Connect with us

Digital Media

Inside ESPN’s Snapchat SportsCenter Strategy

The show blends the best content with the best use of the platform.

Greg Esposito

Published

on

Snapchat

ESPN’s Snapchat SportsCenter is one of the newest offerings in the digital arsenal of the WWL. (Image via Snapchat)

Snapchat has never struck me as a platform myself or the brands I manage “need” to be on. That’s saying a lot for a guy who is practically addicted to social in all its forms.

Think I’m kidding? I was an avid user of Peach for about a week and a half, so that should tell you everything you need to know.

Sure, I have a Snap account to experiment and see what the platform is about but I’ve only posted a handful of times and rarely found myself even opening the app for any reason. That is, until recently.

In November of 2017, ESPN made an announcement that many found curious at best. They unveiled plans to launch a version of SportsCenter exclusively for Snapchat. For the first time, I was genuinely intrigued by the platform. What could be done with video that had primarily been used for short-form voyeurism and unconventional storytelling for brands? What could an established but struggling entity like SportsCenter do to reinvent itself on a platform completely different than the one it was conceived for and thrived on for decades?

It was these queries that led me to open the Snapchat app every morning and afternoon for the first week. The brilliant, thoughtful and humorous content, as well as the unique presentation, has kept me coming back every day since.

But how did the entire show come about, what goes into putting it together and how has pushing the envelope helped breathe life into ESPN’s flagship program? I caught up with the producers and some of the hosts who helped make it happen to find out.

The concept for the show started more than a year ago,” Emmy award-winning SportsCenter on Snapchat producer Timothy Dwyer shared. “We produced a weekly College GameDay show on Snap last year that served as kind of a spiritual predecessor to this one, and also worked as a proof-of-concept that something on Snapchat could be a viable option from a content and business perspective. Once that hurdle was cleared, I think developing SportsCenter for the next generation audience was kind of just a logical step.”

Producing College GameDay on Snapchat is one thing but it is a completely different beast to translate a heritage brand to a new platform. It was a responsibility Dwyer and his team haven’t taken lightly.

It’s an enormous responsibility,” Dwyer said. “SportsCenter is the pre-eminent brand in sports media and has been for 30 plus years. It means so many things to so many people –  myself included – that we have to make sure we were doing it justice, while also giving it some new sauce for the way people consume media today. The challenge and the opportunity of Snapchat is that a lot of the core audience doesn’t have a pre-existing relationship with SportsCenter outside of knowing the brand name and maybe following a social handle or two. A 15-year-old is just as likely to have never watched an episode of SportsCenter on TV in his or her life, so that gave us a little bit of a blank canvas to say, ‘Okay, this is what the ideal sports show on Snapchat would look like, regardless of the brand we’re inheriting.’ Obviously, it so happens that a lot of what SportsCenter does well translates pretty directly to the format, so the bones of the show are still the same as the franchise.”

SEE MORE: Executive Buy-In Helps Propel Dallas Stars’ Digital Strategy

With the concept solidified and the “bones of the show” in place, it was time to find the talent to man the show. The faces and voice defined what the program would become the same way Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann and more recently Scott Van Pelt did on the television side.

“Once we had the green light for the show, we set out to find hosts you’d want to hang out with in real life,” said Steven Braband. ESPN’s Director of Digital Video. “That was super important to us. Everyone you see on the show has that quality – they’re simply fun people. We had to make sure we didn’t come off tone deaf to the platform, so no suit and ties, no desk, no long lead-ins. You can look at our show right away and realize that. Katie, Cy, Fitz, Elle, etc. all set that tone from the start and we think that is a big reason why people keep coming back.”

A large weight of carrying on the SC legacy falls in part on the shoulders of that aforementioned on-camera talent. While there is a great deal of respect for the SportsCenter anchors they grew up watching, for Cy Amundson and Jason Fitz, there was more enthusiasm than pressure to help redefine what SportsCenter is.

“I do what I do today BECAUSE of Sportscenter. Stuart Scott, Dan Patrick, Rich Eisen….Those guys impacted my entire life as a sports fanatic kid,” Fitz said of why he was excited for the challenge.

