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How a New Alliance of Companies Aims to Maximize Athlete-Driven Content

The trio of athlete media and marketing platforms converge to use their strengths in tandem to provide a more comprehensive outline for athlete media campaigns.

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Photo credit: opendorse

(opendorse is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.)

Today’s athletes play within a world that craves content at an ever-growing rate. They just so happen to exist in a time when social media is rapidly expanding and has vastly evolved since tweets, posts, and shares were being touted as part of the new communication boom.

And yet, professional athletes have still been trying feverishly to figure out the correct content strategy to follow, or they have turned to untrusted third parties to broker sponsorship deals.

Luckily, for a fortunate crop of athletes, they will be able to benefit from a full rendering of player-driven social platforms.

This week, Australian-based athlete media and marketing platforms PlayersVoice and Pickstar are joining forces with U.S.-founded opendorse to help jointly promote and educate the market on the Athlete Generated Media category (AGM).

READ MORE: Inside the Huddle: Monetizable Social Assets With Jonah Ballow

While each company aims to help athletes on social, they all serve distinct functions that help contribute to a well-rounded social dynamic. According to opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence, the different roles that each company plays will ultimately allow the trio to maximize each other’s core strengths.

“All three of these companies will be moving at once all together,” said Lawrence. “The most digital-savvy athletes are getting requests from the top sponsors and brands to partner with them. This fluid partnership will allow for athletes’ content to be more forward facing and seamlessly integrated than ever before.”

The companies will all work together to maximize content flow. PlayersVoice celebrates elite athletes — and in partnership with them, have built the new home for rich and raw sports storytelling.

PickStar works with aligning with brands and companies to help forge campaigns that are a natural fit for today’s athlete. The site helps to facilitate athletes to be utilized as guest speakers, social influencers, on-site marketing analysts and more. The partnership between these three companies will generate even more relationships for PickStar to work with in order to maximize opportunities for athlete involvement.

Opendorse helps to facilitate the infrastructure to help athletes publish content from partners. The platform exists to help athletes publish content easily and seamlessly. In turn, it allows players to be more accessible and engaging with their fans. With real-time analytics being supplied, the company also allows for partners to see up-to-date results on how their content is performing, thus helping them to stay up to date on their social strategies.

READ MORE: Inside the Huddle: Talking Paid Social With Angela Welchert

Essentially, PlayersVoice is on the forefront of athlete-led content creation, PickStar is providing a marketplace to match athletes with brands, while opendorse is serving as a behind-the-scenes content distribution platform. With these three media companies working in tandem, it allows for growth towards athlete-driven media and more authentic content being created.

According to Lawrence, the process of aligning with the Australia-based companies was a natural fit.

“The process was forged over the last few months,” said Lawrence. “The three of these companies all shared a common vision as the goal is to work together to maximize athlete success. We shared a united front during the building process. It allows for each of us to specialize in what we each do best under one common mission.”

For these companies, the timing aligned well to come together and help to grow the current and future athletic superstars while also acting as agents of evolution and forward thinking within the social media landscape.

“It’s a challenging task ahead,” said Lawrence. “Yet it is a strong example of the maturation of the market, where it is big enough that you don’t necessarily have to do all of the things yourself. We’ve got two partners in this alignment who specialize in their field of athlete-driven social media. I’m excited what this means for our industry.”

(opendorse is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.)

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Dallas Cowboys’ Digital Team Takes on Texas-Sized Storytelling

With one of the largest social media audiences in sports, there really isn’t an offseason for the Dallas Cowboys’ digital team.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

(*Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports)

There are many superlatives to describe the Dallas Cowboys organization. On top of the five Super Bowl victories, the Cowboys are valued at $4.8 billion, the highest figure of any professional sports team in the world. The Cowboys are also on or near the top of the NFL, as well as the global pro sports landscape, in terms of total audience on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Telling a story to that big of an audience can be daunting. It’s a challenge, however, that the digital team of Taylor Stern (Content Strategist), Shannon Gross (Director of Content Strategy) and Dana Byrnes (Social Media Coordinator) continually meets. With their combined experience, the group has come to understand how to approach the NFL offseason from a digital perspective. When the season ends on the field, the digital team begins to recap the team’s accomplishments while being sensitive to how the season ended as well as personnel changes. There isn’t too much time to dwell on the past though with things like free agency, schedule releases and the NFL Draft quickly approaching.

