Looking Back at 4 Winning Digital Sport Activations in 2017

Opinion: The ball is in the court of the most prominent organizations to raise the bar

As fans, we now demand digital experiences that match our ever-increasing expectation levels mikkelwilliam/iStock

When it comes to intense rivalries and storybook moments, the sports industry always seems to deliver year after year with iconic images that become permanently etched in history.

As we turn the page into 2018, the accelerating adaption of technology is breaking sporting events out of their venues, beyond television sets and onto a myriad of social media applications, platforms and devices.

As fans, we now demand digital experiences that match our ever-increasing expectation levels. This leaves sports organizations holding a double-edged sword, with the responsibility to satiate fan content demand on one side, and the business objective of driving digital revenue on the other.

Despite these challenges, 2017 delivered several inspiring examples that helped savvy sports organizations simultaneously delight both their fans and their chief financial officers. Here are four great examples:

Wimbledon: serving up digital aces

The understated and pristine 140-year-old tennis tournament known for its reserved and respectful nature played to its strengths last year. The Wimbledon Championships delivered the perfect blend of tradition and cutting-edge digital best practices, bringing a touch of class to the intersection of sports and digital.

The challenge of packaging a niche sport like tennis for a global digital audience of casual fans should not be underestimated. The 2017 tournament reached 157 million people on Facebook alone. However, it’s the year-over-year increase in digital performance that highlights the pace of its digital transformation story.

In 2016, Wimbledon generated 115 million video views. In 2017, that number increased to more than 200 million, up nearly 75 percent. Total video views on the Wimbledon Channel in 2017 skyrocketed to 30 million compared with 3 million the prior year, and the Wimbledon Radio Channels had 40 million plus listeners versus 30 million in 2016.

According to Alexandra Willis, head of communications and digital for Wimbledon, “The year we don’t try something new will be the year we’ve done something wrong.”

Given Wimbledon’s track record of digital growth and success, the likelihood of not raising the bar again in 2018 seems pretty slim.

Philadelphia Eagles: making the most of a big moment

When performance meets preparation, great things can happen. A good example of this is how the Philadelphia Eagles used a historic 61-yard game-winning field goal to inspire and activate the team’s social fan base, calling upon user-generated video from fans in the stands to enhance the story and leveraging a miked-up clip provided by the National Football League from the club’s star quarterback.

The result was generating more than 5 million views across two videos, giving the Eagles a Twitter monetization ratio that was 10 times the club norm that particular week.

The Eagles’ fast-thinking digital content team used every advantage it had, including great access and the power of creative storytelling, to activate the team’s fans, keeping a big moment alive for several days into the following week.

Portland Trail Blazers: trade for cash considerations stunt

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a true sports fan is watching stale post-match interviews or contrived press conferences with your favorite players. Nobody wants to hear the same tired clichés delivered over and over again

With its “Trade for Cash Considerations” stunt, the Portland Trail Blazers found a way to take a relatively mundane, unexciting piece of news and make it incredibly dynamic and newsworthy. Fans embraced the humorous and mildly self-deprecating content. This campaign highlights the importance of giving a brand a personality.

In a digital age where everyone is bombarded with content and white noise, it’s often the creativity and personality behind your message that will allow your voice to break through the clutter.

The end result was the two most successful tweets in team history, generating more than 10 million impressions, and millions of dollars in public relations with extensive press coverage.

NBA: Chasing History Snapchat series

For a third straight year, the 2017 NBA Finals once again featured an epic showdown between the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. The NBA partnered with Snapchat on six-episode show Chasing History, which gave fans a behind-the-scenes look.

The unique format of the show consisted of a series of consecutive snaps—up to 20 seconds each in length—and the content captured was a unique adaptation of the NBA’s signature all-access coverage. The addition of exclusive interviews and capturing players on the court complete with miked-up team huddles proved to be an instant hit with fans.

The six-episode series throughout the NBA Finals generated an audience of 17.1 million unique viewers, which further illustrates how audiences have an increasing appetite for seeing what goes on behind the curtain.

Digital transformation is more than just another buzzword. These examples illustrate how technology is rapidly changing the way fans experience sports.

We have come a long way from having only a cable subscription and a television set. As we embark on 2018, the ball is in the court of the most prominent sports organizations in the world to raise the bar.

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