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Meet the New Creative Team for the Alliance of American Football

Thanks to a digital team filled with fresh faces and new ideas, a new professional football league is about to take off.

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The Alliance of American Football (AAF), a new eight-team professional football league with strong backing, kicks off its first season on February 9. With that being just a few short months away, naturally, we are seeing the league quickly build out its staff with some quality names from across the sports business spectrum.

On the digital creative side, the AAF has brought in a veteran designer and content creator, Christopher Stoney, as its first creative director.

Stoney spent two years with the University of Central Florida athletic department, where he took on the role of assistant director of digital media. Knights fans have likely seen quite a bit of his work in their social feeds over the last few years during the program’s rise to prominence. Then, early in 2018, Stoney realized a lifelong dream of joining the NFL ranks as a graphic designer for the Seattle Seahawks.

During his time in Seattle, Stoney made contact with Ben Rose — the AAF’s director of marketing — as well as the organization’s budding leadership team, and was eventually offered the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Getting to work for the Seattle Seahawks was a dream come true,” Stoney said while reflecting on his experience. “I spoke to Ben Rose and we spoke in-depth about the league and about some stuff they have coming up. What he was telling me was blowing me away in terms of what they were looking to do creatively for marketing, social and digital. My eyes just lit up because it was everything that I was hoping to do professionally.”

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

Stoney began working on freelance projects for the AAF’s email marketing campaign, website, and the original eight teams in the league. At that point, the AAF was very happy with Stoney’s work and asked him to lead its creative services on a full-time basis.

Needless to say, Stoney is incredibly excited for the opportunity to build the league’s brand, as well as those of its teams, from the ground up.

“I look at it like there are nine brands (the league and the eight teams) that nobody really knows much about right now. So, that’s nine opportunities to impress somebody, to capture somebody’s attention, to deliver information and get someone excited for football. So, having nine opportunities to do that is just unbelievably exciting. You hear a lot about startup culture where people are just having fun and working hard, and that’s every bit of what it’s like working with the AAF.”

One of Stoney’s first tasks as the AAF’s creative director was bringing on two full-time designers to join him at the league offices in San Francisco and Tampa, Florida.

WATCH: Using Data & Analytics: Where to Start and How to Drive Value

“When I was going through a list of people that had applied, I was looking for people that were young, that were energetic, that were excited to be a part of something that was going to be brand new. More than anything, I was looking for someone who was capable of building a brand and owning it. I wanted someone who could take something that looked like it was heading down one road and bring it another way. “

The first position went to Dan Goldfarb, a designer whose portfolio includes big names such as STN Digital and Fox Sports.

Goldfarb wowed Stoney, in particular, with a brand study in his portfolio based on the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Stoney explained why this piece stuck with him.

“My favorite thing about that is he didn’t lean on any current styles of the L.A. Rams. He didn’t take anything that they’ve already done or created. He didn’t use them as a guide to make something. He took the Rams, stripped them of all of their brand and then built a new brand based off what he thought of it. So, right then and there, that was like a checkbox in my mind. This guy has never had someone to really give him a creative direction to build a brand, but he’s already got something in his portfolio that tells me that he could build a brand if he’s given that opportunity.”

Stoney also decided on bringing in Demetrius “Meech” Robinson, a University of Michigan alumnus who has worked with Rutgers and the Florida Gators in the past.

In addition to his past full-time gigs, Robinson’s various passion projects in his portfolio convinced Stoney that he was ready for this role.

“The one that really jumped out to me,” Stoney said, “was this one where he highlighted a lot of notable women in sports, and he made each of these designs that encapsulated the emotion of the subjects. It really spoke to me on how exciting it was to see this project that he had branded himself. It really showed me that he had an overall grasp of what good branding looks like for 2018 in digital media.”

Speaking with Degarb and Robinson for the first time solidified for Stoney that they would fit right in with the AAF’s culture.

“Right off the bat, I knew I had the two absolute top candidates,” he said. “They’re both excited. They were both really interested in what the Alliance was doing differently from other leagues, and they were both just hungry and wanting to create. It was phenomenal.”

READ MORE: Pac-12 Network Grows Viewership Thanks to Cross-Platform Integration 

With the league only fairly recently releasing logos, names, and colors for the eight teams taking part in the first season, Stoney and company have faced an uphill battle in creating the league’s digital brand. They have created something unique, however, that when complete, it will reflect the brand of football that the league hopes to put on the field: speed, precision, and excitement.

“It’s really hard to take eight or nine logos and color schemes and then make six months worth of content,” Stoney emphasized. “That’s basically what we’ve had to do. So, what I’ve tried to do is take a step back and look at everything from a macro scale. When I think of a new football league like the Alliance, that’s going to really be based on technology and speeding up the flow of the game. How can I tell that story in a brand? So what I’m looking to do is really emphasize the technological aspect of everything; the speed of not only our players, but of the game being sped up with less commercial breaks, no kickoffs or extra point kicks or anything like that.”

