Sports: #StayOnYourToes

It appears to my wife, kids and co-workers that I’ve recently been on tour, the “Digital Media Fall-a-Palooza Tour of 2011,” featuring Tech Crunch, OMMA Global, SportsBusiness Journal and, most recently, iMedia Connection’s Breakthrough Summit in Las Vegas. During the few days of talks and roundtables in Vegas, I had the opportunity to hear many amazing professionals in our field, but one speaker’s message stood out to me (probably because it’s the freshest in mind, no disrespect to the other speakers).

Leonard Brody’s keynote was “This Monumental Shift: The future of behavior, technology and marketing through a pipe.” Brody opened his remarks with a slide of the “Last Spike” at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, the connection ceremony of the Transcontinental Railroad. As presented by Brody, the connection of east and west was probably the most significant American technological endeavor of the 19th century.  Once the railroads and the two coasts were connected, the game changed. The groundwork was laid for a technological renaissance that would last for the next 60 years, at which time the “genie was let out of the bottle” on disruptive thought.

Brody went on to speak of the rate at which each generation has been affected by rapid technological change. He conjectured that the past 15 years, in particular, has seen perhaps the greatest amount of change in terms of technology, thus changing how we, as conscious beings, are evolving to absorb all of it.

So, it started me thinking from a cave man’s perspective on how this relates to the current states of technology and sports consumption.

Along with music and movies, the way fans and, more importantly, consumers, interact with sports leagues and brands has changed exponentially over the past decade. We have become a 24-hour sports nation, where talking heads and insider information fly across the Internet just as fast as stock prices rise and fall.  As a result, fans want their sports information, comments and analysis broadcast in a familiar way. This shift has led to the “multi-screen viewing” experience.

Whether smartphone, tablet or laptop, viewers having at least one other electronic device open while they watch TV has become the norm, and not just for sports, but all entertainment. What is the impact of this trend on marketers? The different media outlets, offering engagement with our target audiences, are growing every day and are, in many ways, untapped opportunities. Bridging the gap between marketing on TV and the second device is a practice that is still in its infancy, but it won’t be like that for long.

For example, the current sports climate is in one of its busiest seasons right now. The World Series just wrapped up, college and professional football are in full swing and hockey is on the cusp of an impressive resurgence. So, how are these major sports leagues trying to capitalize on this new multi-screen trend that is capturing fans? Here are some of the highlights:

  • Major League Baseball (MLB)
    The World Series is at somewhat of a disadvantage by being televised on a major broadcast network -- Fox.  As a result, the MLB app, which normally does an excellent job of streaming all regular season games, has essentially died. The pitch-by-pitch tracking on the MLB “At Bat” app is sufficient for now, but even ESPN beat MLB to the punch with a $10 baseball scoring app that allows fans to track the games at home similar to an in-stadium experience.

  • The National Football League (NFL)
    With the NFL in full swing, that means another major multi-screen experience is in play – fantasy football. The NFL app does a great job of giving users game tracking on each and every game around the league, with up-to-the minute stats and highlights of major plays and scores. It’s a welcome addition to any game experience, especially when your fantasy team is involved.
  • The National Hockey League (NHL)
    The NHL has been the surprising and surging league in terms of mobile and multi-screen connectivity, and at the forefront is The NHL GameCenter Live app. When synced with a user’s NHL Center Ice account, it gives the user a laundry list of features during games including full DVR controls, a new slow-motion option, the ability to replay games, a timeline for each game with key events/highlights, the ability to chat with other fans while watching the game and the capabilities to watch up to four games at once (just to name a few). The reviews have been superior, and given the NHL’s resurgence (especially with an NBA lockout) it will be interesting to see how this app plays out with fans across the full season.

While all of these tactics are certainly steps in the right direction for marketing each league, there is obviously a lot of room for growth. 

Because sports are predominantly consumed live, a fan’s behavior and expectations are immediate. Sports fans are perhaps a little more evolved from a content consumption standpoint than most multi-screen users, and they are more likely to embrace as many delivery devices as technological evolution can produce.

So, marketers, leagues, players, networks and others – you are delivering your product to a very, evolved being. Stay on your toes.

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