Igniting Innovation &
Technology in Sports

Dec 4, 2014 | 11:30 a.m. PT
Levi’s® Stadium

Fan Engagement on the Go

Yao Xiao, Image Think

The "Fan Engagement on the Go" panel took place on Dec. 4. Below are some "lessons learned" from the conversation.

What Do Fans Really Want From Digital Content?

What do sports fans really want from online content?

The answers are surprising – and changing. 

One formula for what fans want was offered by Bob Morgan, who manages Public Content Solutions for Facebook; they want content to be relevant, they want high quality, low latency (e.g, quick downloads and seamless interaction), and they want it to be relevant.

But beyond those general principles, what seems to work – and what doesn't?

Robb Heinemann is CEO of Sporting Club, the parent organization of Sporting Kansas City, the MLS soccer team. When looking at how European soccer clubs were using technology, he found that “they’re not sold on in-game content stuff.” There, the teams are heavily investing in loyalty efforts that create a sense of loyalty and belonging.

Nor has in-game interactivity been a total success. Morgan noted that in-game chat rooms and other strategies didn’t work well initially, and that the key is letting the conversation flow naturally rather than trying to interrupt it. More successful has been Facebook’s “Mentions” app that allows athletes to engage with fans in a more authentic way and enables athletes to leverage their online presence. He cited the example of Larry Fitzgerald surprising a fan who had mused online about trading Fitzgerald from his fantasy team.

Even in-game replays delivered to mobile devices haven’t been as popular as expected, said 49ers CEO Jed York. He said that 49ers interactive efforts so far have focused more on fan convenience – parking, concessions, and other aspects of wayfinding, along with things like scanning mobile devices at entrance gates.

So what are fans looking for? Morgan says they want to connect with other people at exciting moments in the game. 

They also want to see clips when they want to see them – not necessarily just replays right after the play takes place. George Pyne, a former chief operating officer at NASCAR, who has been called one of the most influential people in sports, predicted the development of more exclusive content that can be used to provide a connected experience. And he said organizations are betting heavily on the value in providing it. 

Indeed, said Heinemann, when it comes to developing and curating content, “the leader is obviously the Pac-12 Networks.”

Even providing scores is a complicated thing. The assumption is that fans want to know scores, and most of the time, that’s true. But sometimes, they really don’t. Suppose you’re DVRing a game while watching something else. Can you suppress the score you don’t want to know – say in the ESPN crawl along the bottom of your screen? Not yet, but it may be coming. Claude Ruibal, Sports Partnership Manager at YouTube, noted that on Google, fans can now program spoiler protection into their personalized interfaces.

Real-time data on athletes’ performance may also be something fans that will eventually want. “You can pull someone from Madden Football because you can see he’s weakening,” said the 49ers’ York. “You should be able to [monitor the athlete’s performance] in real football.”

Generally, there is agreement that online content must compliment the game rather than get in the way of it. Rather than replace the Jumbotron, it is likely to complement it. But the game must remain the focus.

“You can have all the gadgets in the world,” said York, “but if you can’t watch the game, the stadium has failed.”


The Social Media Conversation

Engaging with fans begins well before they arrive at the stadium, and extends after they leave. Indeed, especially for fans who live out of town, engagement may entirely take place outside the confines of the venue.

Much of that engagement occurs on social media. And speakers at “Igniting Innovation and Technology in Sports” addressed some of the challenges and opportunities of joining the conversation.

Teams need to understand that unlike other forms of communication, they have relatively little control. One example is the now ubiquitous hashtag. “Once you put it out there, you don’t control it,” said Jenni Hogan, chief media officer at Tagboard and founder of TVinteract. Hogan, a former NCAA rowing champion, created the #VIPwithGMC campaign to fuel social media participation with Seattle Seahawk fans at the Super Bowl.

But, she said, not controlling it is a good thing. On social media, people need to feel that they are in control of the conversation. And it makes them feel like insiders, like they’re part of your organization.

While you can’t control the conversation, you can “curate” it, amplify it, and help shape it, noted Ina Fried, senior editor at Re/code, where she covers wireless issues and devices. By bringing to the conversation people who are recognized as authorities, people who provide insightful responses, you can make a difference in the direction and tone of the online conversation.

