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Volume 24 No. 156
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Wrapping up SMT and Esports: So long from SoCal!

Whew! What a couple of days. We know this sounds self-serving, but we’re going to say it anyway: The 2016 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology conference had a powerful lineup of speakers, good content and really good energy across one-and-a-half days. This was the first time that we’ve taken this conference to the Left Coast. Early vibes are that it won’t be the last.

BROTHER ACT: Much of the buzz on Day 2 of the conference centered on Universal Filmed Entertainment’s Jeff Shell, who opened the day with his brother, IMG College’s Dan Shell, to talk about sports, movies and growing up as brothers. But we were most impressed with the Shells’ mom, Susan, who had a seat in the front row. Susan laughed when moderator John Ourand said that he would try to keep the Shell boys in line. “Good luck,” she said. “I haven’t been able to do that for 51 years.” Soon enough, the two bickered over who was the better basketball player (Dan has never beaten his older brother in one-on-one; but the last time they played Dan was 11) and Jeff’s plan to enter a media bubble today. You see, Jeff has a meeting today that conflicts with the Dodgers’ NLDS game, so Dan noted that Jeff will be “going into his bubble” from 2:30-8:00pm PT, screening all calls and tuning out all media in an attempt to not hear any scores until he can settle in front of his TV tonight to watch a recording of the game. Dan: “It’s ridiculous.” Jeff: “I have my assistant screen all my calls. Anyone who engages me during this time, I begin any conversation with ‘please don't tell me what the Dodgers score is.’ And then there are only three or four people that can pierce that bubble.”

MOVIES BEHIND SPORTS: It wasn’t all family bickering. From his perch atop a movie studio, Jeff offered a unique view of the sports business. He has a long history in sports before moving over to feature films, handling the RSN business for Fox Sports and then Comcast. He said of the parallels between the movie and sports businesses, “The movie business will evolve like the sports business has, where you can watch on different devices in different places. But we’re way behind where the sports business is.”

THE SAX MAN: We’re jaded journalists. There’s not much that gets us going. But when you’re eating dinner in an L.A. restaurant next to one of your wife’s favorite musicians, even the most hardened journalist will soften a little bit… goo.gl/arbkwA

SPOTTED ON THE FOX LOT: Colin Cowherd stopped by Jamie Horowitz’s lunch table in the cafeteria at Fox Studios on Thursday, and you’ll never guess what they talked about: Ratings! They talked about ratings for Cowherd’s radio simulcast. They talked about ratings for Cowherd’s TV show. The talked about ratings for Cowherd’s podcast. FS1’s growing ratings was a big theme of Horowitz’s remarks at the conference on Wednesday, and it’s obvious that Fox is proud of them.

#NFL #TWITTER #PLEASED: The migration of live sports video to mobile, and how best to make money from it, was a main theme during The Digital Play panel Thursday morning. Twitter’s NFL deal was Example A for this, and we had the social media company’s head of sports content partnerships, Laura Froelich, on site to discuss it. “We’ve really been pleased with the coming to fruition of the dream we had,” she said. “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 pitched her company as the place where brands can improve loyalty with consumers. “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.”

#NFL #TWITTER #WE’LLSEE: One of the smartest minds in the business, NBC Sports Group’s Rick Cordella, has seen Twitter’s NFL numbers around the CBS games. Still, he said it will be “fascinating” to see what kind of effect Twitter has on his network when Twitter streams the NBC “Thursday Night Football” games later this season. “We’ve streamed the NFL since 2008,” he said. “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.” Chris Wagner, executive vice president for NeuLion, already has seen some positive effects from the deal. “We power the NFL Game Pass to follow your team on any device,” he said. “We see the Twitter activity driving more awareness that we can use to drive more subscriptions to the Game Pass.” Eric Weinberger, president of the Bill Simmons Media Group, on the NFL broadcasting games over Twitter: “It’s the right thing to do. 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.”

ESPORTS: This conference never devoted an afternoon to esports before. Heck, we didn’t even know what esports was a year ago. (We kid! We kid! … Well, kind of.) On Thursday, we devoted the entire afternoon to the esports forum, and were impressed with the size of the crowd and the passion they had. It’s clear there is a thirst for knowledge about what esports is and how media companies and sponsors can work in that space. Here are some of the more interesting comments we heard yesterday afternoon:

ARBY’S! ARBY’S! ARBY’S: One of the things that most impressed Eleague general manager Christina Alejandre after her league’s inaugural season was the way fans supported the league’s sponsors. She referenced one sponsor, Arby’s, that enjoyed “double digit lifts” in brand awareness because, she said, the fast food chain created a bond with the young-male fan base. “We had people in the audience chanting, ‘Arby’s!’,” she said. “How many sporting events do you go to where people are chanting names of sponsors? We had hundreds of thousands of tweets about the Arby’s commercials.”

