By Caitlin Brennan

March 3rd, 2017

Sports is a major driver of technical advancement in media and has been for over a century. The public’s insatiable desire for access to their favorite teams and players, drove early adopters in live television, satellite broadcasting, high-definition and social media.

Each advancement brings fans closer to the action. With a 4K TV, you can see the beads of sweat on your favorite slugger as he faces a full count. On Instagram, you can see what he had for lunch.

Those at the forefront of sports marketing must be one step ahead of this cutting-edge field. We recently attended the “Social Media and Sports” panel hosted by UJA-Federation of New York. The panel was moderated by Kerry Flynn the Business Reporter for Mashable. Four experts, spoke on the panel, Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, Senior Vice President of Digital Media at the National Basketball Association, Mark McClusky, the Digital Editor at Sports Illustrated Group, Ben Schwerin, VP of Partnerships at Snap, Inc. and Noah Syken the Vice President of Global Sponsorships at IBM.

It’s crucial to keep content relevant and fresh:
All sports content providers are under pressure to stay relevant. “There’s never going to be a time ever again where the message is funneled through a small number of people like it used to be,” said Mark McClusky. This democratization of content is a fact of life across the rest of media, but is especially evident in sports.

When Sports Illustrated started publishing in print in 1954, the biggest technological hurdles involved color printing. Today, McClusky’s Sports Illustrated publishes content on dozens of digital platforms.

Access to audience data has provided insights into where and how customers are consuming data. The balance has shifted from an environment where consumers are fighting for attention to brands fighting for consumer attention.

Has social media killed brands?
McClusky discussed the challenges of brand building in a content saturated marketplace. He explained that his challenges include conveying to users who view Sports Illustrated content on Snapchat that the content is from Sports Illustrated the magazine and website. He emphasized the importance of Sports Illustrated having a ‘coherent world view’ that resonates across every social platform.

Without a unified voice, there’s the risk of a user thinking a story someone found on Twitter, came from Twitter, opposed to a Sports Illustrated writer. McClusky deeply believes brands still do matter because people have affinities to brands.

Just because a league signs a billion-dollar deal with a television network doesn’t mean that the eyeballs are guaranteed. Recognizing the importance and inevitable disruption of streaming video content, the NBA partnered with YouTube in 2007. In an effort to stay relevant to the conversation, the NBA realized if they didn’t partner with YouTube, they wouldn’t be part of the conversation.

That conversation is being led by the league’s superstars. “Our players are the biggest and best influencers in the world,” said Brenner from the NBA. “Lebron [James] has more fans than every baseball player in the world.”

To keep up with player tweets and social media appearances on behalf of brands, the NBA works with YouTube influencers, trick shot video producers, sneaker collectors and others to find the basketball audience wherever it may gravitate.

From big screens to headsets: where technology will go next:
Over the last decade, many millions of sports fans bought their first HDTVs for major events like the Super Bowl. At least a few people made the leap to a smartphone so they could tinker with a fantasy football lineup while waiting for the bus. What electronic gadget will sports turn from a novelty to a necessity next?

All eyes are on virtual reality. From cardboard headsets to more immersive experiences, there is no clear standard in this growing field. “Every rights holder in the world has a ton of shiny objects to choose from,” said Noah Syken from IBM. The content side is also in an experimentation phase.

Sports Illustrated produced a VR version of its famous swimsuit issue. Wearing a few more layers, it brought VR viewers on a trek up Mount Everest.

But there are still logistical obstacles. Sports events are often communal experiences, which means that someone hosting a Sunday afternoon football watching party would have to rustle up a dozen 3D glasses or VR headsets. “do I ever see VR as a super social experience?” asked McClusky, who answered his own question. “Probably not.”

One day, virtual reality and 3D will be commonplace. When it is, sports broadcasts will probably be responsible for it. Technology will continue to evolve and change the way sports are consumed. Even if couch side seats eclipse courtside seats, the fever of fans and drive of the players will remain.

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