Coming up in the shadows of such legendary names and having to put his own spin on what they help build doesn’t intimidate Fitz.

“Excitement? Yes. Pressure? No. I’m one small piece of an amazing team that I trust will make every episode great no matter what I do,” Fitz shared. “The opportunity to be a SportsCenter voice to the next generation comes with incredible excitement and energy, but no one person on every episode is greater than the whole team that makes each day unique.”

A look at the “set” of ESPN’s Snapchat SportsCenter (Photo via ESPN)

Amundson was of a similar mindset when it came to the task of reinventing SportsCenter for a new platform and generation.

“If anything I felt excitement towards the possibility,” Amundson reminisced. “When they were putting this thing together they told us that they wanted them to be personality driven and let the hosts help shape them, so if anything I felt like it was a cool opportunity to put my stamp on the prestige even if it’s in a tiny corner compared to some of the giants of the franchise.  The main pressure I feel is trying to perform alongside incredible other talents like Katie, Fitz, Elle, and Treavor.”

While, like many of the SportsCenters of the past, the show is personality-driven, it is truly a team effort. With a younger-skewing platform, the content has to come off more genuine than ever with the entire show needing to feel more like a discussion than a dictation. To accomplish that the entire staff is empowered to bring ideas that are wide-ranging and fan-focused.

“My favorite aspect of building the show on this platform is that we have the freedom to talk like fans and just simply have fun,” Braband said. “Sit in on a morning meeting and you’ll realize that in two minutes. It’s not a meeting, it’s a conversation between a bunch of nerdy sports fans. I also love that we get deeeeep into what fans are talking about on the internet. LeBron may have dropped 40 the night before, but also, and maybe more importantly to us, a Cavs fan ate 115 Chicken Nuggets doing the Nugget Challenge during the game. The Nugget story (that’s fun to say) may be a bigger part of our show. At night (producing our show for 5am) we have the ability to let the video drive the show and sometimes don’t need to overthink the rundown. If James Harden has the crossover of the century against the Clippers – let’s just run that on a loop, multiple times in the show. It’s an unconventional thought for producers, but we have the flexibility to do that.”

It’s unconventional for the host as well. While on television you have 30-60 minutes or sometimes more to get the stories, highlights and news of the day to the audience, social media, and Snapchat, in particular, gives you seconds rather than minutes to convey a message and catch attention. It creates a truly one of a kind writing and hosting situation.

“This can’t be compared to any other project to me, because it’s such a unique set of challenges and priorities,” Fritz shared. “Hosting a radio show is about learning to speak in 12-minute blocks on a topic.  TV is often about setting up the people around you for roundtable discussions. Sportscenter on Snap is truly its own art. It requires the ability to write something you hope resonates but also primarily sets up great video.  You’re, essentially, co-hosting with a highlight to a medium that wants to know everything about a great game in 30 seconds or less.”

In order to deliver that message quickly, concisely and, most importantly, in an entertaining fashion it takes quality production, a sizable team and hours of post-production.

“The start of the day looks a lot like any other show,” Dwyer explained. “We begin the day with a full-staff show meeting, everyone pitching topics and treatments, and we set our rundown around 10 am. Whoever our talent is gets in and writes the show with whoever’s producing each segment. Because we’re working with more limited real estate – each show is around 5-7 minutes vs. the hour the TV show has – the writing becomes absolutely critical, making sure we’re not wasting seconds in the show. We shoot around noon, then the rest of the day is spent in post-production before the show goes live at 5 pm. A standard episode has a producer, an edit lead, talent, and four or five editors to package it all together.”

Oh, and it isn’t shot on an iPhone on the fly like most Snapchat videos.

We shoot with a conventional camera on an unconventional rig,” said Dywer. “We basically have a tripod stand that flips the camera 90 degrees so we’re able to have the full 1080p quality available to us with our talent standups because we play with the zoom so often on those. It’s a pretty basic editing trick, but it keeps the eye moving, so it’s important for us on this platform. Having the full HD picture means we’re never dealing with a low-res talent shot.”

