Silicon Valley Changed the Way Sports Fans Think

Opinion: As viewing behavior begins to evolve, sports content production is following suit

Twitter partnered with the National Football League in 2013, adding live in-game highlights to tweets. This was a seminal moment for sports fans, changing the way we all watch, cheer and engage with our favorite teams.

As the partnership evolved, The NFL agreed to broadcast Thursday Night Football on Twitter (and a $50 million deal bought by Amazon now allows the tech giant to show NFL games in 2018).

These types of deals are popping up more frequently with leagues, teams, athletes and governing bodies all looking to leverage emerging technology to reach new audiences and drive ancillary revenue. Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Netflix and Twitter all have sizable monthly user totals that represent a new battleground over sports fans who make up one of the most valuable remaining live digital audiences.

As viewing behavior begins to evolve, sports content production is following suit.

Virtual reality company NextVR brings content to life for the National Basketball Association, NASCAR, the National Hockey League and Fox Sports.

Intel True VR gives consumers the opportunity to take a 360-degree look at Tom Brady’s historic Super Bowl comeback.

And Strivr brings virtual reality into the huddle, allowing consumers to put on an NFL helmet and step into the action.

Leagues and teams are starting to invest in e-sports, and we’re just scratching the surface with augmented reality, which will most likely be rolled out over the course of the next year.

This insatiable appetite for video across digital platforms is putting sports on the forefront of a content evolution. While these adaptations are starting to transform the game as we know it, the outcome is a long way from certain.

The NHL, Major League Baseball and other leagues and teams strategically livestream certain games on Facebook. The objective of any sport is to grow its footprint. With over 35 percent of all mobile activity taking place within social media applications, there is no better place to start.

Facebook Live is poised to become the digital-video recorder for the next generation of fans. Consumers can tune in live and watch the action unfold at their leisure, or check back when the game is archived if they so choose. This allows viewers to skip to peak watching moments tracked within the video.

Another advantage of using Facebook Live is the automatic notifications sent to a Facebook page’s entire audience once the stream begins, serving as live tune-in messaging to a sports organization’s largest digital fan base.

As soon as Facebook works out the kinks with its video advertising revenue model, Facebook Live could very well take center stage as a core broadcast medium for an entirely new generation of sports fans.

While Facebook Live may help drive reach and awareness, increasing the length of time that a user is engaged is another challenge altogether. When was the last time you spent a full session on any social network watching just one video?

While the thought of supplementing network television with a more active and vibrant social media audience seems ideal, the two user bases don’t behave in the same way. The fast-paced Instagrammer is less likely to spend two hours watching a video than the avid television watcher.

MLB understands the importance of grasping and holding consumer’s attention, and it expertly uses Snapchat Stories to keep them coming back for more. By recording pregame rituals, batting practice and key game moments, MLB brings the sport to life in a way that really connects with social media users.

This generation of fans enjoys experiencing an entire game through two minutes of video, where only one-half of the content is directly tied to the action on the field. These tactics keep younger audiences engaged while luring a new group of potential followers who can help reshape the definition of an MLB fan.

Leading in the digital sports revolution is the NBA, with a global digital-first strategy that has created a content marketing machine where the ecosystem of players, teams and league channels all contribute value to the success of the digital brand.

The NBA has openly embraced the sharing of its content, which has given a global audience easy access and exposure to dynamic highlights and light moments, growing affinity for the sport and constantly seducing a new generation of fans.

Recently valued by MVPindex at $1.5 billion, the NBA’s social media footprint is unmatched in the world of sports. This doesn’t even take into account the social savvy of NBA players. Golden State Warriors stars Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are as dominant at optimizing their own social channels as they are on the court.

While videostreaming platform giant Netflix has gone on record saying that it won’t be bringing live sports onto the platform, this doesn’t knock the company out as a key player in the sports content space.

In an era of digital discovery where so much information is at our fingertips, Netflix is well positioned to influence fandom through the deep content archive that fills its content library. With nearly 100 million global binge-watching subscribers, Netflix knows how to reach its users and successfully turn them into loyal supporters over the course of a six-episode series.

The early adopters into this ecosystem will benefit greatly from having the vision (and quality content) to reach and convert new fans across the globe. A great example of this is Last Chance U, the college football documentary that has become a global sensation. The review in The Guardian, one of the U.K.’s leading media outlets, is a perfect example of how great storytelling builds fandom: “You don’t need a working knowledge of American football to enjoy this. It’s handled so expertly that even a non-fan like me can understand the stakes. Each win is giddying. Each loss hurts. The end of the series is nothing less than Shakespearean. This is a show about obsession, and it is very, very easy to get swept up in.”

While (for the time being at least) Netflix plans to stay on the sidelines, Amazon is poised to offer a fully immersive experience in the future of live sports.

Imagine sitting on your couch with your laptop and opening up Amazon Prime to watch a live Thursday Night Football game. Now imagine being able to order nachos (extra guacamole please) and your new starting quarterback’s jersey at the same time. Let’s say your new starting QB throws for 300 yards and three touchdowns in his debut. Before the two-minute warning and without leaving any of the action, you purchase two tickets for your team’s next home game.

The ability to simultaneously drive advertising, ticket and merchandise sales allows Amazon to bring so many different possibilities to sports that directly correlate to impacting the bottom line of a sports organization.

So, what’s next? Which tech giant is going to become the leading sports platform of the future? In this race, there most likely won’t be just one company hoisting the trophy.

The challenge all social platforms face is that users often log on for quick sessions not only to consume, but also to create content. While Netflix and Amazon subscribers are all about consumption, their use is not necessarily just related to sports. To claim digital sports dominance, a platform would need to be dedicated to sports and provide users with endless hours of easily discoverable content. For a tech giant, targeting such a niche audience is like playing in front of a stadium that’s only half full.

Tech definitely has its superstars, but the reality of team sports is that one player isn’t enough to win a championship. All players need to come together to lead a team to victory. This is what needs to happen in the world of sports and technology in order to truly optimize the endless possibilities.

Craig Howe is founder and CEO of sports digital strategy and tech venture firm Rebel Ventures.

Image courtesy of mikkelwilliam/iStock.