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NBA and Turner Tap Facebook Watch for Documentary Release

“Something in the Water” is more proof of the league’s commitment to growing both internationally and digitally.

Greg Esposito

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Facebook Watch - NBA - Turner

The NBA, as a league, is known for three things: basketball, its commitment to the global game and a willingness to be at the forefront of technology.

This past weekend, those three elements collided in a beautifully constructed and fascinating documentary created by Turner Sports and their Players Only Films called “Something in the Water,” which premiered on Facebook Watch.

The documentary focuses on a group of talented and young stars from the former Yugoslavia — such as No. 3 overall pick and Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic — who are embarking on their NBA journeys, as well as the group of players from the region who paved the way for them in the 1980s and 1990s.

The plot is about family, struggle, hardship, war and the blossoming of one of the NBA’s most fertile regions for talent outside of the United States despite its smaller size. Stories like these are important for the league and its broadcast partners to tell because it showcases the power of the game and its transformative nature.

“The NBA is a global game,” said Craig Barry, executive vice president/chief content officer of Turner Sports. “We live in a diverse world and we need to speak in a diverse language that extends to global platforms such as Facebook Watch. The international game is having a big impact on today’s NBA, as seen with Luka Doncic going No. 3 overall in this year’s NBA Draft and Dzanan Musa also being a first-round selection. It was the right time to tell this story.”

While the NBA and Turner have more conventional platforms on which to air this documentary, a story of this magnitude deserves a platform with global reach.

Enter Facebook Watch.

The relatively new distribution channel provides a truly unique opportunity for the league and Turner.

“This platform offers an ability to create engagement around the content, to ensure fans can consume and interact with it while also having real-time conversation surrounding the subject matter,” said Barry, who also serves as executive producer for the Players Only Films series. “This is becoming more and more important as we talk about the importance of engagement metrics and there’s a robust, international community on Facebook Watch. We felt it was the best place to share this compelling story.”

One of the great things to emerge in sports since the advent of social media a little over a decade ago is its connective power. The fact that fans of basketball across the globe can discuss the game has helped grow it far beyond North America. That discussion has finally found its way to longform video on the Facebook Watch platform. It’s something that Turner and the NBA hope to tap into with “Something in the Water.”

“It’s 100 percent about the level of engagement with the content and to tell stories that resonate and drive emotional connection with fans,” Barry said of what will define success for the documentary. “For Players Only Films, our subset to the overarching Players Only franchise, this is also an opportunity to raise awareness for a fast-growing brand as we expand it to multiple platforms. Players Only is all about authentic storytelling around the players through their eyes – whether that is through NBA on TNT, NBA Digital, our social handles and platforms – and Facebook Watch offers a dynamic distribution opportunity for this content.”

The documentary is more proof of the league’s commitment to grow both internationally and digitally. It also will provide an interesting test case for sports content providers overall. If a longform documentary can find its audience and generate buzz via Facebook Watch, it very easily could signal a shift in the way we see content distributed moving forward. Whether it’s a bellwether of a shift in media or not, the documentary is an example of great content that transcends the platform on which it’s housed.

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

The Checkdown Wants to Be More Than a Social Media Account

Go inside the strategy that has made the account one of the NFL’s most important assets.

Adam White

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The Checkdown - Sports - Football

Anyone with a phone can create content nowadays. In fact, global internet users post 49,380 photos to Instagram every minute of every day.

So, with so much content out there, how can one distinguish themselves?

For the NFL, that is through finding unique ways to verticalize its content through accounts like The Checkdown.

“With The Checkdown, we wanted to cover more of the surrounding football stories from youth football all the way up to college football,” said Ben Gallagher, Head of Social Content for The Checkdown. “We really wanted to broaden our content offering from the league perspective.”

Only a year old, The Checkdown has found a way to make an impact in more ways than creating content that resonates with its audience.  

Two of the most recent examples include getting a young player to practice with the Buccaneers and finding a way to get a Marine veteran signatures from Eagles players on his prosthetic.

“We started The Checkdown to encompass stories like those that reach outside of the traditional storylines,” added Gallagher. “The goal for us is to ‘take the helmets off the players’ and shed light on the game in ways that are different than normal.”

Many of today’s best social accounts — team and league related, or not — are driven by either great curation or great creation.

Gallagher wants The Checkdown to be known for being great at both.

“We knew that to stand out, we had to offer best in class curation as well as original content. Being associated with the NFL, we have access that no other outlet has. I believe that’s really what is our competitive advantage and what has allowed us to tell deeper, more meaningful stories.”

Relying on a content team of five people who work exclusively for The Checkdown as well as leaning on a group of content producers of more than 30 people inside the NFL Social Lab, the account is able to capitalize on moments with furious pace and creativity.

