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SEC Powerhouses Use Tech to Help Student-Athletes Build Their Brand

Auburn, Kentucky, and South Carolina have all turned to Birmingham-based INFLCR to deliver a more streamlined workflow.

Adam White

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Auburn, Kentucky, and South Carolina have all turned to Birmingham-based INFLCR to deliver a more streamlined workflow. (Photo via Jim Cavale)

Facilities continue to get bigger, perks continue to get better, and apparel continues to get fresher, but the one thing that is catching the eyes of recruits and current student-athletes today is the ability for schools to help them build their personal brands responsibly.

From Instagram to Twitter, and even Facebook, highly-touted recruits like Zion Williamson have become social media sensations who have used the platforms to grow the hype around their game and their persona.

It’s this hype, and following, that student-athletes are no longer taking for granted, and instead, leveraging the creative ability and content generation capabilities of their respective schools to bolster their online brands.

For a player like Williamson, his athleticism and eye-popping dunks have allowed him to gain a following of 104k on just Twitter alone, a number that is higher than ten of the school’s team accounts that he will be competing against inside the ACC next year.

With an increased emphasis on not only growth inside of college digital departments, but ways to distribute the content that is being produced, some of the SEC’s biggest schools have turned to Birmingham-based tech company Influencer (INFLCR) to help them accomplish this task.

“Athletes want content quickly and they don’t want to have to do much to get their hands on it, said Austin Penny, Digital Media Specialist for Auburn Athletics. “Before INFLCR, our process was lengthy and we weren’t able to get content to our players in a useable way very quickly or efficiently. Now, players can access all of the content from their phones through the app and get notifications when they are tagged in a piece of content. Plus, they can share the content directly from the app or save it to their phones easily.”

The ability to share content directly to the student-athletes has allowed both Auburn and Kentucky to see a bump in following across all of their platforms, which INFLCR’s metrics dashboards allows them to aggregate and measure.

“We have seen an increase in follower numbers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for both our player’s individual accounts as well as UK MBB’s accounts,” said Eric Lindsey, Kentucky’s Associate Media Relations Director for Men’s Basketball and Women’s Golf. “We’ve also seen better fan engagement and more engagement with the content from our players.”

Not only has the software been pivotal for helping the digital teams deliver content to their student-athletes, it has allowed for a simplified way for recruiting staffs to monitor their player’s social media accounts.

“Our recruiting staff, in particular, loves how it streamlines the process of monitoring Twitter,” said Justin King, Associate AD for New & Creative Media for South Carolina Athletics.

Whether it is a new videographer, a new designer, or 3 more interns producing high-quality content, without the capabilities and tools to distribute the content, schools and their student-athletes miss out on the opportunity to leverage both of their strengths to create a cohesive brand image across team and player accounts.

“We want these guys from day one when they get here to have the tools they need to brand themselves and use social media like a pro so they’re prepared when they make it to the next level.” – Eric Lindsey, Associate Media Relations Director for Men’s Basketball and Women’s Golf for Kentucky Athletics

As relationships have grown and the demand from the programs has continued to increase, INFLCR has had to scale alongside their partners, something that has been a learning experience for everyone involved.

“Like most young software as a service (SaaS) brands, we are learning a ton from our clients, and luckily we are nimble enough to provide them with everything they can ask for,” said Jim Cavale, Founder and CEO of INFLCR

For years, we have been told that content is king, and while that may be true, the opportunity to streamline distribution of content that has had countless amounts of resources devoted to it might just be queen.

With access to distribution funnels that now work across channels, Kentucky, Auburn, and South Carolina all have the ability to have their student-athletes become their biggest brand advocates while allowing them to reap the benefits of having high-quality content readily available, something that Austin Penny takes great pride in.

“Being able to tell these guys that coming to Auburn not only means they’ll get an education and get to play football, but also means they will have the opportunity to use their platform as a college athlete to grow their personal brand using the tools we have here is huge.”

As programs continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of their student-athletes, recruits and their families are looking for more than juice bars and gaudy gyms, they are looking for the tools that will prepare them and give them the chance to succeed whether or not they touch the field as a professional.

It’s this change, and the shift in mentality for recruits, that will shape the next wave of investments at the collegiate athletic level, and for Justin King, a movement that is already paying dividends.

“INFLCR has become a powerful recruitment tool for us. Being able to use the INFLCR app to show not only recruits, but their parents, how easy it is to receive and share content has been a huge selling point for our program.”

*INFCLR is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports.

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

Tech

What Bull Riding Can Teach You About Real Time Visual Storytelling

How a lightning-fast photo workflow helps Professional Bull Riders increase fan engagement online.

Libris Insights

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© Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

*This post is part of the brand new FOS Insights program. Libris is a proud launch partner of the program. 

As the official photographer for Professional Bull Riders (PBR), Andy Watson has captured every major moment in the sport’s 25-year history.

“It’s an edge of the seat sport,” says Andy. “You pay for the whole seat, but you only need the edge. It’s a very visual sport, too. You can really freeze and zoom on every little detail — the dirt flying, the expression in the bull’s face, the expression in the cowboy’s face. The photos are just powerful.”

