Last week, a sneak preview of the series "The Franchise: A Season With the San Francisco Giants" ran on Showtime (the series officially debuts later this summer) and, by all appearances, the Giants should survive the crew from MLB Productions, which is producing the show. While this certainly isn't the first time a show has chronicled a pro sports team (recent versions have covered the Chicago White Sox and the New York Jets) and it remains to be seen whether this latest experiment has any meaningful impact on the club, this appears to be a brilliant move by the Giants and MLB. I would urge more teams to invest in showcasing their players and teams in this way for at least four key reasons:
1. Great for Fans
Perhaps MLB and the Giants thought this show might have legs after they witnessed the unbelievable turn-out at the Giants World Series parade. Throngs of delirious fans lined the streets of San Francisco cheering and hoping to get a glimpse of the motley crew of overachievers who brought a trophy to the City by the Bay. Fans crave behind-the-scenes insights about the personalities of the guys on their teams. Who are the clowns? Who really makes the team tick? What are these guys like in the clubhouse and what are they like when they're in street clothes? Every team should be investing in creating some type of ongoing video programming that brings this access to their fans -- not always as elaborate as a Showtime series, but something more than the snippets that show up in team's local TV magazine show.
2. Great for Teams
While the majority of what a team is paying for in player salaries shows up between the white lines, in today's rapidly expanding sports-meets-entertainment content world, clubs need to do as much as they can to leverage their player assets outside those white lines. Sure, a winning team trumps all, but when you can't guarantee a World Series winner, you can at least control how you package and present your players as brand extensions. In fact, taking the time to connect the personalities of the players to the local fans may be the best hedge against a mediocre or even losing season. If fans know a lot more about the characters in the drama, they're likely to show up for more episodes.
3. Great for Players
We live in a world dominated by entertainment brands -- especially personalities that enjoy fleeting moments in lights. Athletes are no exception to this phenomenon. Careers, on average, are quite short and investing the time to showcase their personalities can create lasting impressions on fans and advertisers that will pay off after a player's on-field career has ended. Whether you're a character like Brian Wilson setting yourself up for any number of post-baseball career opportunities given your eclectic personality, or a guy like Cody Ross who can parlay the visibility of a show like this into more endorsements and recognition that otherwise wouldn't materialize, there's plenty of upside for the personal brands of the athlete.
4. Great for Sponsors
Sports has always led the way in terms of creative integrations between brand advertisers and the "content" of sports. Whether signage on walls, sidelines or even on the playing surfaces themselves, or the visual brand associations of a virtual first-down marker or a "presented by" halftime show, sports advertising constantly blurs the boundaries between editorial and advertising. For sponsors, being able to embed their brands -- either through association with these athlete video stories or, better yet, as deeper product placements -- highlights what should be a next wave of sports sponsorship. Heck, if you're going to have players "endorse" your product, doing it in the context of a docu-drama or reality show will carry a lot more import with consumers than having a guy painfully reading from a prompter in a TV ad.
So here's to a next phase in sports programming that becomes much more personal for fans, teams, players and sponsors -- and that, of course, doesn't drop the Giants out of the play-off hunt along the way.