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NBC Sports is doubling down on horse racing and will broadcast 11 racing programs in the next few months with a spot in one of 14 races at this year’s Breeders’ Cup at stake.
“This is the largest single horse racing commitment that the company has made in the sport that I can remember,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports Group. “For the horse racing fan, we have them covered like never before.”
NBC Sports sees these events fitting into its coverage of the three Triple Crown races (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes) as well as the Breeders’ Cup, which will be broadcast from Santa Anita Park starting on Oct. 31 on NBC Sports Network and culminating with NBC broadcasting the Breeders’ Cup Classic in prime time on Nov. 1.
The goal is to build a seasonlong schedule to increase interest. The Kentucky Derby has always drawn big ratings, but the other properties historically have lagged behind, except in years when there was a potential Triple Crown winner. The new series will provide a bridge of continuing big race coverage throughout the summer, from the Belmont Stakes in early June to the Breeders’ Cup in late October.
“We are looking to grow the property and grow the sport,” he said.
Miller would not reveal financial terms of the deal but said, “It’s similar to other deals where they are helping with costs of production, but it is not a time buy.”
Breeders’ Cup CMO Drew Sheinman said that the Breeders’ Cup will work collaboratively with NBC Sports on selling the ad inventory as part of overall integrated sponsor packages. “We are seeking an overall title sponsor for the challenge series as well as Breeders’ Cup World Championships.”
The Breeders’ Cup has also formed a partnership with Time Inc.’s SI.com and People.com on custom content around the races, including profiles of trainers, owners and the Breeders’ Cup celebrity ambassadors, who include Kate Upton, Joe Torre, Bobby Flay and Elizabeth Banks.
The Breeders’ Cup additionally plans to offer hospitality at the tracks participating in the Challenge series for Breeders’ Cup sponsors, who have requested more hospitality opportunities, Sheinman said.
The “Win and You’re In” concept was developed in 2007 and guaranteed horses who won certain prestigious races a berth in the gate in one of the 14 championship races. But the organization has never put so much effort into promoting the races leading into the annual event as it is here.
The NBC effort adds to the horse racing programming on television this summer. Fox Sports One earlier this year announced its own horse racing television series in partnership with The Jockey Club.
Times have changed.
The Boston Celtics use Instagram to post photos from on the court and behind the scenes.
“Facebook’s purchase of Instagram was great for the industry because it combined two major platforms under one business and allowed teams, agencies and athletes to manage both profiles with one company,” said Jaymee Messler, senior vice president of marketing for Excel Sports Management. “Now, with things like linking Facebook and Instagram on athlete pages, it offers a seamless way for athletes to post content to both audiences and grow their followings.”
The numbers indicate how much that is happening. Instagram today reports having 200 million active users compared to that count of 30 million two years ago. Those users, according to Instagram, together share an average of 55 million photos per day.
But how exactly should a team or brand use Instagram as part of its overall social media strategy? That answer, for many in sports, continues to evolve.
Twitter has been firmly established as a means of providing news and information to fans. Facebook has seen its role in the social media space secured to the point of Hollywood telling its story. Teams know they can reach a large number of fans and engage them in conversations about the club by using Facebook. Instagram provides a more visual piece to the social media puzzle, and teams increasingly are using it to fill that niche — turning to the platform to present the unique pictures and sights that are associated with sports, particularly as a way to attract a younger audience.
Instagram officials see that opportunity as well.
“Sports are visual by nature,” said a spokeswoman for Instagram. “Teams are using Instagram to take their fan communities behind-the-scenes — into the locker room, on the team plane — and sharing all of these moments that people want to be a part of but usually don’t get to see. And the reverse is true, too. Fans are sharing their own moments on Instagram and keeping team spirit alive. It’s definitely a two-way conversation.”
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Pack For A Week
Those words, captured and shared via the Boston Celtics’ official Instagram account, stood alone on a dry-erase board in the Boston locker room as the team prepared to travel to Miami and face the Heat in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. The image offered Celtics Instagram followers a behind-the-scenes look not typically available elsewhere.
“The idea that I could take that photo and show our fans what our players were seeing from the coaches, I thought was a cool thing,” said Peter Stringer, senior director of digital media for the Celtics. “That message is simple, but direct.”
