I'm admittedly a soccer neophyte, a casual fan whenever the occasion arises, whether it be the World Cup or a Liverpool fan buying a round of congratulatory post-morning win beverages. I didn't watch one minute of live coverage of the recent Confederations Cup, but I did spend half an hour searching the Web for analysis and replays of Neymar, soon heading off to join Barcelona.
My first true soccer experience was watching Russia vs. Cameroon in 1994. However, it was the fan celebrations that I remember in more detail than the game itself (Russia won convincingly 6-1). Later that evening in the parking lot of The Town & Country Shopping Center, known more for Hobbee's coffee cake and the closest shot of wheatgrass to campus, I watched a crowd unload a sofa from the back of a pickup and start an impromptu celebration - dancing, Brazilian flags and horns - for the next several hours.
It's Their Moments and Your Memories
The value of sports isn't the game - no, it's you. Let's play a quick word association game.
Red Right 88. The Shot. The Drive. The Fumble. The Move. The Decision. October 26, 1997.
For anyone from Cleveland, these words likely evoke a deep pain within your stomach, a knot that slowly tightens as visual images of Brian Sipe, Michael Jordan, John Elway, Earnest Byner, Art Modell, LeBron James and Jose Mesa flicker in and out of from our darkest mental recesses. During the three years in the 1990s that Cleveland was without a team ("stolen" as some fans would say), a large countdown clock was placed in Tower City - at the time, an upscale mall in downtown Cleveland - reminding the city of what once was.
Sports is about you. It grows and thrives on emotion. Whether it's joy, despair, or envy - sports goes beyond a league, a team or player. Sports can be recorded in splits, box scores, streaks, Triple Crowns and perfect scores, but sports define itself by the emotions it can create in one second, one hundredth of a second or after one decade.
When publishers think about sports in context of video, they should realize the opportunities to engage viewers and create an experience that melds the spontaneity of news, the dramatic arc of narrative film, and - with the passing of each game and each season - a trove of data, fodder for sabermetrics analysis and for fans that see revel in past glories and see hope glimmer in the next game … in the next season … in the next LeBron ...
Fundamentally, sports is composed of moments. Those who watched the ball dribble between Bill Buckner's legs, Kirk Gibson hobble around the bases, or Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards soar through the cold Calgary air, don't just remember that moment, they remember where they were, who they were with and even what they were eating. These don’t necessarily have to be history-making moments, they just have to be emotive, from bowling your first turkey or watching a miraculous comeback on the way to the Final Four. [My answers for the latter: (1) Pacing the living room of my apartment in Austin, Texas; (2) Watching by myself but on the phone with friends; (3) Too nervous to eat.]
The Four S's of Sports
For publishers, the opportunities for video can be grouped into four categories:
- Statistics & Scores
- Social & Sharing
Let's look at each one of these and review how publishers can drive greater engagement with their audience based on the unique characteristics of this content.
Statistics & Scores
Statistics and scores are how we record, measure, analyze, and track sports. Inevitably, someone (or some team) receives the "W" and at least one person (and at least one team) receives the "L" - with the occasional tie/draw for good measure. Video can provide context for any type of real-time statistics.
During a sporting event, while it's common to showcase the "big" plays, non-scoring moments are just as effective to understand the ebb and flow of a game, of a team or of a player:
- Penalties - or controversial calls (or missed calls)
- Seemingly minor moments, e.g., a hesitation during a relay exchange, a player substitution
- Strategy, e.g., set plays in soccer, volleyball
- Performance, e.g., player splits or changes in pitching velocity
For some, the sport itself is only a vehicle for an even greater passion that spans not just games, but seasons, jobs, cities and friendships. While fantasy sports games are most popular with baseball and football, it's not uncommon to see fantasy games for soccer, basketball, auto racing, golf and more. Fantasy sports engage tens of millions of participants not just for league games but sporting events such as the World Cup and NCAA Basketball Tournament. Films and books have been made about our passion for this side of sports; no doubt March Madness has contributed to a decrease in work productivity.