WHAT WENT WRONG: Working around the schedules of other, completely unrelated tournaments in its chosen game title, “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” and dealing with frequent roster changes — and even entire teams moving to other organizations — were two of the most frequent problems Eleague officials had last season. "We had to make adjustments constantly,” Alejandre said. “With traditional stick-and-ball sports, you have a schedule for your season and it doesn't change.” ELeague made several changes to the concept for season two, including cutting the competition schedule from four nights weekly to two, and cutting the season from 10 weeks to five. That will mitigate player fatigue and simplify scheduling, she said.

THE ESPN OF ESPORTS: Twitch remains best positioned to benefit from the influx of e-sports interest, according to Dave Rosenberg, Chief Strategic Officer, Client Services for GMR Marketing. “Twitch is the ESPN of esports,” he said. “Just like ESPN has had other networks come in and get some viewer eyeballs, I think Twitch knows that will happen and will improve their product. We have to realize that’s a global audience and there will be competitors, but I think they will be successful.” Rosenberg called the recent spate of esports investments by traditional sports league owners a good sign. “I think it’s what the industry needs,” he said. “We think it will be a very positive thing for e-sports and gaming.”
By the way, we’ve set up a link for you to download a pdf of the extensive supporting material that Rosenberg used during his half-hour presentation.

ENGAGE: Everyone talks about “fan engagement” as one of the biggest benefits of esports. Yesterday, we heard numbers about that engagement, and it made our jaws drop. “Esports offers a level of engagement that doesn’t exist in traditional sports,” said Seton Kim, creative director at Troika. He then preceded to show a clip offering a fan’s view from a football stadium seat versus the first-person perspective of a video game. “Even from a floor seat at the game you’re a passive spectator,” he said. “But in esports we can see what the gamer sees, the moves they make, the choices they’re making. You can see their tactics and how we can improve our own games.” The best way to engage esports fans requires more than just putting out a broad marketing effort. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all group,” Rosenberg said. The key is to target different groups, whether they play games or watch others compete. “The ability to I.D. and target specific segments of esports fans is critical,” he said.

THEY SAID IT:
“We’re looking for a permanent workspace. Bill has been working out of his garage a lot.” – Weinberger, when asked what he’ll be focusing on in the next year.

“I learned two weeks ago that millennials take eight seconds to decide if they like something, while a goldfish takes nine seconds. So if you focus on millennials, you better be fast.” – Sportradar Founder and CEO Carsten Koerl on faster consumption patterns today.

“Fans can earn in-game currency for live streaming the competition on Twitch. Breakaway gamers will get paid to watch. They’ve turned spectating into active engagement.” – Kim, on how esports is turning pay-per-view on its head:

SOCIAL ANIMALS: We had great audience participation during the conference, including plenty of questions for our speakers and plenty of comments on social media. Here’s a special thanks to our most frequent tweeters yesterday: @SportsTechLaw, @CarmiAmanda, @EHallsports, and @GMRMarketing.

Here are a few of the tweets that caught our eye:
@nycsf: Had a great time! Met brilliant minds in #sports and fantastic business meetings. Thank you @sbjsbd
@CarmiAmanda: The ability to switch from 1st to 3rd person live would change how and what content I personally consume. Very cool! @danielfnovak
@AmandaShank: LOL to #sbjsmt playing Will Smith's "Wild Wild West" to close out the #esportsforum, fun space to continue to watch!
@AndyA3: Interesting data on #eSports by GMR--full report available at gmrmarketing.com/esportsforum
@colsey: Happy to see F1 at this conference. #sbjsmt. Pit pass for Austin pleeease
@joefav: Informal poll #sbjsmt on topic least relevant in 5 yrs. Ratings. Asked on every panel yest, measurement will be totally different
@AmbDana: Very proud of my brothers! Sports is imp for diplomacy: commercially and brings people together like nothing else.

ONLINE INTERVIEWS: Be sure to check out all of the videos we did from the SMT Live set, streaming on demand at smtlive.neulion.com. Among those added since yesterday: Dan Shell, Dan Novak and Michael Calderon.

COMING UP NEXT: We’ll see you Nov. 9-10 for the Momentum Sports Marketing Symposium in New York City.

THAT’S A WRAP: We’ll end with a story that brought the biggest laughs of the conference – a story of Jeff Shell’s bar mitzvah. (Shell’s mom confirmed it, so we know it’s true.) His 1978 bar mitzvah was scheduled the same day as a Dodgers-Yankees World Series game. Shell has always been a huge Dodgers fan. In fact, he was a key figure in Fox’s acquisition of the Dodgers in ’98. He was distraught that he would miss the game, so he came up with a plan. He positioned two friends with transistor radios at the back of the synagogue – one on each aisle. The friend on the left was assigned to the Dodgers; the friend on the right was assigned to the Yankees. At the end of each half inning, the boys would hold up their fingers, giving Shell the score. We asked Shell’s mom if he got in trouble for this. She said she didn’t find out about it until long after the fact.