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From the Field to Your Feed: The Foundation and Future of Athlete-Driven Social Media

Part One: Become a fan again

Blake Lawrence

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Athletes

This is the first part of a three-part series presented by opendorse that examines the future of athlete-driven media. Part two can be found here and part three can be found here

I am here to talk about an opportunity. For all of us.

To fully understand, I’m going to ask you to take off your team lanyard, league credential, or press pass. Step away from the phone, photoshop, and the field. Dive deep into those feelings that brought you to this industry in the first place.

Become a fan again.

Take a quick trip with me.

It’s Christmas morning. Or your birthday. Or any other time you got presents.

athletes

The connection between us and our favorite athletes is worth fighting for. The relationship is real. (Illustration by Blake Lawrence)

If you’re like me, you started ripping through the wrapping paper. Finally, you bust open that box and unveil the uniform of your favorite team. The first thing you do? Turn it around and look at the name on the back. Before you check the size or the stitching, you have to see who you’re repping.

You run your fingers across the name, the number, and feel like it’s game time. You jump to your feet and throw on the jersey, ignoring the gifts scattered on the ground.

As your new gear hangs to your waist, you feel like a professional. You start to imitate the skills of the star on your back. You feel motivated to throw a ball or sprint through a wall.

You wear the jersey the rest of the day (and maybe the next) until eventually, you’ve gotta take it off to be washed. As you lift the uni above your head to toss it in the laundry, you see that name. That name — and its owner, your new favorite athlete — will be etched in your memory for a lifetime.

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The future of media is here. (Illustration by Blake Lawrence)

Their season might stink or they could get traded, but you’ll stick with ‘em. The jersey might shrink or the numbers get faded, but you’ll still rock it.

For me, it was Penny Hardaway’s Orlando Magic jersey. Didn’t have the stripes on it, but I didn’t care. I rocked that thing on the daily. To this day, I’ll defend Penny’s legacy as one of the best ballers in the ’90s, with undoubtedly the freshest sneakers of the century.

What was the name on the back of your first jersey?

Imagine you hear their name in some casual barside banter. Would you listen in? If someone wanted to argue that the favorite athlete of your childhood wasn’t the best, would you debate them?

I’d bet yes.

The connection between us and our favorite athletes is worth fighting for. The relationship is real. It is rooted in moments and memories we won’t soon forget. Remember that.

DISCLAIMER: Influencers are incredible. They work their tails off to understand their audience, create an abundance of content, tweak their messaging, maximize their talents and put more energy into marketing themselves than most ad execs put into their biggest clients. They are damn good at what they do.

So… when I say something here quick comparing creators and athletes, it might look like I’m disrespecting the effort it takes to become a full-time social influencer. I am not.

I am here to talk about the difference between athletes and influencers.

athletes

Influencers have our attention, but do they have our allegiance? (Illustration by Blake Lawrence)

To fully understand, I’m going to ask you to recall your last Twitter/Facebook/Instagram session. Your right thumb maneuvering that ol’ scroll, tap-tap, scroll, tap-tap melody. When you should have been sleeping. Or working. Or maybe scouring social is working for you.

Either way.

Do you remember the faces in your feed? The folks with the high res photos or videos? Were they athletes?

I’d bet no.

In today’s influencer-hyped world, I believe athletes are getting lost.

YouTubers, Twitchers, Bloggers, ‘Grammers are shaping our opinions and decisions. With each post, they’re bringing us closer to a community, a consumer product, a new connection we wouldn’t have had without the world-wide-web.

SEE MORE: Why the LPGA is Investing in a Social Media Tool to Help Golfers Build Their Digital Brands

Marketers are fascinated with the power of people sharing stories and snaps about products and places around the world. I don’t blame ‘em. You can’t avoid a good influencer. They’ll beat the algorithm. They will be a feature in your feed.

Influencers have our attention, but do they have our allegiance?

Would you fight to defend your favorite Instagram meme account?

Would you slam your laptop shut if you saw another Ninja vs PewDiePie debate for YouTube GOAT status?

Probably not.

Our fascination with influencers is rooted in content, not championships.

These folks fight for dollars, not dynasties.

They are focused on their likes, not legacies.

Influencers can have our likes, but athletes will have our loyalty.

Athletes are our protectors.

athletes

Athletes are worth fighting for, because they fight for us. (Illustration by Blake Lawrence)

Think of your favorite sports team. Envision the players in the middle of a game, sweat dripping from their brow. They are warriors, fighting for the pride of the people who support them. Nomadic by nature, they may spend days on the road, representing our town or city. But they always come home. To defend our territory. To hang some W’s on any visitor seeking victory on our court.

Whether from the box seats or a bootleg stream, we’ll find a way to watch our home team battle it out against rivals near or far.

Athletes satisfy the desire that I believe lies in all of us — to compete. To claim your territory. To defend it. And ultimately, to win.

It’s human nature that is only amplified by sports. We all want to stand our ground. To cheer for something we love. To watch a person or team rise to the occasion.

SEE MORE: How Panini Delivers Real-Time Content to Draftees on Draft Day

Athletes are the representatives of our human nature.

At some point in our lives, we lay claim to a team or two. Athletes protect that pride. They are sworn defenders of what we hold deepest — our passion for our territories and teams.

Athletes are worth fighting for, because they fight for us.

Our allegiance to athletes is unmatched… and I’m going to prove it in my next post.

This is the first part of a three-part series presented by opendorse that examines the future of athlete-driven media. Part two can be found here and part three can be found here

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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Photo via DC United

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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Digital Media

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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Photo via Unsplash

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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