SMT Live: Experimentation is the new disruption
For the last few years, this conference was dominated by talk about disruption. Disrupting the experience, the status quo, the interface. Now we’ve moved on to experimentation and engagement. Like teenagers in high school, the sports industry is trying everything to engage with both avid and casual fans. If something shows promise, take it farther. If not, drop it. From Facebook’s forays into programming, to the number of direct-to-consumer offerings trying new business models, to even “re-imagining football,” the talk at the 2018 Sports Media and Technology conference was about testing new ideas and placing small bets. We expect to hear more on that today.
WHERE’S THE TECH SPENDING?: Following up on SBJ’s package this week examining when tech companies will start spending on sports, Facebook’s Peter Hutton on the opening panel talked about his company’s strategy: “There are so many opportunities across not just Facebook, but Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus. The real challenge is to prioritize, because there are so many different things that the sports industry can benefit from across that range of platforms.” Hutton said all the major social media giants are in a stage of “experimentation.”
THE WHITE ALBUM: The UFC’s Dana White and CBS’ Jim Rome have a long history that was clearly evident during a 30-minute interview/sparring session that kept the afternoon lively. White was forceful, light-hearted, convincing and introspective as he talked about building the UFC and his continued goals for the organization. Few speakers are in such command as White, who opened up about everything from the likely punishments of Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov after their melee in Las Vegas, to his depression following the sale of the UFC to Endeavor, to why it’s human instinct to appreciate fighting.
Among his comments:
On the visceral impact of the UFC: “We are in the ‘Holy Shit’ business.”
On his rivalry with boxing promoter Bob Arum: “He did his thing. His time is up.”
On Floyd Mayweather’s reputation among other fighters: “Everyone wants to see Floyd beat up. Everybody.”
After Rome asked if White is staying in the sport for the money and said, “Greed is good.”: “I don’t know about greed. It’s about kicking ass. There is a difference.”
WAIT, DID WE JUST SEE THAT?: We have been doing conferences at SBJ for more than 15 years, and few speakers were as free-flowing and outspoken as former NFL tight end Martellus Bennett. He clearly enjoys his life as a content producer and storyteller, and he freely says what’s on his mind. Many in the audience didn’t know how anyone could follow Dana White, but Bennett had the audience in the final session of the day.
Asked if he felt he ever needed to get team or league approval for his publicity and content initiatives: “I am not worried about the league. But the league doesn’t care about me.”
On his plans for more storytelling: “Some people call me the black Walt Disney.”
WITH A LITTLE LUCK: XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck said there are several reasons he decided to join WWE founder and CEO Vince McMahon’s effort to launch a new spring football league, including the fact that McMahon’s first try at the XFL was a dismal failure. “I like people who are self-aware enough to draw lessons from the past,” said Luck. A bigger factor, though, is the 40 million hard-core football fans that the new XFL believes are hungering for more of the game than they get in the fall and winter. Luck: “They have this void in their lives. They would watch more NFL. They would watch more college ball. But the season ends.”
FOCUS ON RSNs: Ted Griggs of NBC Sports Regional Networks said that while sports might be “the last and best reality television,” the network still is trying to find new ways to engage with customers. NBC Sports Regional Networks yesterday relaunched its app, now called MyTeams, which focuses on individual teams rather than regions. “We want to engage with a fan 24-hours-a-day outside of just the game time, which is something we haven’t been able to do as well as we’d like,” Griggs said. “It’s about engaging with our customers and fans on the platform they choose to be on.” Here’s the coverage from the Daily.
ON TAP FOR TODAY: We’ll lead off at 9 a.m. with ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro talking to SBJ’s John Ourand about challenges and opportunities, then launch into panel discussions about reaching consumers and content creation. We’ll finish the day with NBC’s Peter King talking with Charlie Ebersol and Hines Ward about the launch next spring of the Alliance of American Football.