The image received more than 7,500 likes on Instagram, one of the Celtics’ most liked photos at the time. Less than two years later, the team’s Instagram account now has 545,000 followers, and posts routinely receive 20,000 likes or more.
That growth of the Celtics’ Instagram account, along with comparable accounts for other teams, parallels the explosion in popularity of Instagram itself.
Out West, the San Francisco Giants, an organization lauded for its use of social media and fan engagement, started using the platform in the summer of 2011. Instagram was developed in San Francisco and launched in October 2010.
“It was really popular in San Francisco, at least with our fans,” said Bryan Srabian, director of digital media for the Giants. “I think that’s the first step: Knowing where your fans are, whether it’s your city or your team. And we noticed a huge trend growing in San Francisco of fans using Instagram to share their experience at the ballpark or wherever they were in Giants gear.”
Today, the Giants use Instagram to present not only behind-the-scenes images similar to the dry-erase board message from the Celtics, but also to highlight the images associated with a game and with a day at the ballpark. Sports, particularly baseball, lend themselves to varying sight lines and scenes, and the filters offered by Instagram serve to enhance those images.
“There are just so many visuals that we’ll use that kind of tell the story of the Giants brand,” Srabian said. “From the very top of the ballpark showing the views of the bay, to inside the dugout [and] a shot of our players in their uniform and kind of a shot that tells a story — I think that visual is appealing.
“You can go to any major website and see the great Getty or AP shots of the game,” Srabian said. “We’re trying to capture the personality.”
Teams also encourage activity from followers on Instagram, commonly in the form of photo scavenger hunts and giveaways. For example, Arizona Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall will post a photo of his front-row seats on Instagram and promote a certain fan activity in exchange for being able to sit in his seats for an upcoming game.
Hall created his own Instagram account in February at the encouragement of his three teenage children. Consider it a case of the kids helping their dad at the office, recognizing the engagement levels of the younger demographics who are on Instagram. A 2013 Pew Research Center study noted that 43 percent of cellphone users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Instagram. Additionally, Instagram is now tied with Facebook as the second most important social media site for American teens, trailing only Twitter, according to a fall 2013 Piper Jaffray survey.
“I think the majority of Instagram users are in the younger demographic, and for us to try and identify and attract younger fans and future fans, we need to use it,” Hall said. “Pictures tell a thousand words, and the more likes you have and the more photos you have of fan interaction and looking like a place where these kids want to go, I think helps us.”
Analysts say that’s important not only for present-day, but also for long-term fan development.
“As the fan base is getting older, [teams have] got to find a way to pull in the younger fan and develop that fan,” said Kathleen Hessert, founder and CEO of BuzzMgr, a social media monitoring tool, and consulting firm Sports Media Challenge. “From a casual fan into an avid fan into an evangelist: That’s where Instagram and other vehicles like that are coming into their own.”
It takes a combination of organization and planning with a dash of improvisation to engage fans on game day on the numerous social media platforms available to them.
For the San Francisco Giants’ social media team, it starts with the basics that every fan needs to know.
The Giants use behind-the-scenes images on Instagram as buildup for the game.
The Giants will post this information, known as “tune-in messages,” on their Facebook page, which boasts more than 2 million followers, far and away the team’s most popular social media account. Comparatively, the team’s official Twitter account has 577,000 followers, and 339,000 fans follow the team on Instagram.
In addition to the basic information about the game, the social media team is well-aware of any notable events happening on game day, from Opening Day festivities to a giveaway or promotion at AT&T Park, or the anniversary of a notable occurrence in team history.
“We definitely have a script or rundown of what’s going on,” Srabian said.
As the game approaches, Instagram is used to enhance the buildup. Before the gates even open, the team shares behind-the-scenes images, such as players arriving at the stadium, fresh paint on the field, and views of an empty but beckoning ballpark.
By the time the first pitch is thrown, much of the advance engagement plans have been executed, and the social media strategy becomes largely dependent on what happens on the field.
Twitter is most prominently used during games. The team’s main account, @SFGiants, tweets out in-game updates and converses with fans on Twitter about the game. The Giants established a separate account, @SFG_Stats, in 2012 to provide die-hard fans with up-to-the-minute statistics.
The engagement on Twitter along with the action on the field is where improvisational skills come into play. For example, last year, whenever pitcher Tim Lincecum approached a high strikeout count, the team engaged fans on Twitter with the hashtag #FreaKKKK, highlighting Lincecum’s nickname and the strikeouts.
