FOE6: the future of storytelling and sports

Liveblogged – there will be mistakes

Throughout the history of mass media, sports programming has been an innovator. In today’s era of online circulation, transmedia storytelling, and 24/7 access to engaging with sports stars, teams, and fellow fans, sports franchises could be argued as the most immersive of storyworlds–with drama playing out in real-time, and the “narrative world” being our own. What is driving innovation in how sports tell their stories, and get their fans more engaged than ever, through multiple media platforms? How does operating as a media franchise in our everyday world set sports apart from entertainment properties? How are sports empowered by being “real,” and what constraints does that place on what they can do as well? How are talent engaged to be part of the storytelling? And what innovations are seen as sports are extended wholly into the fictional realm, whether through licensed extensions or various forms of “sports entertainment”?

Abe Stein, researcher at Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab; graduate student, Comparative Media Studies, MIT; columnist, Kill Screen
Peter Stringer, Senior Director of Interactive Media, Boston Celtics (Basketball)
Jena Janovy, Enterprise Editor,
Jamie Scheu, associate content director, Hill Holliday
Moderator: Alex Chisholm, transmedia producer and Co-Founder and Executive Director, Learning Games Network

AC: one of things about entertainment is an areas that drives innovation in media, we are here to discuss how sports have changed, how they engage with fans etc. (asked some questions about sport)
(the panelists introduced themselves)

AC: want to start…PS, having grown up in NEw England, being a fan, then coming into the org, how does the fan experience inform what you do?

PS: i think it is a huge part of it…I look at what others doing,m not just in sport, also entertainment, big brands ec, when it comes down to having a culture, what are the Celtics to our fans., we are 17x world champions, 60 years. Our brand and product are the players. Knowing that history and being indoctrinated is very’s about not wanting to screw that up. What our fans expect is different to other teams. It is the history etc. We have a built in advantage as people are passionate from the get go, people have an emotional attachment. I have my dream job..but can’t ever escape it…players change…and when they do, they are a heel..but there is the history there as well. They guy goes from good guy to bad guy..having the pre-conext, growing up with the team, if you had it without the background….then having that context, and having the glory restored is a big part of being a success in this role, you know what the fans expect. YOu look at teams and players as a brand but the fans don’t look at it this way, what we are selling is emotions. It is about playing on emotional triggers that are triggered by personalities. Having that understanding makes me success.

AC: as it is such a brand, and such history and players, but JJ, a lot of what you do is not superstar athletes. With big ones, there is a lot of image making that goes into it. Would you have a lot of access to larger celebrities, the real instead of the mythology
JJ: sometimes, but often the best stories come when we do not have access and the best reporters come to own conclusion of the subject. TV rely much more on access; radio is different, relies sound so access needed. Different platforms have different needs. Reporting, investigative journalism works different. We work closer to TV as well in last few years. We are at a place where we think about story first rather than platform first, so we think digitally, about what is the best story, what is the best treatment no matter the platform. There is a lot of energy and effort into thinking about storytelling as platform has merged…the people are growing closer in working relationship and what the platforms can bring to a story. We are really focusing efforts on playing to each other stories strengths..we sit down at ideas session and collaborate about what is the best platform to reach the fan. It starts with the fan, about where you are, the interests is our responsibility to find you where you are. yes, come to the bars and watch but engage in conversation on digital platform etc.

AC: looking at backchannel, is there a divide in talking about sports fans and fans of other media. Why, and what can we learn?

AS: a great question. I wrote a piece called geeks vs jocks…there are a minority in sports studies looking at video games. My hunch is that is has a lot to do with certain forms of pop culture content has been embraced by mainstream culture. There is a divide in how it is approached. There is an historical tension. I think it is important to look at the specificities of sport culture that may be different from other cultures, to look at the formal differences. A good example (off top of head)…about sports broadcast..there are layers of information, the stats and the data etc.

AC: one of the big difference is a lot of pop culture is fixed artifact..but sport has a season arc. So looking at the Sports Cave (watching all the baseball games)

JS: last year we had 2 people and we had 9 people this year. with a survival style game..there is potential for baseball overload. But they are chosen because they are so passionate about the sport. I think sport drives fandom because of the strength of narrative over season, over series, over games etc. The way we tell those stories, the real time broadcast, it hooks the fans. In others, the fandom is just as strong, not ness for brands. Yes, consumption of baseball in the Cave can be overwhelming but they are getting closer to the sport they love, players come in every day, they interact and never get to see it otherwise. We share with other fans and brings people to life and adds dimensions.