Working directly with his wife Jacey, the duo, who also run Bull Stock Media, has mastered getting compelling photography up online in mere seconds to increase audience engagement and excitement around the sport.   

Watch the video to see how Andy and Jacey bring bull riding to life through stunning visuals and fast image delivery:  

Behind the Scenes with the Storytellers

Over the years, Andy and Jacey have built a massive archive of 1.5 million images. While Andy’s on the road shooting 40+ PBR events a year, Jacey manages the archive from their home in Bozeman, Montana. She crops and edits, tags all of the images with relevant metadata, and adds them to Libris to make them available to everyone who needs them.

© Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

Thanks to Andy and Jacey’s workflow, people across the PBR organization can get the photos they need, whether they’re posting shots on Instagram seconds after a great ride or digging deep into the archive for a celebration of the brand’s 25th anniversary.

Here’s a look at how they get PBR images published online so quickly:

  1. Andy takes photos inside and around the PBR arena.
  2. He uses a wireless transmitter to send them straight to a laptop at the edge of the arena.
  3. Jacey is logged into that laptop remotely from where she lives in Montana.
  4. Jacey crops and edits the photos, then pushes them out to the social media team using WhatsApp, and to others members of the team using Libris.
  5. Team members then immediately distribute those photos across social media platforms and PBR’s website.  

© Bull Stock Media

“They’re being used for everything,” says Andy. “There’s social media, there’s the website, media, marketing, they’re up and down billboards, they’re in all the papers, they’re on TVs, and all the sponsors use them.”

© Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

Today, Andy and Jacey have nearly 150 people on their Libris account who need access to PBR photos on a daily basis. On top of that, 400 people float in and out of the system when they need a particular asset.

“Of those people, we need to make sure everyone has the right image permissions,” says Jacey. “Some departments within PBR need access to the entire archive, while others don’t. Proper permission settings ensures you’re not allowing access to old images or old logos, for example. It’s important for PBR that the photos being pulled are always being used in the right context.”

© Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

“The evidence is strong when you also look at the huge following that PBR has on their social media platforms,” says Jacey. “Fans are being driven to consume PBR news and content solely on the PBR properties online, rather than seeking it out elsewhere. We’re an integral part of providing that content for those channels.”

And as the team uses these images across platforms, they have a powerful ripple effect on this fast-paced, fast-growing sport. Andy says photography is crucial to drawing people into the arena for the first time.

“Their curiosity gets the best of them,” he says. “And once you get them here, they’re hooked.”

For more tips on how to maximize the impact of your events, listen to the full webinar featuring PBR’s photo team.

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Tech

Why Orlando City is Turning to Alexa to Deliver News to Fans

The soccer club has rolled out one of the first uses of an Alexa Skill at a team level.

Adam White

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Orlando City is using Alexa to deliver news directly to its fans via voice-enabled updates on the Amazon Echo family of products. (FOS Illustration)

With one in six Americans owning a smart speaker according to research from NPR and Edison Research, the battle is on to find a way to deliver timely and relevant content to users who also have an affinity for sports teams.

While leagues such as the NBA have had Alexa Skills since late 2017, Orlando City’s foray into the voice space, specifically with their new Alexa Skill, marks one of the first uses of the platform at a team level.

Although there won’t be a massive marketing push behind the new skill, Ed Cahill, Senior Director of Content for Orlando City, is excited about the potential opportunities Alexa presents.

“We’ll continue to invest our time into voice,” said Cahill. ”Our target market is constantly on the move. If our fans are driving, working, or at the gym, voice is potentially our only option to reach them. In terms of creating content for smart speakers, the turnaround is actually pretty quick and we expect to be able to get regular updates out to fans without sacrificing too many man-hours.”

Making a decision to explore the voice space was easy for Cahill and his team based on the sheer fact that the market growth and adoption rate for smart speakers are booming.

“The most convincing research for us when it came to the decision to enter this space was the mass adoption rate of smart speakers,” said Cahill. “With over 20 million Amazon Echo’s already in the market, and a smart speaker install base of 244 million expected by 2022, it just made sense for us to start to explore the space.”

“I think we’ll take a laid-back approach in driving users to the platform. We’ve listed our skill on our website under news and will do social media push as well as in-stadium on gamedays. As this is only a news briefing skill, we’ll push this as a convenience factor for fans. If we look into a full-fledged skill in the future that strategy may change.” – Ed Cahill, Senior Director of Content for Orlando City

Although a first for Orlando City on the Amazon Echo, Cahill and his team have been using voice-based content in the form of weekly podcasts for the past three years. The success of these, coupled with the aforementioned growth of the smart speaker market, led Cahill to believe that being creating an Alexa Skill would only add another level of convenience for fans.

“We’ve been running ‘Orlando City Soccercast’ for over three years now. It’s a weekly podcast that helps fans stay in the know. We’ve had positive results from the podcast and expect fans to enjoy the convince of Orlando City news via smart speakers in their kitchens, bedrooms, or anywhere in their homes.”