During the fantasy sports season and during an individual game, video can be used to augment the real-time data collected from recent games or games in progress, highlighting any type of fantasy sports "scoring," from touchdowns, goals, strikeouts, big yardage gains and more.
But fantasy sports participants also spend their time passively staring into a stream of real-time data. Publishers can extend this data-driven experience into a leanback video experience by aggregating, consolidating and serializing video highlights into a video story about their fantasy team and players, a virtual "sizzle reel" of statistics and scores.
- Even more compelling than synchronizing video with real-time or recent data is the potential for utilizing video to create additional context when researching team and player statistics. Publishers can create compelling experiences by enabling consumers to not just view statistics but to research via video:
- Someone debating whether Andrew Luck will be affected by the forecast of snow could view plays of Luck's previous starts in similar weather conditions.
- For an LSU fan conflicted with the opportunity to draft JaMarcus Russell but is doubtful based on his career thus far, they could view plays from LSU, his stint with the Raiders, and recent workouts.
- As player strengths and weaknesses are discussed, fans could judge for themselves whether Jordan's assessment of LeBron James' weakness driving left is rooted in accuracy or hyperbole.
Social & Sharing
Sports is commonly a social activity for participation, attendance, and viewing. Video can play an important role beyond watching the game itself. Whether delivered via a personal network (email or text) or via a social network (Facebook or Twitter), sports lives beyond the moment, enhancing its replay value.
With social mechanisms such as Twitter Cards, publishers can use video to:
- Start conversations about a specific moment (a score, an "almost" score, an exuberant fan or a frustrated coach)
- Enable viewers to start a conversation about a specific moment, "remix" their own series of moments, or create their own SportsCenter-style recap - hopefully without the mention of dynamite (2:29)
- Create new opportunities for monetization with sponsored themes of content
For sports clubs and leagues, video can be a powerful form of engagement with fans:
- Announcing changes to a stadium to entice season ticket holders or attendees, e.g., dining options, views from bleachers and suites, and previews of special game day events or giveaways
- Leveraging the power of user-generated content to strengthen the fanbase and mobilize that audience to build long-lasting brand value, e.g., the "best" examples of signs, cheers, "at home" fans, tailgate parties, costumes and food.
Publishers should ensure all video experiences - from desktop to mobile to Connected TVs - adapt to the viewer's desire to discover content. Sports content has the unique characteristics of being:
- Consumed both live, time-shifted and pre-recorded
- Viewed from the perspective of leagues, teams, players and fans
- Inextricably linked to data
With all these facets, publishers have the opportunity to optimize discovery and promotion to increase engagement and monetization.
In the leanback mode of video consumption, publishers should let the content feel spontaneous. A viewer may start by watching a replay of Michael Phelps' gold medal victory by the narrowest of margins: one hundredth of a second. Keying on the video’s notion of a "close finish," the video experience could automatically program a dynamic playlist of similar content: Christian Laettner's turnaround jumper against Kentucky, Jimmie Johnson's 0.0002 second victory at Talladega, or the Blackhawks' last minute rally to win the Cup.
Video can tell a story in six seconds or six hours. For publishers that focus on sports content, every video tells a story, a story about a league, a team, a player, a coach, or a fan. But sports stories - as they can encompass any number of factors - can extend beyond the more traditional set of organized leagues. Armed with a GoPro, we can watch an angler wrestle with a 950 pound Marlin, climbers scale El Capitan, players engage in geocaching and urban explorers scurry beneath the cobblestones of Paris.
Publishers have the unique opportunity to appeal to the emotions of the consumer. While news content is transient and derives value from both its immediacy and as a historical archive, a sports moment can be watched again and again and again with the same level of drama. Narrative video, while sharing a similar potential for repeat viewing - from laughing along with Ted Striker on the way to Chicago or following Dr. David Bowman to Jupiter and beyond - it is at its core a finished work. If you haven't watched Derek Redmond's finish at the 1992 Olympics, it’s a moment that will evoke a sense of awe. Similar stories happen everyday, if we're lucky enough to capture - and share - those moments.
Sports enables people to engage in their passion - as a participant or as a fan - with video playing a vital role that can heighten the experience with every win, lose or draw.