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GolfPass Could Set Standard in 21st-Century Sports Media

A partnership between NBC Sports and Rory McIlroy will bring five pillars of golf lifestyle to fans via GolfPass, a direct-to-consumer membership service.

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Photo credit: GolfPass

Golf is one of the unique sports that fans can take as seriously as the athletes they watch on TV, which has led to a new partnership between NBC Sports and superstar Rory McIlroy.

The two parties announced GolfPass last week, a direct-to-consumer membership program with five different aspects: play, learn, watch, travel and shop. GolfPass is a digital membership platform connecting a member to benefits around the lifestyle of golf.

“We’re really looking at this as building a media business based around the sport of golf that’s forward thinking and will be around for the next 25 years,” said Mike McCarley, president of golf at NBC Sports.

The lifestyle part of golf is an aspect not seen in other sports, where a day can include watching professionals playing but can also include consuming educational content and purchasing the latest equipment.

READ MORE: A Simple Ball Switch Tells a Big Story for TaylorMade

“Golf is uniquely placed, and it’s a unique game where people that watch golf on TV are the ones that play the game as well, and I think you can’t say that for a lot of sports,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s why GolfPass is so good; you make the game more accessible for people, just make it easier to play.”

GolfPass is $9.99 a month or $99 annually for the subscription product available online and on connected TV and iOS and Android apps. There’s also a GolfPass+ subscription that features several more benefits beyond the base subscription.

Among its pillars, GolfPass includes GolfNow, which collects 7,000 courses in 26 countries and offers tee times, which McCarley equated to the restaurant-reservation platform Open Table. Members also receive a free round of golf monthly at one of those courses.

The program also includes 4,000 video lessons and tips. GolfPass also includes a pro shop with partners, like TaylorMade. With an annual pass to GolfPass, users get a free dozen TaylorMade balls and discounts on the brand’s products.

Travel is also an aspect included in GolfPass, a ratings and review service for courses. And there’s also a watch aspect, which includes original content, including content featuring McIlroy and archival content from the Golf Channel.

The entirety of GolfPass is a 21st-century extension of the Golf Channel, McIlroy said.

The Golf Channel was founded nearly 25 years ago by Arnold Palmer and is now a 24/7 network reaching 500 million viewers in 70 countries in nine languages. Along with 23 weekends of golf annually, McCarley said the brand has been built as a lifestyle network to help connect golfers with the game.

McIlroy said his connection to his device is a big reason he’s bought into the GolfPass concept.

“I spend a lot of time, whether it be on my phone or iPad, watching different content, whether that’s golf or other sports or movies or whatever it is,” he said. “I think that is the way of the world nowadays. People pay for things on their phone. Everything is on this little handheld device that we keep on us, and I think that’s why GolfPass is so good because basically, everything you need to be a golfer and to have for a membership is there when you need it.”

READ MORE: Executives Believe Golf’s ‘First-and-10 Line’ Can Help Build the Sport

While GolfPass is an entry into a new model of media extension into fans’ hands, having all the different aspects within a single membership program isn’t easily translated to other sports media opportunities, McCarley said.

“A good example is, you watch a baseball game on ESPN or Major League Baseball Network; the next night you’re not watching a show that’s trying to teach you how to hit a 95-mph fastball,” he said. “But if you watch golf, you can also watch a show that’s going to help you try to fix your slice or get 10 more yards out of your drive.

“Some people like to travel and plan trips with their friends. Some people just like to get out and play as much as they can. A lot of people like to go buy the latest equipment, and we’ve built a product that scratches that itch for every person who has a real passion for the game of golf.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

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Twitter and TNT to Offer Unique NBA Viewing Experience

Beginning at All-Star Weekend, fans will have the opportunity to view the second half of select NBA games via Twitter stream through a single-player view, as part of an initiative by the NBA, Twitter and Turner Sports.

Bailey Knecht

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Starting this weekend, NBA fans can watch games like never before, thanks to a deal between the NBA, Twitter and Turner Sports.

Twitter will live-stream the second half of 20 NBA on TNT games over the course of the rest of the season, offering a “single-player view” with an isolated camera focusing on just one player each game. The player will be chosen via fan vote on Twitter during the first half of the game.

“We were coming together and brainstorming, saying, ‘How do we capture that NBA fan on Twitter when games are actually going on?’ and we came up with the concept of the live stream during the live game,” said Mark Johnson, SVP of digital at Turner Sports. “That is where fans are consuming when they’re consuming. They’re using Twitter as a complementary, secondary experience to follow scores and highlights and keep up with what’s going on on a nightly basis.”