For those worried about the skills it requires to put together an Alexa Skill, the process is actually rather simple. Luckily, besides the product being extremely easy to use, the platform makes the creation and approval process for an Alexa Skill quite seamless.

Not only is the process of creating a skill simple, the process to upload content and sound bites might be even easier. With all the cool features and possibilities of the platform, the ease of use was the one that surprised and delighted Cahill the most.

“I assigned the task of creating the skill to my Director of Video, Eric Thompson. With no experience in the space, he was able to create and send the skill in for approval in the space of two days. Training for creating and uploading sound bites for our entire team took only about 10 minutes.”

As with any content and platform, the first question after debuting it usually turns toward monetization and a club’s thoughts on how they will do that. While not the primary plan as of yet, Cahill sees the opportunity for Orlando City’s partners to get involved at some point.

“Our partners are just as much on the cutting edge as we are. Many are taking the same path into voice and we’ll look to collaborate and learn together.”

With voice platforms still in relative infancy compared to other platforms, the ability to get even closer to the consumer in a way that is easy to consume, and without much friction, is a tantalizing opportunity for sports teams around the world.

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Business

Cut the Cord: How Ticketing Professionals are Shifting with the Times

Not only do traditional broadcast companies have to compete with streaming services, so do live events.

Owen Sanborn

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Image result for apple tv menu

Photo via: howtogeek.com

I have an Apple TV in my apartment. Two in fact — one for the living room and one for my bedroom. (It’s such a great experience that I had to take it to the bedroom.)

Its library of apps and interfaces gives me access to every NBA game (thanks, NBA league pass!), MLB game (thanks, MLB.tv!), NFL game (thanks, NFL Sunday Ticket Max!), and more college football and basketball games than I can handle (thanks, ESPN!). And I didn’t even include the onslaught of TV and movie options I have at my disposal because one of my friends has a friend that knows a friend whose cousin has a login hookup for HBO GO, Netflix, and Hulu.

Have you ever searched for your favorite sports talking head’s studio show on YouTube? I assure you that you will find each segment from that day’s episode cut up into separate videos so that you can pick and choose which one is worth your time. If the video is not straight from the source (ESPN, Fox Sports 1, etc.), then some ambitious YouTuber out there felt the desire to share it just for you. You are a search bar and a click away.

And people wonder why us millennials stretch a mile wide and about a half of an inch in with our brains?

Pretty soon it may not be necessary for me to summon the courage to leave the couch. What’s the point? Everything I’ll ever need can be found in this little black box provided by Apple, Amazon, or Roku — along with a second and third screen to boot.

That last part has a hint of hyperbole sprinkled in — I will relinquish the throne of my couch. I do not consume sports on three screens at once … at least not ALL the time. But the point of my prelude is: the in-arena experience has stiff competition on its hands. Professionals in the ticketing business are well-aware of this fact and are readying themselves to shift with the times.

Like an NBA wing switching along the perimeter, sales staffs have to be ready to cater to a myriad of fan desires. Some may be looking for a single-game ticket or traditional season ticket membership, others want a flex pack, and a new wave of buyers may seek a monthly payment for the right to obtain tickets to every game. As a ticketing professional, you have to be quick on your feet and ready to supply an experience worth paying for.

“I think it speaks to how the consumer is coming to the realization that they really only HAVE to pay for the things they REALLY want,” Mike Hinson, VP College Athletics Sales at AudienceView told Front Office Sports. “Unless you have something compelling and personalized to each type of fan, you run the risk of alienating a large percentage of your fan base with “one size fits all” products (such as season tickets). That shift is why the memberships and experiences become not just compelling, but critical.”

Memberships and flexible ticketing plans are two areas where I could see the future of the industry going. I may not be willing to dish out fifty dollars per ticket to go see a Phoenix Suns game, but would I be willing to pay fifty dollars a month for the right to have a ticket to each home game (with the location of my seat shifting based on supply) that month? That idea at least makes me raise a brow.

In that case, the Suns would already be making fifty dollars more per month from a fan of my ilk than they would have been previously, and that doesn’t even account for the ancillary revenue (parking, concessions, merchandise, etc.) that comes along with me merely entering the building.

It makes sense for some teams more than others — the Dallas Cowboys are going to find no trouble selling out their venue on Sundays. However, what the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to implement with their monthly payment program is an admirable pursuit. It should serve as a trailblazer for other franchises or college programs to follow.

“Consumers are so smart and adept at getting discounts,” Brent Jones, Deputy AD of External Operations at Troy University told Front Office Sports. “We have to add value with our ticket packages — promotional items, bobbleheads, vouchers, fan experiences and affinity-building items are all things that we consider.”

For the time being, the opportunity cost of missing the at-arena experience is too low compared to manning the fort in your living room, three screens on hand, monitoring the downfall of your fantasy team with each passing quarter. Millennials are conditioned to control what they consume.

As Hinson puts it, “They still want to consume content and experiences, just on their terms.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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