“A lot of that comes from being really connected with your fan base and connected to the game and being able to really be, for lack of a better term, an artist,” Srabian said. “You need smart people working in social media, but you also need creative, artistic people, as well, that can kind of adapt and not be afraid to take chances.”
The team updates Facebook sparingly during the game, sticking with big highlights. Instagram acts as a live photo journal, more focused on the atmosphere and the setting rather than the on-field results.
The Giants plan to highlight GIF files via Tumblr as well as Vine videos more this season in order to capture brief but important action during the game.
The photos come from numerous sources. Srabian and his team take some on their own in addition to images from a photography staff. Deciding which platform the photos are best suited for comes down to practice, Srabian said.
“It is part intuition,” he said, “but I think part of it is also the experience that you know what works better.”
Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.
The NBA’s three biggest media markets posted significant drops in local TV viewership this season, with the five clubs in those markets shedding a combined 259,000 homes per game from last year.
Knicks ratings on MSG were down 29 percent, averaging a 2.18 rating.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
Overall, the league’s local ratings and viewership both dropped about 5 percent compared with last season. Typically, the NBA’s overall local ratings and viewership figures do not fluctuate much from season to season.
The Lakers suffered one of the biggest slides.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
The Clippers, meanwhile, despite winning the Pacific Division, failed to pick up the slack: Their average rating on Prime Ticket for the season also was down, off 19 percent from last year to 1.27 average.
NBA teams’ RSN ratings
TEAM RSN AVG. RATING (CHANGE*) Oklahoma City Thunder FS Oklahoma 8.81 (+2%) San Antonio Spurs FS Southwest 7.49 (+15%) Miami Heat Sun Sports 6.85 (-3%) Indiana Pacers FS Midwest 4.19 (+99%) Portland Trail Blazers CSN Northwest 4.06 (+46%)
TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. RATING) Indiana Pacers FS Midwest +99% (4.19) Phoenix Suns FS Arizona +80% (2.18) New Orleans Pelicans FS New Orleans +62% (1.78) Portland Trail Blazers CSN Northwest +46% (4.06) Washington Wizards CSN Mid-Atlantic +33% (1.04) Charlotte Bobcats SportSouth +33% (0.72)
AVG. AUDIENCE SIZE
TEAM RSN AVG. NO. OF HHs (CHANGE*) New York Knicks MSG 163,000 (-29%) Los Angeles Lakers SportsNet LA 122,000 (-54%) Miami Heat Sun Sports 114,000 (-3%) Chicago Bulls CSN Chicago 105,000 (-8%) Golden State Warriors CSN Bay Area 81,000 (+15%)
* Compared to 2012-13 season
Note: Comparable data for Memphis (SportSouth), Utah (Root Sports) and Toronto (Sportsnet) was not available.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen data
The story was similarly bad in New York, as Knicks ratings on MSG were down 29 percent even though the team was in playoff contention until the season’s final week. Knicks games averaged a 2.18 rating. Nets ratings on YES Network dropped 20 percent, to a 0.77 rating.
As for Chicago, the Bulls saw an 8 percent decline this year, to an average rating of 2.97. Like the Lakers, the Bulls played much of this season without one of the NBA’s biggest stars, as Derrick Rose injured his knee in late November.
This season’s biggest drop among teams’ RSN marks occurred in Milwaukee, where the Bucks not only posted the league’s worst record on the court but also scored the NBA’s lowest local rating and lowest viewership. Bucks ratings on FS Wisconsin dropped a whopping 65 percent from last year, with the team averaging a 0.50 rating and just 5,000 homes per telecast. It marks the first time in five years that a team other than the Charlotte Bobcats posted the league’s lowest local viewership.
The highest local ratings came in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder led the way for the second year in a row. OKC’s games on FS Oklahoma averaged an 8.81 rating, up 2 percent from last season.
Other good local stories came in Indiana and Phoenix. The Pacers, who this year posted the Eastern Conference’s top record on the court, also sported the league’s biggest year-to-year ratings increase. Pacers games on FS Midwest averaged a 4.19 rating, up 99 percent from last year.
In Arizona, the resurgent Suns saw an 80 percent ratings increase to a 2.18 average on FS Arizona. Those marks came for a club that surprised many on the court this year, as Phoenix remained in contention for the postseason until last week.