“As far as preparing and getting ready for other events that are coming, you kind of hit the ground running right away,” Stern says. “It’s all immediate. For some of the other smaller events such as the combine that fall in between, we have game plans set. I think it’s just having consistency in the offseason that we’ve really found to be the key because during the season you can’t really prepare for it because you’re so focused on what’s happening in the moment.”

In recent years, the Cowboys’ digital success during the regular season and postseason has been best exemplified by the storytelling in their video work. Particularly, in the buildup to the 2016 playoffs, the Cowboys released a series entitled “#FinishThisFight,” which consisted of short-form documentaries about the struggles notable players overcame to obtain their current success. The series reached over four million people combined on social media.

“It was really unique because, for the first time ever, we got the players to tell their own stories headed into those playoffs and then actually followed up in the off-season,” Stern recalls. “I was lucky to be a part of a team that went and did this documentary that we actually won an Emmy for. Following up for 2018’s playoff run, we went with #FinishThisFight again, and we had great videos once again.”

2018’s #FinishThisFight included a video simply called “Round 2” featuring Cowboys fan and world champion boxer Errol Spence Jr. That video had a reach of over two million on Facebook.

While the Cowboys have the largest audience on Facebook, the digital team puts the most effort, in terms of strategy, into the team’s Instagram presence. That page includes no sponsored content or promotional posts. As a result, the team has seen more growth on Instagram in the past year than on any other platform.

“I don’t think that as a brand we’ve ever been flashy with contests or things of that nature,” Stern says. “Instagram is so focused on images, and we have great photographers that we want to show off and make images stand out instead of being buried against an ad.”

Something that you will find on the Cowboys’ social pages is content created through the team’s partnership with Team Infographics. The digital team and Team Infographics work together to create templates for score updates and player of the game posts as well as things like schedule releases. It can all be modified and rendered on the fly through the company’s easy-to-use CMS.

“Team Infographics are absolutely incredible and the customer service that they’ve been able to provide us is unlike any other vendor I’ve ever worked with,” Stern says. “Doing graphics in-game is a huge part of the game-day experience on social media. The PSD files were messy [before Team Infographics]. I think it’s heaven-sent because of the fact that it’s all just on a web page, all custom and unique to us. It’s the best system I’ve used.”

Now, just a few short months away from another NFL season, the Cowboys digital team is settling in for another year of churning out high-quality content. This approach can be an example for aspiring sports professionals to keep working hard and trying to outdo themselves.

“Don’t take your foot off the gas,” Stern advises. “It’s really easy to get discouraged in this business. But just keep grinding, keep working and keep changing and adapting and growing, and you’ll get to where you want to be in time.”

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Viz Arena’s Down & Distance Gives Ravens Fans More to Cheer About

Vizrt’s game-changing technology is a vital storytelling tool for the Baltimore Ravens and soon could be throughout professional football.

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Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

(*VIZRT is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

The NFL’s Baltimore Ravens know a lot about meeting goals on and off the field. Since 2000, the team has won two Super Bowl, two AFC Championships and five AFC North division titles. Now, as a three-year, $120 million renovation nears completion, the Ravens want to make M&T Stadium the very best place in the U.S. to experience football.

Vizrt’s Viz Arena live sports enhancement solution is a vital part of the upgrade. Both a fan enhancement tool and a monetization solution, Viz Arena enables the addition of augmented reality graphics, including virtual ads, through image-based tracking.

The sweeping renovation also includes a high-density WiFi network, larger and higher-resolution in-stadium video screens and a completely overhauled control room with the most advanced video production solutions available today.

With Viz Arena and their new broadcast equipment, the Ravens can now give fans an even more immersive in-stadium experience through cleaner, more professional in-stadium programming. The team also tacked on a package called Down & Distance, a software application of Viz Arena that inserts a yellow first-down marker, making the line appear painted on the field rather than digitally imposed. This is the first application of its kind available in 1080p or 4K without any upscaling or complex image processing.

For Vice President of Broadcasting and Gameday Productions Jay O’Brien and his production staff, this means enhancing replays and in-stadium entertainment to include first-down line capabilities for the first time.

It’s become the standard for watching football and has completely changed the viewing experience,” explains O’Brien. “Fans aren’t looking at sticks and the chain any more. They look to the video boards. The yellow line has changed fans’ viewing patterns, so it has to be accurate and reliable. We can’t afford any mistakes.”  

