most-viewed documentary ever. The 10 episode series averaged over 5.9 million viewers.
“With something like the Euros,” added Hughes, “broadcast don’t change much, the audience just gets bigger. We have to tell the big stories and capture the key moments.” The challenge the BBC faces with a major competition like the UEFA Euros is that there are so many more teams, players, and stories to be told as compared to regular season football. “Using Stats Perform Data allows for a broadcaster to get help with players and stories that are not immediately known,” remarked Hughes.
As the head of Stats Perform News, Pete Marshall described his team’s approach to major events like the Olympics. “Stories off the back of major events are, more often than not, things you don’t expect.” Marshall listed stories such as Iceland’s unexpected success at the 2016 Euros and the underdog story of Eric “the Eel” Moussambani from the 2000 Olympics. “You can plan to a degree, but you have to plan in flexibility,” he added. For a team like Marshall’s, covering a breadth of content is just as important as the depth of the content. In order for the Stats Perform News team to deliver world-class editorial, they must tap into rich historical and live match data. Data, as crucial as it is to powering a compelling story, can never be the entire story.
Data can support a story, but data can never be the whole story.
It is important to not lose sight of the metrics in major events. While many publishers will look to focus on stories, they cannot ignore the desire for in-depth analytical data. The key takeaway from our panel was to use data as a means to reinforce your story, but never to try to create a story out of the data.
“We start with a narrative and then find the numbers to back up what we’re talking about,” explained Hughes on his approach to data in stories on Match of the Day, “you have to be careful not to force it.”
On the difference between presenting data on a digital platform versus on broadcast, Duncan Alexander reinforced the importance of creating the right content for your audience. “When we work with a professional football club, the tone and voice need to be different than something that goes directly to the fans.”
Data is often not the main focus of the story, it’s used to help bring the story to life. Where people fail to use data is when they just force it in. It should feel natural to them – a natural flow of knowledge.
The panel further discussed the differences in presenting complex metrics on digital outlets as compared to traditional analogue. Complicated charts and graphics work better in a three-minute video on social media platform than they do on live television. Where a fan watching clips on their phone is comfortable with the start and stop nature of short-form content, they would likely not want to interrupt the flow of a live event to pause or rewind to understand that same graphic.
“From a broadcast sense, you only have 10-15 seconds to explain a graphic when it’s on-screen. If it is too complicated or too hard to understand, you will lose the viewer’s attention. People don’t want to be stopping and rewinding a program to understand something complex, it ruins the flow of the game,” said Hughes.
Data should also never feel forced in a story. The panel agreed with Marshall when he said that “Data is often not the main focus of the story, it’s used to help bring the story to life. Where people fail to use data is when they just force it in. It should feel natural to them – a natural flow of knowledge.”
Alexander went on to add that fans don’t want the pure objective facts, but that they want something that will flow easily in a conversation. “People want to know what is important to get the most out of the game they’re watching. It’s important to deliver the right amount of information, though, because people don’t want to be overwhelmed by it.”
In a time where quantity is plentiful, quality is that much more important. Every sports-adjacent organization is set to face a busy summer, yet how prepared they approach it will be different for each one.
Organizations will need to step out of their comfort zone and try new ideas but be sure to never lose sight of your authenticity. Powerful artificial intelligence tools are revolutionising sports coverage and aiding many large outlets to scale their media efforts. See this upcoming season as an opportunity to innovate and show off your skills.
As you continue to grow your credibility and trust with new fans, aid them in making the information they need to know accessible with stories. Comeback stories, underdog stories, and rising star stories only scratch the surface of what there is to share. Robust data tools can help identify developing stories, but be careful with deploying new data tools. Data can clue a publisher into a story, but data can never be the whole story. Remain agile by expecting the unexpected and planning for the unplanned in your editorial and analytical coverage.
Did you miss our live presentation? You can watch the full recording at https://www.statsperform.com/resource/statsperformdebates-how-to-stand-out-in-a-busy-2021-sports-summer
If you have a question for our panellists, or if you would like to learn more about any of the products or services in this article, contact us!