Pro sports teams look to social video to score big with fans

Pro sports teams look to social video to score big with fans

If professional sports organizations want to engage fan bases and build loyalty, they need to overcome a set of key challenges.

The popular Periscope and Meerkat apps provide live streams.

The popular Periscope and Meerkat apps provide live streams.

Following your favorite professional sports team before and after games -- and beyond the nightly sports broadcast -- has never been easier. Social video apps, such as Periscope, Meerkat, Vine, Snapchat and Instagram, are disrupting the traditional content distribution models of teams, TV networks and radio stations. While the transformation is already riddled with concerns over content rights, it represents a valuable opportunity for sports organizations to engage and interact with fans, particularly younger generations.

Streaming video vs. short video clips

Two types of social video services exist today: live streaming and short video uploads. The popular Periscope and Meerkat apps provide live streams. Recorded video apps include Instagram, which lets you record, edit and then upload video clips, and both Vine and Snapchat, which are used to share short sections of unedited video.

Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at eMarketer, says social video apps are currently popular in many different industries, including sports, and that's not lost on marketing pros. "It's partially the flavor of the moment and partially the fact that digital video is really growing fast," Williamson says. "Marketers want to explore whatever they can do in terms of advertising with video or even marketing with video."

Teams and players have been posting video clips to their Vine, Instagram and Snapchat accounts for months, even years, and many have large, active followings. However, live streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat attract most of the buzz today.

[Related: Twitter, Meerkat and the questionable viability of social video ]

In July, tennis fans that use Periscope at Wimbledon will have access to behind-the-scenes video. Tennis pro Roger Federer already gave Periscope users a tour of the Wimbledon grounds, and other high-profile players plan to provide exclusive interviews via the app. The tennis tournament posted Vine video clips, and on Snapchat it's using branded geofilters, or sponsored video overlays. Wimbledon says it's trying to appeal to millennials who haven't been to the tournament or watched it on TV. Fans in the stadiums, however, have been asked not to use phones during matches, and that includes using apps such as Periscope and Meerkat.

The Seattle Reign, a professional U.S. women's soccer team, is another live-stream early adopter, and in March it broadcast an entire game, along with exclusive content.

Social video, pro sports and fan engagement

One of the most significant challenges for sports organizations is fan involvement. To date, fans have been encouraged to post on social media to share their experiences at games, with many teams rolling out in-stadium Wi-Fi to accommodate bandwidth needs, but social video apps are uncharted territory.

In the eyes of sports teams and leagues, fans who broadcast live events could compete and interfere with the official broadcast and network partners. Fans at the Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather boxing match in May used Periscope at the fight and raised all kinds of issues, given the steep cost and exclusivity of the pay-per-view event.

[Related: Understanding the Meerkat live-streaming magic ]

Several sports leagues already ban the use of certain social video apps at live events by the media and fans. For example, the United States Golf Association (USGA), National Hockey League (NHL), and others prohibit live streaming, and in April the PGA Tour revoked a blogger's press credentials because she used Periscope during a practice round.

The use of streaming-video apps will be hard to police, however, especially in stadiums with hundreds of thousands of fans. "They'll be able to see who's holding up a phone, but they won't know if it's a video or not," says Mark Fidelman, managing partner at social marketing consultancy, Evolve! and author of Socialized!: How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social.

Time is now to experiment with social video

Despite the potential risks, pro sports organizations need to be aware of how their fan bases use social video. Fidelman says teams should focus on providing exclusive content that fans can't find anywhere else. "[C]ontent that's being produced behind the scenes ... [is] usually pretty popular because it isn't staged, isn't scripted and it's off the ball field."

Teams may also want to dedicate resources to branded social-video channels, according to Fidelman. "You want to tell a story about your team and make them more human and more reachable," he says. "That channel should help the audience learn about the players, coaches and trainers, without having to go through a third-party media channel."

Quality, exclusive content will almost certainly engage enthusiastic fans and could also breathe new life into teams' social media marketing efforts. Periscope, Meerkat and Vine don't currently offer advertising options, and Snapchat and Instagram are just starting to experiment with ads.

eMarketer's Aho Williamson says companies interested in advertising on social video sites should explore whether they can get valuable audience data through these channels, including information on who views what content and if they engage. "For a lot of marketers it's going to come back to, 'How big are the apps? How many people are using [them], and what's the potential audience?'"

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