MORE QUICK HITS:
“You always have to start with the consumer, and when you get a 30-second pre-roll, it’s terrible. Even 15 seconds is pretty terrible. We have to find the middle ground.” — Yahoo Sports Sarah Crennan
“There is some slippage and it is challenging, but I’m a big believer in the bundle and doing everything we can to support and reinforce it.” — NESN’s Sean McGrail
“We have to crack the code on ensuring passwords aren’t shared. We’ve retained a company to look at it and try to figure out how to suppress it, but it’s a bit of a whack-a-mole situation.” — Spectrum Networks’ Dan Finnerty
“We are still in the game there.” — Griggs, on the company’s media rights negotiations with the Chicago Cubs
“Proceed with extreme caution.” Finnerty, offering advice to the Cubs, who are considering launching their own network
ROOFTOP MAGIC: More than 50 event speakers and special guests braved the October chill to enjoy a VIP reception at the nearby Rooftop Bar54, which offers some of the coolest views of the city’s skyline. Among those spotted: Prouskaer’s Rob Freeman and Frank Saviano finding their building along the west side of the skyline; AAF’s Ebersol (attired in an AAF satin jacket) and Ward, Courtside Ventures Deepen Parikh, XFL’s Luck, MVP Index’s Kyle Nelson, CBS Sports’ Jeff Gerttula and more. On the menu: Margarita flatbread, roasted shrimp and chorizo chimichurri, smoke salmon on bagel chips, herb roasted New York sirloin, and a slider station. Event sponsor NeuLion had postcards and fidget spinners for attendees.
SEEN AND HEARD: Spotted having breakfast at Junior’s on Shubert Alley and 45th Street were newly minted XFL communications honcho Stephanie Rudnick, along with XFL media relations consultant Lou D’Ermilio and former ABC/NBC PR pro Adam Freifeld. And speaking of the XFL, when Luck left the stage after his one-on-one interview with SBJ’s Abe Madkour, he was buttonholed in the back of the room by longtime NFL PR chief Joe Browne…..Browne at his lunch table talked about his and his wife’s interest in the TV show “Friday Night Lights,” which led them to go to Texas years ago for a long weekend where they took in the high school football experience before a Seahawks-Cowboys game on Sunday. He also talked his memories of late Seahawks owner Paul Allen….NBC Sports’ Jim Bell reflecting on the sad passing of Patrick Baumann. Bell had dinner with Baumann just last week at the IOC meetings in Buenos Aires….Facebook’s Hutton has been in his gig for just a few months and hasn’t seen much more than the inside of a plane or train. He’s either traveling from his home in Paris to Facebook’s London office, or heading stateside to New York City or the company’s California headquarters. He plans to relocate to Cali in June … NBC Sports’ Greg Hughes talking to Griggs and Madkour about his trip to Baton Rouge last weekend for the Georgia-LSU football game.
SOCIAL ANIMALS: Thanks to everyone who helped keep the conversation going today. The hashtag #sbjsmt had 94 mentions and almost 900,000 impressions. Special thanks to frequent tweeters @ConvergenceTR, @Joefav, @urrutiadelpozo and @jasonmhendrix.
Here are a few tweets that caught our eye:
@danawhite: Thank you @jimrome and @sbjsbd
@JasonMHendrix: A great start to the day at #sbjsmt conference in NYC! Major players in the sports media industry sharing phenomenal knowledge!
@NadiaFlaim: My #SportsGirlLife is now in NY learning, validating, being inspired by @sbjsbd #sbjsmt conf. Sports Media & Tech is changing…how are we adapting or helping lead the transformation? Proud of the work @cbc @cbcsports does in the content space to remain #leader
@KirstenCorio: I’m not the biggest @ufc fan, but their numbers are ridiculously huge and enviable and @jimrome and @danawhite are super entertaining
@Matt77Rothman: I’m fortunate to have seen a lot influential people in sports speak over the years. NONE have been as candid, as entertaining or believed more in themselves/their product as Dana White
@chrislittmann: Great conversation. It’s striking how even across four sports and team vs league we are all tackling the same issues day-to-day for the most part
@ConvergenceTR: Word cloud for @sbjsmt panel discussions will be dominated by four words:
LET’S GO TO THE VIDEO: We tried a little something new this week, posting video excerpts of some speakers and panels on our social media channels. You can check out all of the videos we posted, plus a few extras that we didn’t post on social media, by visiting our new SBJ YouTube page.
YOUR THOUGHTS MATTER: If you’re in the room today, we hope you’ll contribute to the conversation. You can send questions to our session moderators by using the SMT app or by texting SBJSBD to 22-333.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: All the information you need about the conference — agenda, speakers, venue, etc. — can be found in the conference app.
BEHIND THE SCENES: We’ve got student volunteers helping us for this event from Columbia, San Diego State, Rochester, Manhattanville and Central Florida. Be sure to say hello when you check in.