AC: going back to PS, getting into data analysis. So how do we use the stats to inform how we programme? (metrics on platforms)

PS: it is such a nascent field. On a basic level, website traffic. plus 6.8m followers on fb, 830k on twitter, 220k on Instagram etc. Are they bots, how do they relate to each other. THere are lots of questions…the numbers sound great. I will tell my next boss how great i did at growing numbers. But it is so new, so saying there is a science is a little silly. There are 2 ways of generating revenue..we sell tickets and we have partners. We want to get the partners in front of the audience we have. Anything I do from digital etc we are still trying to build audience for partners. We wil have live chat with…we brought the players to the fans, allowed them access to ask questions. How do you judge success. We had 6k people. So can we sell that to a partner and generate revenue. We bring things to fans they can’t get anywhere else and that is what fans are asking and demanding of us. The access was determined previously by media and now team is own media channel and at first you think it is a massive undertaking. but tech allows stories in realtime. sometimes it is a short story. We were playing in playoffs…if we had won a match in Miami we went straight to the Finals…there was mesage on board to pack for week. I took photo – one of my most popular. We have that access that we did not. But we sink time money and resources to platforms and are judged on the revenue that can be created

AC: How can we make non-pro-sports narratives more viable? Moving away from competition as highest good

JJ: Find great stories. Telling the core human stories. I think we do… eg police raid story last week on a gambling operation on youth football…(defied what youth sports was about, about innocents) you had adults waging on children. It really was an afront to sensibilities. There is a whole world engaged on sports that have nothing to do with profession that are waiting for their stories to be told. We have done lots of things…we get loads of ideas from plenty sites, blogs etc, high school and youth sports etc

JS: brands have stepped up to support non-professional sports. You see brands telling stories about sports that don’t focus on competitive aspect. Puma in spain and bike rides – about the camaraderie…Red Bull is a good example, how they have built up sports from nothing, they have created the entire experience. As tech and platforms evolve, they did not have to go through major networks, they did it on YT.

JJ: you see lots of stories on the web, telling non-pro sports, about achievements etc

AS: I have to jump in. If you look at the coverage, it is skewed along gender, geographic, specific sports etc. We looked at gender in sports video games how there is a profound lack of gender represented.

JJ: you have to serve sports fans what they want. They want to know what they want to know. People have been following their sports…

AS: I think markets are shaped by the content that is served etc.

AC: look at the gender of fans. Women do 45% of football fans…(and other sports audience stats).

AS: How many women are watching the NFL, tuning into the Olympics. It is a hard sell to a mainstream games publishers to make a WNBA game etc. There are audiences not been catered to. The problem is systemic, to what extent are sports open or closed

PS: we don’t offer a WNBA..there are teams that do it. Online it is about 75% male. We have looked at Pinterest to try and serve that (but only 3k fans). We are looking at what we are offering there, is it jewelry. We do some of that. In other markets, they do other things, like girls night out, Sounds like a marketing promotion to get girls,…but it is just to sell tickets. You will see teams collaborating more to sell tickets across the channels. In terms of underserved market and the female market, they see the sport different. COming to the TV garden is a social experience. It’s not that they are not as passionate, but they have different experience.

JJ: the female sports fan are to homogenous. There are different ways. It has been interesting to see the launch of ESPNW…we are trying to reach a market. Women spend money on the sports…and ESPN has made a commitment in terms of talent, commitment, to show what is going on in women’s sports.

AC: there are questions on backchannel..about social media and access to athletes.

JS: there is much less of a barrier. The athletes are beginning to build own brands. That benefits teams and partners. It can be a risk, generally good though. Fans have a perceived closer relationship with their fave athletes. But they don’t ness have media training and can be issues.

PS: we have done media training…the players are in situation where wherever they are they can run into a fan and be talked about online. They know about not being silly online…but the fans tweet about players not taking photos of them etc. They can’t be the public persona all the time. When it comes down to fans being a broadcast outlet..if they let their guard down , that is a huge issue. And that is what the media training turned into. Having travelled with the team, there is the locker and the plane, the only places where they are private. That is what they worry about more than anything

AS: thinking about fantasy sports and games.

PS: the guys look at these fantasy stats. They are dialed into it…they are very competitive.

AC: looking at things that play out in social media. So Sandy hit NY, and whether to run the marathon or not came up. And the run that was self-organised

JJ: What the NY marathon meant was not just an opp to heal and a financial one. So a lot of questions being raised, not just by reporters, but people who were running or were on the streets…as the week unfolded…there were lots of questions asked. Why were generators ready to heat the media tents…why were the police needed on streets when they needed to help the recovery. THey were being asked on social media and pressure built. Instead of declaring a decision early in week it was not cancelled and many runners came to the city and found themselves on Friday afternoon finding they were not running. So they organised a run…and their own marathon…they ran through the streets. They also organised relief efforts. They gave up hotel rooms, donated to those who needed somewhere to stay. it was an amazing story to watch. It was one of the more compelling human stories of the year.