The new program plays into the NBA’s dedication to the digital space, particularly considering the rising popularity of #NBATwitter.

“#NBATwitter is one of the most engaged and most vibrant communities on the platform,” said TJ Adeshola, head of U.S. sports partnerships at Twitter. “For a while now, ever since we’ve had this fantastic relationship with the NBA and Turner, we’ve relied on the amazing energy around the NBA conversation on the platform. Part of the challenge has been, how do we harness all this amazing activity, energy and conversation into something that feels like an ideal complement to this community we call #NBATwitter?”

“Our following on Twitter for the NBA and NBA on TNT and NBA TV is over 34 million followers across those three,” Johnson added. “Tapping into that 34 million-plus on a Thursday night is massive exposure for the NBA itself and for NBA on TNT.”

In addition to the NBA’s popularity on social media, the program also takes advantage of the star power that draws fans to the NBA.

“I think it’s such a player-driven league,” Johnson said. “Players truly are the stars, so this plays perfectly to that concept. Twitter is also driven by players — they’re active on the platform themselves. Plus, from player walk-ins, what they’re wearing, big dunks — fans love seeing what those individual players are doing on a nightly basis, so putting fan voting in their hands and picking a specific player to watch and engage with and talk about on Twitter is really the perfect execution for that platform.”

For the initial launch, fans will have the opportunity to choose between LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Steph Curry for the iso-cam.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say the players didn’t play a huge role in what exists today as #NBATwitter,” Adeshola said. “They’re amazing, awesome, witty and leaned in on Twitter. We’ve been able to build on the back of the NBA being such a savvy and innovative league.”

The Twitter streams will also feature exclusive commentators, which will vary from traditional Turner Sports talent to social influencers and #NBATwitter personalities like Taylor Rooks and Rob Perez.

“Our intent is we want the show to legitimately be hosted by the #NBATwitter community — folks who use the platform, who contribute to that conversation on a day-to-day basis, like Taylor Rooks, World Wide Wob, and a few other surprises we’ll announce later in the season,” Adeshola said. “These are people that participate in an evergreen, always-on basis.”

READ MORE: Timbers’ Kayla Knapp on Building a Social Voice From the Ground Up

In forming the deal, the goal was to provide a hand-in-hand viewing experience between the stream on Twitter and full coverage on TNT, according to Johnson.

“We see it as complementary experience,” he said. “We are hopeful that this will drive viewership to the TNT broadcast because we’re reaching this new-ish audience and a younger demographic, and offering a different and custom piece of content on Twitter tied to a different experience than on television. It is going to educate people and make them aware that we’ve got the full game.”

For Adeshola, finding unique ways to stream games is becoming increasingly important in order to stand out in the sports realm.

“What we know is that users might not be as inclined to watch a show or program on Twitter that looks just like the linear broadcast,” he said. “We want a differentiated, unique, quote-unquote ‘Twittery’ experience on Twitter. If we forced a format like the linear one and smacked it right on Twitter with no differentiation, it may not perform as well as one that feels Twitter-specific… This is a complement of the great work of the Turner linear broadcast, to reward and incentivize the #NBATwitter community.”

READ MORE: Channeling Napoleon Dynamite a Success for Blazers All-Star Campaign

The new program launches this Sunday during the NBA All-Star Game, which, according to Johnson, is the ideal time to capitalize on excitement around the NBA.

“For us, All-Star Weekend is the pinnacle for Turner Sports and TNT — it’s our tentpole event,” he said. “We love the playoffs as well, but what I think is unique about All-Star Weekend is that it falls late in the season — we’re almost 75 percent done with the regular season, and we just got through the trade deadline — so there’s so much buzz and hype during All-Star. The combination of those factors collide in a great way to try new things and innovate around that weekend.”

The teams at Turner, Twitter, and the NBA understand the high expectations and the risks that come with the initial launch, but they’re confident that fans will be satisfied with the product.

“Quite frankly, it’s a test, right?” Johnson said. “But we’re up for the test, and Turner, the NBA and Twitter — we’re all aggressive in this space.”

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Why the Sports Industry Could Include the First 5G Beneficiaries

As consumers continue to wrap their heads around 5G, sports might be one of the first industries to benefit from next-generation networking capabilities.

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Photo credit: Sacramento Kings

As consumers continue to wrap their heads around what 5G will mean to everyday life, sports might be one of the first industries to benefit from the next-generation networking capabilities.

Verizon’s deployment of 5G networks is currently underway, including four cities for home consumer broadband product. The Verizon deployment includes Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, where the NBA’s Sacramento Kings are helping exemplify how sports organizations can fully embrace technological changes.