The key takeaway is excitement. The league is excited for the new brand of football that will begin the Saturday after the Super Bowl. Stoney is excited for the task ahead in building this brand alongside Goldfarb and Robinson. Curious new fans, too, should be excited about what this group is building.

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

Digital Media

Inside the Huddle: Talking Paid Social with Angela Welchert

For Angela Welchert, a social media partnerships lead at IBM, paid social has become an intregral part of her job and the company’s overall strategy.

Front Office Sports

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On February 22, a handful of digital media professionals from across the industry will converge on New York City for the first in our Huddle Series. Participants will get the chance to learn from these speakers and grow their knowledge of five specific areas within digital media: paid social, content distribution, platform strategy, monetizing social media, and vertical content.

In the buildup to the event, we’ll be introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise. Today, we begin with Angela Welchert, a social media partnerships lead at IBM. She will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Pay to Play: Executing Better Paid Social Campaigns”.

Welchert describes herself as a professional who does her best work focusing on the bigger picture.

“I like to focus on looking at the grander scheme and really drilling down into opportunities that are executable,” Welchert stated. “Throughout my career, I’ve heavily contributed to driving forward social presence for companies and organizations.  Now leading paid partnerships for IBM, I’m focused on identifying opportunities for us to really optimize social.”

Welchert also describes her current role with IBM as the highlight of her career. Prior to landing that job, Welchert graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she studied business administration and marketing.

Before moving to New York, Welchert jumped into the world of social marketing at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota as a social media strategy consultant. In 2011, Welchert migrated to the Big Apple to become the director of social media at Berkeley College before joining IBM in 2014 as its global social business manager. In 2018, she was promoted to the social media partnerships lead.

“In the first six months or so that I’ve been in this role,” Welchert remarked, “I’ve spent a large portion of my time reevaluating how we’re executing and strategizing when it comes to paid social, which is a very heavy investment for IBM. I pride myself on bringing a multidisciplinary attack to the way we’re approaching paid social.”

Over the course of her career to date, Welchert has become very conscious of the multi-faceted nature of social media marketing. In order for other young professionals to find success in the field and specifically in paid social, she recommends that they do the same.

“Social marketing is both an art and a science. The science side of it with targeting, reporting, and optimizing is important. However, you still need to be very cognizant of the art side of social media when it comes to content creation.”

READ MORE: Front Office Sports Digital Media Huddle Series at Bleacher Report

In her brief time at IBM, Welchert has already made a significant impact for the organization. Specifically, her changes to what platforms the company invests money are paying dividends.

“IBM is a massive company, with over 400,000 employees globally. Sometimes change can be slow moving. So I believe the most impactful thing that I’ve done so far in this role is bring together our leadership team including social, paid media, corporate advertising, and our agency of record to change the way we do paid social.”  Welchert states. “we are now in the process of deep diving into our paid social investments, to create a new process that will better position our paid media teams for success. By doing this, we will see significant cost savings for IBM, but we will also improve the return from our investments.”

Meet Welchert and hear more of her thoughts on the current digital landscape at the Front Office Sports Digital Media Huddle presented by Opendorse in New York on February 22. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Digital Media

DC United’s Broadcast Deal Could Further Demonstrate Digital Media Potential

FloSports’ broadcast deal with D.C. United exemplifies the company’s mission to raise the profile of sports outside the Big Four leagues.

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A positive in increasing segmentation of sports media could be the corresponding rise in the popularity of sports outside the Big Four.

That’s what digital streaming service FloSports has in mind for a variety of sports, most prominently soccer in the United States. The company recently secured a multi-year agreement with MLS side D.C. United for coverage.

“We’ve always had our eyes on trying to get into soccer,” said Mike Levy, FloSports vice president of global rights acquisition. “Strategically, it really only made sense if we could do it with a really good, smart, strategic direction. We held out until we felt like we found it.”

FloSports started in 2006, largely with wrestling and track and field content.

READ MORE: How Wayne Rooney Added Millions of Additional Brand Value for D.C. United and MLS

Most of D.C. United’s home and away games will be aired on FloFC.com, the provider’s 25th sports vertical. The broadcasts will be in both English and Spanish. Also included in the deal with D.C. United is rights into original D.C. content, like behind-the-scenes programming.

“D.C. United is committed to providing fans with an innovative and high-quality viewing experience for all of their regionally broadcast matches,” said Sam Porter, D.C. United senior vice president. “Our deal with FloSports presents a new and unique opportunity for fans to get behind-the-scenes access to the D.C. United first team … while also providing a world-class broadcast production for viewers.”