A strong concept, edgy content and a sharp look means nothing though if the fans don’t enjoy the content. That hasn’t been a problem for ESPN’s newest crew. The initial response to the show both inside Bristol and outside of it has been extremely positive.

“You can see and feel the impact, not just from the target audience but from the halls of ESPN,” Fitz shared. “Sure, the people we aim episodes towards get it, and that is rewarding. But even the non-target audience has responded in a way that shows me how big this impact can be.”

It’s not just the anchors who are feeling good about the show, those behind the scenes also see the beginning of something potentially special.

“The response has been great,” Braband said. “Internally we have been able to show success metrics that let us keep producing the show we set out to create. We’ve evolved A LOT since show #1, but the core of what we set out to do remains the same. It’s cool to see how we get support all throughout the org charts at ESPN. Connor Schell and his senior staff have been extremely supportive of what we’re doing and at the same time, younger staffers at ESPN have been reaching out (unsolicited) to pitch ideas and submit suggestions for the show. That makes us better. Having a fresh set of eyes or ideas from smart people in Bristol only helps keep the show moving up.”

“Externally, we obviously have numerous metrics that continue to increase that we’re both excited and proud about. We’re trying to reach a new generation of sports fans and the data shows we’re doing that.”

Snapchat isn’t for everyone and every brand but ESPN has found the right mix of content and talent to make the platform not only work for them but also help a new generation discover an old fan favorite. It’s a lesson that we all can take when creating content. Just because something is from a heritage platform doesn’t mean it can’t be looked at in a new light and reinvented for social. The brands who continue to strive to innovate and re-invigorate what made them great originally will find a way to win in a competitive environment.

And who knows, by implementing that mindset you might just capture the imaginations of even the staunchest detractors of a platform. Heck, I never imagined I’d be an active Snapchat user. And I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the work of the SportsCenter team.

Proud husband & father to a young daughter. Student of social media & #SMSports. Social and Digital Media Columnist For Front Office Sports and host of the podcast The Solar Panel. Former Senior Digital Manager and voice of the Phoenix Suns social media channels.

Digital Media

Overtime Brings Billboard And Investment News to NBA All-Star Weekend

Overtime, the digital media brand specializing in high school sports, put some of the top teenage basketball players on a billboard in Charlotte.

Jeff Eisenband

Published

on

overtime-nba-all-star

Photo via Overtime

NBA All-Stars don’t want overtime on Sunday night. It’s clear 48 minutes is enough for them.

But the All-Stars and the NBA can’t avoid Overtime off the court in Charlotte.

Overtime — the digital media brand specializing in high school sports, not the extra period after regulation — has established its presence at NBA All-Star Weekend. Fans entering the city this weekend are driving right past Overtime’s “All-Stars of the Future” billboard, which features 10 of the nation’s top high school players — LaMelo Ball being the most recognizable — split between East and West (see full list at bottom of article).

“They’re true superstars in their own right,” says Overtime President and Co-Founder Zack Weiner. “I think there’s sort of this love for them that’s insatiable. When you first read about it, ‘Whoa, a high school kid on a billboard,’ it sounds weird and then you’re like, ‘Wait, it makes sense. These guys are global superstars. Why should they not be on billboards?’

“For our audience, it’s just cool. It’s these guys they’ve been watching for the past couple of years and to see them in Charlotte, around the NBA All-Star Game, when obviously, they’re going to be All-Stars in a few years, people that recognize them, it’s why they love Overtime. You feel like you’re on the wave before it’s taken off.”

Weiner, 26, and Overtime CEO and Co-Founder Dan Porter, 52, don’t look like traditional media executives at NBA All-Star Weekends. For the interview, the two walk around The Westin Charlotte in Overtime hoodies, showing off the brand’s merchandise in a hotel full of NBA brass.

“We want to be everywhere,” Porter says. “We want them to be like, ‘I see you guys everywhere. I see you on my Instagram feed, I see you on YouTube, I see you on television, I see you on the billboard.’ We’re building the biggest sports network in the world.”

Kawhi Leonard happens to walk by during the interview. He says hello to the Overtime duo and flashes what some might consider a rare smile.

“He recognizes Overtime,” Weiner immediately says.