Bob Morgan, who manages Public Content Solutions for Facebook, agreed. The key, he said, is penetrating the noise with subject matter experts, and enabling them to leverage their platforms. 

Certainly there’s no shortage of fan interest in participation. Wen Miao, senior vice president of Global Client Technical Services (Global CTS) & Engage Cloud business unit at TIBCO, notes that game attendance must increasingly be viewed as a social event that extends, via social media and texting, beyond the venue. Indeed, he said, “asking younger kids to go to a game without a smartphone is like asking them to get dressed up in a suit.”

And, Morgan noted, they’re not shy about sharing. Sports fans, he said, show a disproportionately great need for information, passion, and engagement. Tapping into it successfully, he said, requires three qualities: high quality, low latency (high speed), and high relevance.

A key to success in engaging with that passion is finding the right “call to action,” Hogan said. That call to action has to fit into people’s lives, and not ask them to go too far out of their comfort zone. For example, in asking fans to provide user-generated content like photos, ask yourself whether these are images they are already capturing.

“Think of fans as a piggy bank,” she said. When you’re asking them to do something, are you making a deposit into the bank by empowering them? If you’re asking them to do something extraordinary, you’re making a withdrawal and you will need to have made some deposits first.

Moderator: Ina Fried

Ina Fried is a senior editor at Re/code, where she covers wireless issues and devices, including tablets, smartphones and even some phones of average intelligence. She is also the co-producer of Code/Mobile, an annual conference on how mobile technology is transforming life and business.

Her road to becoming the woman she is today has been a long one. Ina spent three years at AllThingsD.com leading mobile coverage and served as co-producer of the D: Dive Into Mobile conference. Before joining ATD, she spent a decade at CNET where she covered, among other things, Microsoft and Apple. Her reporting spanned several continents, two genders and included chronicling the Hewlett Packard-Compaq merger, Bill Gates' transition from software giant to philanthropist, as well as the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Prior to joining CNET in May 2000, she covered chips for Bridge News and was a writer at the Orange County Business Journal and Orange County Register. She graduated from Miami University in Ohio.

Panelist: Bob Morgan

Bob Morgan manages Public Content Solutions for Facebook, helping media partners best leverage the Facebook platform to engage their audiences. Bob joined Facebook through the acquisition of SportStream where he was co-founder & CEO. SportStream provides an advanced platform for surfacing the best social content in real-time during live events.

Prior to SportStream, Bob served in management roles in product, marketing and business development for Evri, Mozilla, Shozu, Ofoto/Kodak and MessageVine. While at Ofoto and MessageVine, he helped pioneer mobile photo sharing and mobile instant messaging products.  Earlier in his career Bob worked in sales at Macromedia during the launches of Dreamweaver and Flash.

Bob graduated from UCLA and is a proud Bruin! He lives in Marin County, CA.  

Panelist: Jenni Hogan

A leading innovator in the social technology space; Jenni Hogan is the Chief Media Officer at Tagboard and Founder of TVinteract. Hogan has created Emmy-award winning social media strategies, and specializes in fueling live events, campaigns and television shows through the use of hashtags. Huffington Post calls Hogan a visionary in her industry and Forbes declared her a #SociallySavvyJournalist as the most followed local TV personality online in America.

This 2-time NCAA national champion and 4-time Pac-12 rowing champion has created social content campaigns for several sporting events, including #VIPwithGMC that utilized Tagboard's platform to fuel social media participation with Seahawk fans at the Super Bowl. Tagboard can be seen in sporting venues around the world including Levi's Stadium along with team websites and mobile apps.

Panelist: Priya Narasimhan

Priya Narasimhan is the CEO and Founder of YinzCam, Inc., a company focused on delivering a unique mobile sports-fan experience, including in-stadium mobile replays from multiple camera angles, along with out-of-stadium 24x7 stats, media, photos, roster, social-media, mobile ticketing, interactive stadium maps, mobile-loyalty programs, iBeacon integrations, push notifications, and more. YinzCam also provides a rich data warehouse to support sports teams' analytics/CRM needs. YinzCam works with 91+ professional sports teams/venues around the world, with 16M+ unique users across NFL/NBA/NHL/NRL/CFL/MLS/NCAA fans. Priya is also a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. 

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