AC: What is the future of the relationship between sports and computer games. From the NBC side, one of the challenges of the Olympics, they saw games etc as a licensing opportunity rather than a rights issue. IT was given to a tiny company that has held onto it and it limits things like NBC from developing things. There is the different rightsholders..the number of people involved in granting rights and authorities makes it difficult And on amateur sports, more complications in rights

PS: when sports rights, it is not just broadcast it is about digital rights. When I try and market, these are things that TNT/ABC etc looking for the same things, You will have google and facebook as well who will want to own rights. It is coming at a time when teams can create content as well. We have to be careful when someone pays rights and what we do is not competitive to those who own the rights. It will become a larger and larger issue as more rights deals are done. and there will be new rights. The expectation from fan is they want to listen and watch on mobile., different ways etc. We have concepts of marketing territories. Eg in 75 miles I can offer it on the mobile, for next 75m then can pay more, Outside 150m then can’t do anything as NBA has the rights. This is how they can protect how teams can market in their own areas. It protects national rights and teams against each other. Some of it makes no sense. Often when digital and social if I go to the league with an idea, often told no. So for forthcoming mobile app, I can’t have highlights of game as league are going to monetise it.

AS: again in book, about athletes rights, eg NCAA football games and the ‘athletes’ and how they can associate with commercial things….large groups of collaborative users edit the files to get likenesses in the NCAA video games…it has thrown some challenges at games.

AC: has there been discussion of TV around the Fan Cave?

JS: can’t answer directly,…but the volume of content that comes out meets and achieves a TV show. There are benefits in not doing it that way..when we don’t have to deal with producers., we can reach the same audience, we can be a lot more nimble.

AC: why are global prosports a niche in the US and why are US pro-sports not global? (backchannel questions)

JJ: it is becoming more global, in young audiences. It is fun to sit in office to hear a roar through office..there is a growing interest in international football (soccer). from a long form journalism perspective, we spend a lot of time talking about the best sports stories to cover on a global basis. We have a lot of international experience, there is a growing spanish, international audience. We did a story on Messi (plays for Barcelona). Considered maybe the best player in world right now. At age of 13, father took him to Spain and he became a professional player. We went to his home town, and looked at how he tries to stay connected with home…when he’s playing overseas. Had international interest. The same reporter has become the cricket expert. Has done some amazing storytelling around cricket, the future of test cricket etc. Stories have resonated with fans and with US audiences.We are looking for opportunities.

PS: the US pro-sports has a large international reach. 50% of traffic is international. Roughly the same on Facebook. There are more FB fans in Manila than in Boston. So you see players going to these places. We are doing a ballot, and we are opening it up to China etc. THe NBA especially may be the most international reaching. We go overseas to play exhibition games, the sport has played league games overseas.

JS: we measure but don;t look as a primary measure, international reach. We look closely at level of engagement. We are making sure we hit our suite spot in the US.

AC: so questions on board…have any of you seen a changing narrative of the stories around sports. Fans reconcile the myth across channels. One angle is doping…another is the human interest stories around the Games. Rather than the sport itself.

PS: we had a judo Games athletes last night…no-one would have noticed her at the games. It is up to the rights holders to build the stories around the athletes…the opportunity is to build an emotional connection with the players. That’s what we do, as rights holders to try and do that.

JJ: narratives change for a variety of reasons. BUt they can change from reporting. It takes diligence from reporters to dig and uncover additional elements and truths/lies etc. So the Replacement referees for the football..there was chaos. There was this universal thinking about who these refs were. So we started talking about this story…and the reporters went out..and we decided to tell the story of the refs and the weeks of hell that they had gone through. They would not talk until after the agreement, a number shared stories that humanised them and showed the other side to the story. There was a degree of empathy that emerged, that changed the understanding and altered the course of the narrative. They change for a variety of reasons…and for pure reporting

PS: access to athletes is nothing like it was. Reporters no longer travel with the players. There is a proliferation of media along with cutting down the access to journalists..if writers has the same access. They don’t hang out anymore (players and journalists). PS does not hang out with them either. it is a lot harder now. Athletes have a better chance now of creating a myth that does not exist. One of our big promotions has been banner moments telling the sport through fans eyes. That sort of access has changed the dynamic of it as well. It is not just the reporters eyes now, nor the players, the fans are part of the narrative.

JS: to wrap up, as the sports narratives change, we will only see more depth. Fan involvement will only get stronger. While journalism is strong, the front door is closing but many side doors are opening.

JJ: I think they thing that strikes me is how much drives innovation in the way we tell stories, Not just tech and mobile, but the products you see that let athletes tell their own stories…seeing a change, an evolution towards different audiences, a growing audiences, more international, women etc, look for content personlisation opportunities. Excited about the direction the long form space is taking …it has been a challenge that create templates and story telling devices..that lets you play with stuff that you see, It is about telling great stories, not just the news…it is about making you stop and engage with a long form piece of action…those are opportunities we look for regularly and we are fortunate that we have passionate journalists…..

AS: I would mostly say that I was happy that sports media had a seat at the table….what is useful that bridging the divide is useful..

PS: the things that strike me about job has changed dramatically, how teams told story, to athlete and now fans. There are different things that are true or not…last night for the first time we had fan tweets showing in the arena. It was a difference experience at the game. Now people can put their opinion to 18k people at the game, That is a unique experience you can’t get elsewhere. And the athlete having followers on SM, getting a response is like the new age autograph. Fans feel they know the players..and now there is more. They have opp to craft brand and story around themselves and that is the new age of storytelling in sports.

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