“You see Trae Young walk through the tunnel in his Overtime sweatshirt,” Porter adds, referencing a recent game entrance by the Hawks rookie. “We out here.”

Before starting Overtime in fall 2016, Porter served as Head of Digital at WME with Weiner working on the digital team. In early 2017, Overtime raised $2.5 million in seed funding and in February 2018, the brand announced another $9.5 million in funding, with capital coming from Kevin Durant, among others.

Just this past Thursday, Overtime revealed it has received $23 million in Series B funding, which includes investments from current and former NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Baron Davis and Victor Oladipo. Porter told Variety the company has a valuation of around $100 million.

“I would say that that we’re very strategic about almost everything we do,” Weiner says of the investment announcement corresponding with NBA All-Star Weekend.

Davis can give some perspective as an investor.

“They’ve kind of got their finger on the pulse and these guys are doing a good job of growing that community and looking to be disruptive,” he says, when asked about the billboard. “You don’t find too many young companies like that.”

Just over two years into its lifespan, Overtime is starting to see some of its former high school basketball subjects reach the NBA level (it should be noted Overtime considers its four current main verticals basketball, football, soccer, and esports). Players like Young tip their cap to Overtime, which was on their stories before they were household names.

“When Dan and I started a company that wasn’t something that we proactively thought about,” Weiner says. “I’ve realized that it’s happened. I think it’s taken off even more than we thought in terms of filling content with them, them repping our gear, them retweeting us, posting on Instagram. They definitely recognize sort of the implicit partnership that we’ve had throughout their careers, starting in high school.”

You might have been introduced to Zion Williamson this season, but Overtime fans have been watching Williamson’s dunks for a couple years now. 

For the players on the billboard, this is part of that conveyor belt. Other than Ball, this is a huge boost to these teenagers’ PR campaigns. Overtime is the brand investing in youth basketball content at a grassroots level.

“Some of the guys are more well-known and some are less,” Weiner says of players Overtime covers. “But a core value of what we do is bring recognition to these kids and help build their platform. I mean those guys [on the billboard], I believe will all be in the NBA, but there are some players that we’ve covered that won’t and there’s a lot of value in them growing their social followings and building their brands.”

One of the players, Anthony Edwards, is among the top senior high school recruits in the country, but Mikey Williams is an eighth grader, just starting to get his name out there.

In Charlotte, Overtime is credentialed for all standard NBA media events. One could argue Overtime is a rival to the NBA and its partners, from a content perspective. After all, they draped a billboard over the city hosting the NBA’s premier tourist event.

Porter and Weiner don’t see it that way.

“With retired commissioners, we have an amazing relationship,” Porter laughs, referencing David Stern, who invested in Overtime’s seed round.

“In terms of a formal business partnership, there’s nothing right now, but I was talking to people at the league and they love Overtime,” Weiner says. “They understand the importance to the young community. I think it’s about timing when and if there’s something to be done officially.”

READ MORE: Overtime’s Pop-Up Showcases Commerce Potential for Digital Brands

It might take a few years. Maybe when the players on the Charlotte billboard are in the NBA, that’ll be the time for Overtime and the NBA to partner. After all, those players will remember who brought them to NBA All-Star Weekend first.

For reference, these are the players included on Overtime’s billboard, with their descriptions, as provided by Overtime:

Mikey Williams – Mikey Williams is the best 8th grader in the country. He’s from California and is known for his crazy dunks and LeBron comparisons.

Jalen Green – The most athletic junior in the nation! Jalen Green is from California and dunks on everyone.

RJ Hampton – The Texas point guard can do everything on the court. People say he could play in the NBA right now!!

Cassius Stanley – Cassius is a senior from California. Since 9th grade he has been throwing down viral dunks. He legit floats in the air.

LaMelo Ball – The son of LaVar and brother of Lonzo Ball. LaMelo is a senior at Spire Institute in Ohio. He is from California. LaMelo is the most famous high school basketball player ever. He played professionally overseas last year.

Cole Anthony – The son of NBA player Greg Anthony. Cole is a point guard at Oak Hill Academy in VA. He’s from NYC and is regarded as the best point guard in the country.

