SBD/October 7, 2016/SMT Conference

Taking Content To Digital Outlets, Such As NFL Games On Twitter, Seen As Necessary

Froelich said Twitter’s deal with the NFL was a prime example of sports moving to mobile
The migration of live sports video to mobile, and how best to monetize it, dominated the discussion among digital execs during a panel at the ’16 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference devoted to creation and distribution in a multi-platform world. Twitter’s deal with the NFL was a prime example, and Laura Froelich, the social network’s head of sports content partnerships, said, “We’ve really been pleased with the coming to fruition of the dream we had. Our audience has this insatiable appetite for NFL content. They’re always talking about the games, not only around the game windows but all week long.” Froelich also said the industry should look at how Twitter interactions improve brand loyalty: “We found brands that respond to customers on Twitter generate more loyalty and spend more on those brands than they otherwise would have. Sports teams and leagues can learn from that.” NBC Sports Group Senior VP & GM of Digital Media Rick Cordella said it would be “fascinating” to see the Twitter effect on his network, which broadcasts the "TNF" late-season package. He said, "We’ve streamed the NFL since 2008. People come to our app for it. I’m curious to see if it’s incremental. If it’s big, great. Our ads run through Twitter, so we’ll make money off of it. It’s an experiment and we’ll see where it goes.” NeuLion Exec VP/Marketplace Strategy Chris Wagner has seen some positive effects. He said, “We power the NFL Game Pass to follow your team on any device. We see the Twitter activity driving more awareness that we can use to drive more subscriptions to the Game Pass.” Bill Simmons Media Group President Eric Weinberger said the NFL broadcasting games on Twitter is the "right thing to do." Weinberger: "The technology is there. The young consumer wants it. I don’t know if the number even matters, it’s the right thing to do and the consumer knows that.”

TAKE ANOTHER ROAD: Weinberger talked about other digital distribution methods, saying “The model is Bill (Simmons). It starts with Bill; he’s the unicorn in the digital space as a personality and trendsetter. It branched out from two podcast channels to nine. We are monetizing them, there are presenting sponsors, loyal partners seeing significant ROI, not just working with Bill but with our other podcasts. We’re monetizing the podcasts and the website. Now we’re trying to figure out the best way to scale and monetize the video production. It’s much more challenging than when you work for a company with baseball and football rights.”

DIGITAL IS WHERE THE DOLLARS ARE: Cordella was bullish on dialing up digital dollars. He said, “You can make more money, quite frankly, on digital than on TV. You can do pre-roll that doesn’t exist on TV, skins around the content with Visa. We take a two-minute pod and run a branded content piece -- Verizon fantasy players of the day -- there. People are willing to pay for really good content if they are passionate about one sport they feel is underserved. They are affluent, buying $1,000 bicycles.“ Wagner noted the advantages of digital’s global reach, saying, “To build stores, market and merchandise locally in local currencies, language, handle transactions in a local market, is important for rights holders who can distribute globally. The World Surf League has a fantastic live product. They get a passionate audience for surfing. Live events are the places where audiences show up. It can be niche sports people are passionate about.”

QUICK HITS
* Cordella, on selling digital impressions to advertisers for the Olympics: "The biggest struggle I have with the Olympics is that I’m guessing how many jellybeans are in the jar ... guessing how many impressions and people there are. If we’re off, it’s sort of the empty seats on the plane. That’s a real fear, but on the other side nobody wants to be made good three weeks later in a Notre Dame football game. They wanted to be in the Olympics.”

* Froelich, on finding ways to grow: “We focus on our core priorities. We have a lot of things going on to get us to growth. All the live streaming initiatives will bring in people on Twitter talking sports forever, but we’re looking to attract a new audience. The live content is the best way to demonstrate the value of the real-time nature of Twitter and that bodes well for future growth.”

* Weinberger, when asked about trends and developments he’s watching in the next year, quipped: “We’re looking for a permanent workspace -- that’s 2017. Bill was been working out of his garage a lot. We’re looking to bring The Ringer content to life, to introduce people to the new ensemble of writers and content creators we hired.”
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