If you’ve ever filled out a March Madness bracket, watched the Super Bowl, Olympics, or a World Cup game — or just followed athletes on Twitter or Instagram — you, believe it or not, are the most valuable player in sports. While there may only be one Serena Williams or LeBron James per generation, superstar athletes wouldn’t be worth one red cent to all the brands, sponsors, and broadcasters without you — the fans.
Recently-introduced Facebook Stadium and Twitter Moments are the two big contenders vying for fans’ attention. Also, there are rumors that Netflix, the NFL, MLBPA, Comcast, Verizon, Yahoo, and others will soon be making moves to deepen engagement with fans.
You’re the fan, remember? That means you’re more valuable than ever. As the world of sports turns, two things are certain. One, more companies will enter the space. Two, they will be falling over each other for your attention … and downloads.
What’s in a name?
Facebook, Twitter, GameOn and everyone else in this race for your attention no doubt has sports fans’ best intentions in mind; every head of product wants nothing more than to delight users (one would hope). Let’s not, however, pretend there isn’t money to be made here.
When FOX, NBC, CBS, or ESPN buy the rights to broadcast sporting events, they do so hoping that the audience will be big enough to recoup that upfront cost from ad buyers. A new player with a $100 billion market cap has just launched a product “focused on engaging sports fans,” and their daily active user base is bigger than a Super Bowl audience.
If the big six stopped haven’t yet stopped to reflect for a second, they’re missing something big. Fans turning to mobile social platforms as a way to consume their favorite sporting events will change the ad based broadcast eco-system of sports in ways that will make some cringe, and others rejoice. You, the fan, however, are in great shape because the competition will lead to a better user experience.
Like many, I tried Facebook Stadium for the first time this weekend. It was like being sucked into a tighter, more content-focused version of Facebook. On the opening screen I saw the time and score, a progress tracker for the current drive, and some videos and media links to click on. There was also a live play-by-play similar to what Stats Inc. or Sports Radar provide for a fee. Aside from a special news feed where I could post, the entire experience was ‘read only’ data and information. In many ways, it felt like a better designed, more content-rich version of Twitter Moments.
Fans are the lifeblood of sports. What Facebook, Twitter, and others are tapping into is something powerful and a little bit scary. Nike spends millions to run a 30 second Super Bowl to reach 250 million people. That’s a lot of cash for very little information.
Facebook and Twitter have user bases well north of a Super Bowl audience — how much would Nike spend if they could target people that only ever posted photos where they were wearing Nikes.
Or better yet, only people that ever posted photos wearing Adidas? Or people that self-describe as ‘active’ and also like Nike athletes? And how much is a follow on action worth from a mobile user that isn’t even possible in a TV ad unit? Just like every team wants LeBron, and every tournament wants Serena, every potential sports content provider wants you – and the supply and demand curve that is sinking in is going to bring change and opportunity to an industry that few would describe as progressive.
Lots of people have asked me what I think of Facebook Stadium. I’ll say this – when I first started following the San Francisco Giants, I had two choices: watch on TV or go to the game. In 2016, between all the official / unofficial team apps and player social accounts, I have a number of ways to enjoy my team, and I can’t imagine having less. I believe there is an opportunity to deliver a transcendent mobile experience to sports fans that connects them to people and places they wish they could be but can’t – and that means there’s a business opportunity so large that it is going to change media forever. Facebook Stadium and Twitter Moments have built something for sports fans that resembles their respective platforms enough that fans will find comfortably familiar.
Design Products for People, Not Devices
As a sports fan building a product for sports fans, these bold words have never been more clear or salient. Our team has spent a lot of time thinking about how fans can meaningfully and socially engage with sports on their phones. One of the first things we did was observe thousands of sports fans — at the stadium, at the bar, in their home, on the go — and we watched how and when they used their phones.
We knew that before we could take fans somewhere new, we really needed to understand how people behaved when the game was on, off, and everything in between. We learned a lot. For example, sports fans aren’t like the typical mobile user. I’ll let you in on one secret: sports fans aren’t attracted to the shiny new object. They want to go to their favorite sports bar, follow their favorite influencer (from Cris Collinsworth to @Lana), and loyally support their team. Maybe this is great for Facebook as the fans are already there; but then again, we can all remember when Oracle Arena wasn’t just hard to get tickets to on any given Friday night.
Fans are going to consume exponentially more live sports on phones and tablets in the coming months and years. The business of sports is going to experience a huge boom. Facebook Stadium signals that this change is coming fast. People love sports, and the mobile fan experience can and should honor tradition, not run amuck with digital tropes. If Facebook, Twitter, or a smaller player with big dreams succeeds in becoming the mobile stadium, who will be the sports bar, fan club, viewing party, and living room of a billion-dollar market that is becoming more and more mobile every day?
Alex Beckman is the founder & CEO of GameOn, a sports social media app based in San Francisco. He previously co-founded EVNTLive, a virtual venue and concert hall for live and on-demand music acquired by Yahoo in 2013.