Jalen Lecque – Senior at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Jalen is from New York and committed to NC State. He is the most athletic player in the country.

Anthony Edwards – From Georgia and committed to Georgia. Anthony Edwards has bursted onto the seen as a top guard in the nation. He could be the #1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Scottie Lewis – From New Jersey and committed to the University of Florida. Scottie Lewis is super talented and has gotten comparisons to Kobe Bryant.

Aidan Igiehon – Aidan is originally from Ireland. He has become famous for his power game and his nickname “The Irish Hulk”. Aidan is committed to Louisville.

Continue Reading

Digital Media

Channeling Napoleon Dynamite a Success for Blazers All-Star Campaign

A video featuring Blazers guards CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard helped secure Lillard a place in the game and exemplifies the team’s content strategy.

Published

on

Blazers Napoleon Dyna

The Portland Trail Blazers’ content team is hoping to extend its connection to the team’s fans with this week’s NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte.

This weekend will provide an opportunity to dive deeper into some Blazers’ lives, including guard Damian Lillard, said Aaron Grossman, the director of content for Portland.

The All-Star campaign started with a video to get Lillard and teammate CJ McCollum voted into the All-Star game. Ultimately, Lillard was voted onto the roster and team captain Lebron James selected him in the All-Star draft.

Grossman said every team seeks a way to creatively promote their players, but it sometimes seems like each team uses the same concepts over and over.

This year, the Blazers sought out a workaround to come up with a different way to promote McCollum and Lillard for the All-Star Game. The pair are good friends in real life and staples on the court in Portland.

READ MORE: How West Virginia’s Digital Team Created a Blueprint for a Heisman Campaign

“They both took to the idea and were very receptive to it from the beginning,” Grossman said. “It didn’t require a lot of back and forth, we presented the concept and during the shoot, they were willing to do things above and beyond what we expected.

“The commitment to their roles and personality really shine through and that’s why it was as successful as it was.”

The video showcased the pair’s friendship and competitiveness as they campaigned for each other to make the All-Star roster, culminating with McCollum dancing like Napoleon Dynamite.

Grossman was happy with the performance and said it was difficult to compare to previous All-Star campaigns as the voting procedures have changed. The video had more than 700,000 views across the Blazers social channels and more than 80,000 engagements.

“Comparing isn’t apples to apples,” he said. “But the views and interpretation of it, the actual commentary and appreciation, was certainly better than in years past.”

The success was in large part because the players were cooperative and wanted to see each other be successful, Grossman said. The content team often tries to showcase the players’ individual personalities and the All-Star campaign video was an extension of the normal strategy. Grossman still credits the players with their commitment to cooperate beyond the normal commitments.

“It was something they could have chosen not to participate in,” Grossman said. “We try to entertain in a unique voice that represents our city and team. The All-Star is a great opportunity to promote for a specific reason and cause.”

The Blazers social team met this week to prepare for the on-the-ground strategy in Charlotte. With two players in North Carolina for the weekend, the team is preparing for a more in-depth look at players lives beyond game day.

READ MORE: How Rakuten Is Leaving Its Mark on Steph Curry’s Underrated Tour

The content team will have three people at the All-Star Game, a social representative, sideline reporter, and videographer. Lillard will be in the main All-Star Game, while Lillard will be joined by teammate Seth Curry in the 3-Point Contest.

Grossman said two players in a single place for multiple days gives the content team the chance to share stories they haven’t been able to in the past. He’s excited to continue the All-Star campaign into this weekend.

A focus of the content will be on Lillard and his interactions with the NBA’s other stars in Charlotte.

“He’s our guy and it demonstrates his place with NBA’s greatest players and any of his interactions will be important to capture,” Grossman said. “He’s earned the respect of the best players and coaches and media and anyway we can capture where he stands with his peers is really important to showcase the player he’s become.”

Continue Reading

Digital Media

Bleacher Report Is Focused on the Second Generation of Social Media

As consumer habits continue to change, the company is looking to take advantage by blending content with experiential and commerce opportunities.

