In a previous post, I focused on the status of TV Everywhere stemming from my participation in the Can We Score with TV Everywhere and Sports Programming? panel at Variety's Sports Entertainment Summit. Later in the day, I attended What is the Next Major? Sports on the Rise, with panelists from the UFC, X Games, Major League Gaming and Universal Sports.
While the discussion focused primarily on how non-major (as the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NBA represent the major sports leagues in the U.S.) sports could be the next major, my takeaways focused on a core set of themes that were repeated throughout. In association with the four Ss from my previous "Creating a Video Strategy Playbook for Sports" post, the panel highlighted how the power of sports is enabled through three Ps: passion, participation and personal.
No matter what the sport – from Olympic-level competitions to eSports (i.e., competitive online gaming) to competitive lifestyle sports (e.g., Motocross, Snowmobile, BMX) popularized into the mainstream by the X Games – each evokes a level of passion that is unparalleled. From teams/coaches to athletes to viewers, the underlying nature of sports is competition, against the clock, against competitors, against history, against a curse.
As noted by one of the panelists, a common misperception of eSports participants is that they are shy, introverted "gamers" more hobbyists than athletes. Recently, though, eSports has reached a new level of recognition. For example, Santa Monica publisher Riot Games is hosting the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship on October 4, 2013. As part of this event, over a dozen teams from across the globe are expected to compete for the title in front of a crowd of 10,000 and millions online.
At stake: the Summoner's Cup and one million dollars.
Danny Le of Edmonton, Canada, joined an American team and traveled to the U.S. to train with his teammates. Initially denied entry by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Riot Games was able to convince them to issue Le a P-1A visa, commonly issued to major sports athletes. The USCIS has officially determined that Le [and several other gamers since] is "coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete, individually or as part of a group or team, at an internationally recognized level of performance."
Competition has no bounds - geographic or digital.
Many of the panelists discussed the concept of participation, i.e., the want, need, and desire for people to participate in sports as an expression of competition and pride. I'd redefine participation as audience participation. Sports need their audience. Without it, sports lose their magic. While a sail around the world is an athletic feat, there's no substitute for watching an AC72 flying on foils in San Francisco Bay as part of the America's Cup.
eSports has even evolved to trends such as Barcraft, where fans of StarCraft competitions gather at bars to cheer on their favorite teams/players along with others.
While not yet on par with the events of the majors, it doesn’t take a crowd (or a village) … just a little (video) technology.
- With the GoPro, the audience can experience a Double McTwist 1260
- From the perspective of the coxswain, the audience can see the eyes of the stroke and hear the sound of oars against water as an "eight" sprints the final 500 meters with "power tens"
- Gameplay live streaming can bring the audience as close to the digital action as the players themselves
- One day, advancements in Google Glass may even enable us to experience the challenge to be the "baddest man on the planet" within the UFC octagon
For the most part, watching on television is no substitute for watching in-person. Nothing can replace my personal joy of cheering from nosebleed seats at the Rose Bowl [and nothing makes a hot dog taste better than a victory].
But by creating a digital experience that combines real-time scores and statistics with social dialog and video replays and highlights, both the in-person and the living room experiences can increase the level of participation and passion.
How does video fit into making sports personal?
Whether you are a fantasy owner or a college scout, video content - both live and prerecorded - can give you a perspective on a player that data cannot. Few doubt the efficacy of Sabermetrics and similar methodology, but video can paint the colors between the lines drawn by scores and statistics.
As one of the panelists mentioned, sometimes a fortuitous personal interaction - a ball tossed into the stands at spring training - can bring an athlete into your personal spotlight.
We often view the score (or time or ranking) as the boundary for the event. But when certain moments - kids scoring touchdowns against the Browns or against the Huskers - are shared, video becomes a medium that delivers a story outside those lines.
As publishers think about their strategy for sports video content, they should realize that the nature of sports – ever evolving, the same plot but always with a different ending – provides a fertile ground for video creation and distribution.