AAF’s Ebersol points to digital engagement during opening weekend
A few days after the weekend launch of the Alliance of American Football, Charlie Ebersol’s enthusiasm had little to do with higher-than-expected television ratings for the Saturday night debut on CBS, when an average of 3.25 million viewers tuned into the games.
Rather, Ebersol pointed to the level of digital engagement over the Feb. 9-10 weekend, which he said grew by 20 percent from Saturday to Sunday. He boasted about the technical proficiency of the league’s app, which he said delivered such fast speeds that it consistently was two plays in front of the television feed.
“The traditional metrics that everyone is obsessed with — ticket sales and TV ratings — those things are ultimately important,” he said. “Right now, people are sampling. For me, engagement shows that people are committing to it — taking time to open up our app or get on our website and engage in all the various subplots.”
Ebersol said digital engagement is the main metric that interests him, which included having the AAF make up 11 of the top 20 trending topics on Twitter on Saturday night.
“We were into the seven figures of users on our website opening night, and that number grew by 20 percent by Sunday night,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out how people are consuming our video. We added a video feature Sunday night as a test, where people could watch the raw Skycam feed with an open mike and no announcers. That got six-figures worth of engagement, as well. We are in the process of figuring out what our products are capable of doing and how fans are using them. Right now, we are very happy with what the first couple of days got us.”
Ebersol said he was not put off by the small crowd that took in Sunday night’s game in Arizona, saying he is confident that crowds will come so long as the league continues to deliver quality football.
“Crowd size is not something that we’re measuring right now,” he said. “Everyone else wants to use that metric. The press want to use that metric. I’m sure our competitors want to use that metric. Our business model is not based on ticket sales. If you were to talk to my board or my investors right now, they are over the moon. Our digital engagement was astronomically higher than we thought it was going to be.”
Ebersol also praised the way CBS covered the game, saying the network provided it a “level of respect” that gave the new league gravitas. He pointed to the nearly 30 cameras covering the game, including two Skycams, pylon cameras and high-speed cameras. He also pointed to the CBS talent, which included veterans Spero Dedes, Trent Green and Tiki Barber.
“There are two ways to cover a football game: There’s a way to do it on the cheap, and there’s a way to do it properly,” Ebersol said. “This was an all-out and incredibly professional job by them. I owe Sean [McManus, CBS Sports chairman] a great deal of gratitude.”