The Viz Arena Down & Distance tool can also seamlessly and unobtrusively integrate locked-in virtual graphics or ads on or around the field of play. They can be fully integrated into a production at a specific location or tied to the lines as they move.This versatility allows multiple sponsors and graphics to change throughout the game. It adds an extra incentive for sponsors and another revenue stream for the organization.

“What’s surprising is how much Down & Distance has changed the way we produce our content,” O’Brien continues, “It gives us in the control room information in real time that’s vital to enhance the in-stadium fan experience and get more value from our programming.”

In the past, O’Brien worked with other similar video solutions that didn’t live up to his team’s needs or expectations. After using Viz Arena’s Down and Distance for a short time, however, he could see that the end product was of a higher quality altogether. Not only that, it’s cost-effective: Down and Distance depends on live or archived footage instead of cameras and doesn’t require expensive, labor-intensive deployment.

As an added bonus, the solution only took O’Brien and his team roughly 25 minutes to set up and about the same time to learn how to use. All told, O’Brien expects the solution to be a much bigger part of the fan experience landscape in the near future.

“Vizrt wants to innovate with us. They want a larger footprint in the NFL space, and that’s sure to happen as more teams become aware of what Viz Arena and its applications can do,” he says. “I’ve been a cheerleader for this product, and we want to stretch our use of the solution even further next year.”

For more information Vizrt’s Viz Arena and Down & Distance application, please visit www.vizrt.com or email sports@vizrt.com.

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Connect&GO’s RFID Solutions Improve Live Events For Fans And Venues

The founders of Connect&GO brought several uses for radio-frequency identification technology to the world of live sports and entertainment.

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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

(*Connect&GO is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology can have many practical uses. In the past, Anthony Palermo has developed RFID solutions within the realms of healthcare, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and military operations. In 2012, Palermo and Dominic Gagnon joined forces to found Connect&GO in Montréal, Québec. Connect&GO provides RFID solutions for sports and entertainment events and venues all over the world.

Seven years ago, Palermo and Gagnon had their first major success within the sports industry with Montréal’s Saputo Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Montréal Impact.

At the time, Saputo Stadium comfortably sat about 16,000 fans, but a plan was in process to add 5,000 more seats. The venue enlisted Palermo and Gagnon to find a way to attract more fans while simultaneously making game entry  as easy as possible. Their solution was a plastic key that fans could scan in an express lane to enter the stadium on game days.

“The concept was fans could have their own key to the stadium,” Palermo says. “We wanted to make fans feel like the stadium belonged to them.”

Every seventh fan that scanned their key would even see their name and photo appear on a monitor welcoming them to the stadium. Fans could also scan the keys at several points around the stadium to enter contests, utilize photo kiosks and collect points that were redeemable at the fan shop and other areas tied into the stadium. It was from this success that Palermo and Gagnon realized they had a valuable tool for access control as well as cashless payments and experiential activations. From there, Connect&GO was born.

“We personally believe, as a company and as founders of the company, that technology should only be there to make an experience better, not to impose on an experience,” Palermo says. “What we’re trying to do is look at guest experiences and ask how do we make it a better? How do we make people see the value in being a VIP or a season ticket holder?

“What we don’t want to do is have people use technology for technology’s sake. We don’t want to drive people to an app. We want to maximize the amount of time that people are using to actually take in the game or show. That’s a personal mission that we have.”

This focus on the guest experience is what Palermo believes sets Connect&GO apart from other RFID solutions providers in the space.

“RFID just happened to be the technology that as a team we mastered over the years, but it really wasn’t about that.” he says. We ask questions such as, ‘How do people enter? Is the parking frustrating? Is getting through security frustrating?’ What we’re trying to do is make everything that much easier, and it gets people to just enjoy their experience as well.”

After the Saputo Stadium project, Connect&GO partnered with the Osheaga Festival, Canada’s largest music festival. From there, the company has performed activations with brands including Pepsi and HBO at events like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, Comicon and SXSW. In 2017, Sports Illustrated named Connect&GO a company that will “change the way you watch sports.” Moving forward, Connect&GO has activations lined up with the Rogers Cup and the AFL.

As Connect&GO continues to focus on ways to improve the guest experience through access, payments and experiential solutions, look for their footprint within the sports industry to continue to grow exponentially in the near future.

Learn more about Connect&GO and how they connect the fan experience at live games in their latest whitepaper here.

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