Levy said the reason major professional sports have captured the American mindset is because of the previous media efforts and marketing. He said the future of other sports is up to the marketing and media opportunities presented to them — and soccer is in an ideal spot with its global popularity and U.S. youth participation.

Traditional media properties like NBC and FOX provide excellent live soccer coverage, Levy said, but there’s a deeper opportunity with the off-hour programming to explore and become a content destination.

“We believe you have to figure out how to create an emotional connection,” Levy said. “You have to do a lot more than just broadcast live sports. Any given Saturday night, there’s a thousand sporting events to choose from in the linear and digital stratosphere. And that’s just sports; there’s general entertainment and news too.

“All these types steal attention spans. So, we look for opportunities where fans aren’t getting that deep level of attention these sports deserve.”

Levy said FloSports will continue to seek other soccer rights deals to further prove soccer deserves the attention level the other major professional leagues receive from traditional media.

Other sports, along with wrestling and track and field verticals, FloSports has zeroed in on include Brazilian jiu-jitsu, fast-pitch softball, and rugby.

FloSports also has rights in basketball with the Euro League and Australian and German professional leagues and is a large platform for high school hoops.

READ MORE: Immersive Media’s Infancy Creates Industry Opportunities

“We’re looking to expand the international pro game in the U.S.,” Levy said. “Basketball is something we’re excited about.”

Football provides a large challenge as it is dominated by traditional media, but Levy said FloSports is seeking deeper penetration in high school sports, as well as some collegiate opportunities. Levy also said he sees tremendous opportunities in baseball at every level outside of Major League Baseball and currently broadcasts a variety collegiate games.

The proliferation of the internet and streaming services has provided the ability for platforms like FloSports to grab serious viewership in sports that previously saw almost zero coverage, even ESPN’s famous off-hour programming, in the past. Sports fanatics will devour content in their preferred sport if it’s available.

“There’s never been this level of fragmentation with this movement to digital,” Levy said. “Through that, we believe all sorts of sports have the opportunity to rapidly grow them as they get passionate viewers, and we can do our part to feed into it.”

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A Pivot Back From Video Feels Unlikely for Sports Media in 2019

The pivot-to-video experiment produced mix results for some, but don’t bank on sports publishers turning a hopeful gaze toward long-form written content in 2019 and beyond.

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For the better part of the last few years, sports media outlets shifted a lot of resources from written content to video.

FOX Sports was arguably the most notable example of pivoting to video — and still to this day only publishes video content on its website. Initially, the result of the drastic alteration in content strategy was an 88 percent drop in web traffic.

To further complicate things, it has since come to light that Facebook’s video metrics may not have been completely accurate. Long story short, the trend of the pivot to video was not a successful one for the industry.

This being said, a full transition back to focusing on true long-form written content is not something that many industry professionals see in the cards for the near future.

LISTEN: Addressing the Challenges of Working in Social Media 

“Personally, I remain skeptical that long-form written content will really take off as the primary offering for most major sports publications,” said Jared Kalmus, assistant manager of SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty. “The fact remains that web publications depend on clicks to drive their revenue streams, and the effort and writing talent required to publish long-form content is prohibitive when compared to quick-hit ‘click-bait’ posts.

“The ideal approach is likely to have some type of matrix between long-form features and quick news updates, but this requires a staff expansion for most publications. That’s a big ask as most publications are struggling to even pay their existing talent a living wage.”  

The ease of publishing what are essentially small stories in a series of tweets or other social media posts further complicates things. At least this is how Joe Serpico, a reporter for Fox Sports Radio 1340 AM in the DMV area, sees it.

“It pains me to say this, but I don’t see written publications being any better even with video not taking off as planned,” Serpico said. “That’s mainly because of social media. When breaking news happens, we rush to Twitter and Facebook to get the information. A lot of beat writers give most of the information they’re putting into their story in tweets or Facebook posts. These days, we see writers incorporate tweets into their articles too.

“The video experiment did seem to backfire, but I don’t think it will help written publications be the primary focus again. It is social media that has changed journalism most.”

READ MORE: 3 Predictions for Sports Digital Media in 2019

In talking with other writers throughout the sports space, you’ll find many who share a similar opinion. Creatives with a writing background continue to be unoptimistic about the state of the space, especially with stories like that of former Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy, who published an account last month of his transition to a full-time job delivering packages for Amazon, becoming more and more common.

This is not to say that other types of creatives are doing anything wrong.

The social media space has given rise to a massive number of talented videographers, graphic designers, animators, and so on. It does spark interest about the time we live in as media consumers, however. The space shifted to a massive focus on something, it was a statistical failure, but it doesn’t seem like it’s really going to change things all that much.

Could 2019 prove that feeling wrong? We’ll have to wait and see. 

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