Adam White

Published

on

As Bleacher Report gears up for NBA All-Star weekend, the publisher sees itself in a position to take what is digital and make it physical.

This starts with the company’s House of Highlights activation in Charlotte, where there will be everything from a studio and a gaming room, to a basketball gym and live video programming.

The first large-scale activation of its kind for the sub-brand, the opportunity comes at a time when Howard Mittman, CRO and CMO of Bleacher Report sees a shifting landscape when it comes to the digital media space that he wants to make sure they take advantage of.

“This activation is based on this sentiment that I’ve been increasingly more interested in when it comes to how we take things from the digital world and create experiences in the physical world.”

Last’s year’s activation at the All-Star game in L.A. was the first example of this shift and one that started what has become a multistep process of rolling out B/R’s experience practice and their series of live events.

While the goal is to take the digital and make it physical, they will also be taking the physical and making it digital.

“What we are essentially doing is building out this enormous footprint to serve as a physical set that we are using to just capture social content,” said Mittman talking about what their content strategy looked like over the course of the weekend. “Although we expect more than 4,000 people to show up over the course of the day, we are focused on how we can use the space to create content that will manifest itself online to our 40 million or so social followers.”

READ MORE: GolfPass Could Set Standard in 21st-Century Sports Media

Not only has the live experience side of the business powered content, but it has also helped when it comes to partnerships with brands like Intel, Ruffles, McDonald’s and more.

No longer just trying to sell digital assets, they are able to bring what Mittman calls a “holistic set of solutions” to the table for partners.

In just a few years, they’ve been able to change the conversation from trying to pitch partners to finding solutions for partners.

“We find ourselves in the position now where we’re going to ask them (partners) what their challenges are, what their needs are, and then almost reverse engineer from where it is that they want to get to at the end of the campaign,” added Mittman. “This allows us to pick and pull the different aspects or elements from inside our arsenal that work for them or that they’re interested in.”

It’s this process that has allowed the company to more than double the revenue for just its All-Star activation alone.

Along with the House of Highlights presence, the company will also be showcasing its new World Tour line, of which it just recently dropped the first collaboration of the line with Dwyane Wade.

Mittman declined to say how many units the collaboration had sold, but added some color saying that it “blew up” and that between this collaboration and others they have run with The Roots, 21 Savage, and Vin Staples has created an “interesting mix of content and commerce” for the brand.

With content powering the engine, Bleacher Report and Mittman, in particular, see commerce as an additional revenue opportunity that allows them to not only provide athletes with a whole new way to create buzz, but also gives the publisher a whole new content experience.

“A traditional content experience allows you to capture content and sell against it. This allows us to capture content, sell ads against that, and then share in the revenue opportunities with the athlete or celebrity.”

Mittman believes that this type of opportunity will change how athletes approach some of their marketing and press opportunities.

“If you’re an A-list celebrity or athlete and you’re doing a press tour, do you want to do a magazine shoot where they don’t pay you or do you want to do a content and commerce shoot where you have more exposure and have the opportunity to monetize it.”

This has caught the eye of others too. Mentioning that he received multiple emails from groups outside looking to sell the merch alongside B/R inside their activation, becoming some evolution of a DTC company isn’t out of the question.

“If we can start to be known as a shop that is able to offer DTC connections and consumer experiences not just with the content we make but with the commerce we can drive, I have a sense that it will probably start to evolve out into an entirely different category of business relative to what a traditional sports and commerce experience looks like.”

As more of these opportunities pop up, they become reasons in which consumers either have to get the B/R app, experience it, and even purchase in the app.

READ MORE: Bleacher Report’s New Revenue Streams Showcase Publishers Capabilities Beyond Its Digital Walls

And while Mittman is bullish on the experiences and the commerce revenue opportunities, the platform remains B/R’s biggest focus thanks to what they feel can be the gateway to the second generation of social media.

“For us, the biggest bet we are making is that the first generation of social media was about connecting you to the world and that the second generation is about connecting you to your world. That’s what we are trying to do. We are not going to be Facebook, we do not want to compete with them, but we do firmly believe that we have the chance to create a more niche-based platform for people who love sports and crave it in different forms.”

Continue Reading

Trending