“We’re always trying to disrupt ourselves before we’re disrupted,” said Ryan Montoya, the Kings’ chief technology officer. “We want to use that tech to ensure we deliver the best fan experience.”

The rollout of 5G by network providers will still take some time, but preparations are well underway.

Broad, citywide home use deployment is important to Verizon, but the technology does lend itself to point deployment in venues like Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, said Nicki Palmer, Verizon’s chief networking officer.

READ MORE: Immersive Media’s Infancy Creates Industry Opportunities

Consumers will be able to use 5G, as phones with the capability begin to roll out in the first quarter of this year — with brands like Motorola and Samsung being early adopters. It will still be several years still before the full effects of 5G capabilities are realized, Palmer said.

“5G is really a generational leap in technology,” Palmer said. “We talk about it ushering in the fourth industrial revolution, when you couple it with some other technologies like AI and big statistical analytics and intense infrastructure. You can see we’re on the verge of something entirely different.”

To help demonstrate the jumps to the unknown, Palmer brought up the existence of Uber, which wouldn’t be possible without the jump in speeds from 3G to 4G at the beginning of the decade.

While Palmer cited many industries that will benefit from the massive leap in speeds and low latency, she said dreaming about sports applications is among the most fun, from at-home viewing to in-arena experiences.

“Sports is a great use case,” Palmer said. “We’re building the networks and we know the innovation will happen.”

Viewing Experience

Yahoo Sports General Manager Geoff Reiss said it’s already the “age of the jetpack” for sports media at a panel at CES. Like jetpacks, 5G’s influence on sports media will be helping provide fans experiences they want but can’t have yet.

“The ability to amass crazy, never-before-seen experiences, it does seem like we’re at that jetpack phase,” Reiss said. “The next generation is starting close to home. The first iPod didn’t create my demand to have music. I always wanted my music; it enabled something I always wished I could do.”

Today’s 4K TVs need a broadband connection, but Palmer said with 5G capabilities, the resolution possibilities move to fingertips and begin the conversation of complex holographic content. Palmer mentioned the real-time capabilities of 5G by talking about an experiment with players standing on a free-throw line, wearing VR goggles and making shots.

What media companies are doing to prepare for future broadcast capabilities, including Yahoo, are still under wraps as they build proofs of concept, but Reiss said there is a paradigm shift coming and future broadcast rights negotiations in 2021-23 will likely account for new mediums.

“It is really hard, but that’s part of the competitive advantage,” he said. “It being hard creates a barrier of entry. This is a massive undertaking and it fundamentally will reshape how fans consume sports.”

Fans can also be connected to an in-arena experience at home through the VR headsets. The Kings ran a trial with students in Mumbai, allowing them to virtually sit courtside.

“We’ve always wanted to figure out how to connect fans to each other, but the city and the world,” Montoya said.

In-Arena Experience

As the line between virtual and physical world continues to blur, the physical attendance of games will change too.

Montoya believes it will be 18-to-24 months before fans start really entering the arena with fully capable 5G devices, but the Kings organization wants to be ahead of the curve. 

“Just think about all the elements you can bring into the game that don’t exist yet,” Montoya said. “In-game betting, hearing multiple audio feeds, seeing real-time biometrics. You’re going to see all these apps and platforms we can’t comprehend yet.”

The Golden 1 Center has more than 1,000 miles of cable power, connected to the internet with 200 gigabits-per-second pipeline, more than a 1,000 beacons and sensors, the world’s largest indoor video board and its own Tier 4 data center.

READ MORE: How the Edmonton Oilers and SQWAD Are Pulling Off Unique In-Game Giveaways

The Kings have laid out the technology to provide lightning-fast speeds and low latency, so they are now waiting for people to connect to it and create the applications to fully utilize it. Technology’s effect on fan experience is far beyond viewing the game and gamification, but also easing friction points. Improvements like smart turnstiles help increase fan entrance up to 1,000 per hour, up from the 300 per hour from handheld scanners.

“From the moment they wake up to the coming into parking and the facility, we want to remove all those friction points,” Montoya said, adding the organization is already looking at how autonomous vehicles will interact with the facility.

Verizon’s Palmer imagines having personal tablets to call up multiple replay angles and real-time data aside from what’s on the big monitors. The tablets could also create peer-to-peer gamification within arenas, whether for fun or moment-by-moment betting.

Kings’ representatives have already talked to more than 300 organizations from across the globe.

“We’ve definitely created the blueprint,” Montoya said. “I can see some of the new venues incorporating some of our thought processes.”

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Microsoft’s NFL Campaigns Culminate in Super Bowl Week Activation

This year, Microsoft has tapped into NFL players’ personalities in order to tell a broader story about the brand its impact on player hobbies.

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Photo via Microsoft

For years, the NFL and Microsoft have been synonymous with one another. The two go together hand-in-hand as the Microsoft’s Surface holds its place as the Official Laptop and Official Sideline Technology Provider of the NFL.

Yet the partnership goes far beyond in-game usage. This year, Microsoft has tapped into NFL players’ personalities in order to tell a broader story about the brand and how its products have helped to influence player hobbies. According to Broderick Hicks, a vice president of marketing services at Wasserman who serves as the account lead for Microsoft, Microsoft has leaned heavily on merging the practical uses that its products provide with the bigger picture of storytelling.

“Microsoft’s marketing with the NFL has been built around the Microsoft Surface,” said Hicks. “This year’s campaign has been showcasing players being able to make their ‘side hustles’ a reality. Microsoft products and technology can help bring those stories to life and showcase how these ‘side hustles’ can turn into actual businesses and careers for these players.”

READ MORE: Amazon Gears Up for the Big Game

These “side hustles” have included NFL players honing a wide range of skills. All branded under the “Make Believe Happen” campaign, Microsoft has helped to magnify the talents of these professional athletes using creative storytelling throughout the NFL season.

For example, Larry Fitzgerald uses the Surface for editing photography associated with his travel company, while Alvin Kamara is diving into the world of fashion. Microsoft took player authenticity one step further as it teamed up with players Cole Beasley, Chad Thomas, and Melvin Ingram to have each produce individual hip-hop tracks inspired by Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”

Beasley and Thomas’ beats even landed on Surface’s “Make Believe Happen” curated playlist available on Spotify.

“It is different for fans to see an athlete such as Cole Beasley express his desire to create music,” said Hicks. “The campaign allows for fans to see different layers and dreams that players have off the field. It is cool for Microsoft to tap into. The brand doesn’t overpower the stories. It is a natural part of what they do.”

These advertising spots have been running all season long on Microsoft’s website platforms, as well as on its social media channels and traditional commercial spots.

The brand will continue its push for player-created content throughout Super Bowl Week. Microsoft’s outfitted Super Bowl lounge in midtown Atlanta is full of experiences that help bring the brand to life.

A production studio will be on-site that will allow players to create their own version of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” or to lay down a verse on a new track. Of course, the brand will have Xboxs available for players to showcase their gaming talents for viewing fans. There will also be a “Dial Style” application that players can interact with. The app allows players to use the functionality of the Dial to design unique clothing items based on colors and patterns relevant to internet searches, such as “Mona Lisa” or “cotton candy.”

For Microsoft and Wasserman, the branding collaboration has centered around helping to bring the products to life.

“The two organizations are going into our fourth season together working with producing NFL content,” said Hicks. “It all starts with hearing input from Microsoft on the products and messaging that they wish to highlight and then teaming up to brainstorm ideas to bring those to life.”

Along with Dustin Sedgwick, Microsoft’s director of integrated marketing and partnerships (brands, sports, and influencers), Hicks and the Wasserman team outline a season-long time frame for their NFL activations.

Initial ideas are conceived in April and May. Broader objectives are brought in and content plans are finalized by June. Once the plan is in place, the focus turns to getting time with players in late June and early July to film and produce the branded content before they go off to training camp. Once content is in hand, the pre-promotion and deliverables are scaled out.

READ MORE: Inside Buffalo Wild Wings’ Super Bowl Plans

As the NFL season starts, so does the launch of Microsoft’s campaign, as those are rolled out by September or the end of October at the latest. From there, messaging is reinforced throughout the season with different adaptations and updates to the program taking place in preparation for the postseason and Super Bowl Week.

“The keys to our activations and content coming to life are being ownable and scalable,” said Hicks. “We are in the business of bringing products and brands to life through creativity and support.”

Hicks and his team look for two specific results throughout the season. The first is driving as many impressions as possible. Whether this is during games with branding on the sidelines and through use of Surface tablets by NFL personnel or through commercial spots and promotional videos on social, the intended goal is to reach a critical mass of potential consumers. The second desired result is to tell relevant stories that hit on a cultural level. This is where the player videos come into play as fans are able to see a different side of players that they previously may not have known about.

“Once the entire marketing plan goes from developed, to created, to launched, it is great to see it all come together and realize it’s even cooler than what you thought it would be in your head,” said Hicks. “Seeing it all firsthand is another thing. It shows the quality of work that Microsoft and our team are able to produce as it all comes to life.”

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