READ MORE: Inside the NFL’s New Partnership With ‘Fortnite

Outside of serialized and original content, the team at The Checkdown also produces a Snapchat show and a Twitter show — something that Gallagher sees as further proof to why The Checkdown isn’t just an average social account.

The goal of these initiatives? Find a way to recapture the youth audience that football — and the NFL in particular — is desperately trying to get in front of.

“We’re trying to kind of recapture the youth audience with our Twitter and Snapchat shows, which is another thing that makes what we are doing more than just a social media account. We’re not just putting up a one-off post; we’re coming up with serialized, original content, and we’re putting on productions.”

While creating quality content, Gallagher and the team have been able to find ways for the league to monetize their efforts, with partners like Samsung coming onboard.

The pitch? Reaching an engaged audience that skews more towards Gen Z than any other distribution channels or network partnerships that the NFL has.

“Brands know that we can help them reach a desirable demographic in a way that feels bespoke to the platform,” said Mark Pesavento, Vice President of Digital Content for the NFL. “We have a creative studio that works closely with our partners to create assets that achieve their goals while engaging the audience with unique and compelling content.”

Today’s athletes and influencers are driving more social conversation and attention than ever before, something that brands can’t replicate in terms of sheer relatability, but that doesn’t mean that a brand can’t have a voice.

For The Checkdown, that voice is derived from a personality-driven approach that places the emphasis on the account being more of a gathering place than anything else.

“We want to become a personal account,” said Gallagher. “We want people to come to the account and not know that they are on a corporate account. There are emotions involved and that is OK.”

While a checkdown during the game might be a safe play for the quarterback, the NFL is betting on accounts like The Checkdown being the future when it comes to its social strategy.

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Digital Media

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

After a successful 2018, Bleacher Report has plans to continue to leverage the power of its platform to drive revenue in unique ways.

Adam White

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Bleacher Report - Revenue - Sports

Like many publishers in today’s media landscape, events have become a key way for Bleacher Report to create additional monetization opportunities for partners, as well as new ways to bring a brand that is inherently digital, into the physical world.

Hosting six events in 2018, the strategy behind the events was finding ways to capitalize on the biggest sports moments of the year.

Their latest event, while somewhat in the “pop-up” side of things, is an opportunity for fans as well as influencers to connect in real life over their love of Kicks.

Finding success with the events they hosted in 2018, Ed Romaine, B/R’s Chief Brand Officer, sees events going forward for the publisher falling into two separate categories: editorial driven and partner-driven.

Their last event of the year, B/R Kicks x The Drop Up, is an example of what an editorial-driven event for the brand looks like.

Spun out of the event, B/R will launch “The Pre Heat” and “Sneaker Shock,” two new content editorial franchises that will be connected to this celebration with seamless values of giving fans experiences that they normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to get their hands on.

“Our tentpole franchise events like this will remain in 2019, but I think you will see us do more advertiser-driven events that are based on in-store retail opportunities,” said Romaine.

READ MORE: Bleacher Report Takes Next Step in Evolution With B/REAL

Executing opportunities like this are what Romaine credits to B/R being able to see revenue growth up over 44 percent year over year. It’s also part of how media companies like B/R are finding ways to diversify their revenue in an age of digital ad dollars being dominated by the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

“All content providers now are tasked with being a solution center for people who invest in them. Whether it is through media agencies or through client direct buys. Being a 360-degree solution for partners like Levi’s has helped us win business that we probably wouldn’t have been able to win.”

What exactly did B/R do this year to grow its revenue in new ways outside of events? Romaine points to multiple key initiatives, including thought-leadership capabilities and a newly established influencer marketing platform called “B/R Squad.”

Through the thought leadership platform, B/R has worked with different companies and brands in the industry build custom solutions to pressing research or industry questions that they are having trouble answering.

All of the new initiatives come down to one thing according to Romaine: staying competitive.

“I think if any content provider wants to be competitive, then they need to have a comprehensive set of solutions that they have in the marketplace that people can tap into.”

BR Kicks - Bleacher Report - Sports - Revenue

With the “Drop Up” and events like it going into the future, Romaine is most excited about B/R being able to build out opportunities that focus more on cultural moments and not just sports moments.

“I’m excited about the ‘Drop Up’ because it’s the second time that we’ve expanded beyond just the sports moment and started focusing in on the journalistic culture moments that we’re creating throughout the calendar year. Where you’ll see an evolution from us or where you’ll see a more comprehensive set of events will actually come more from the editorial vision that we continue to dig into.”

While being a media company in 2018 has its challenges, B/R is an example of what can happen when you are able to leverage the attention that you have on your brand.

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Digital Media

How College Football Teams Celebrate Bowl Eligibility on Social Media

Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and FIU offered a handful of examples on how social media departments can capitalize when their football teams become bowl eligible.

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Vanderbilt celebrated their bowl eligibility with a slick graphic. (Image via Vanderbilt)

At the start of every college football season, one of the main goals of most FBS teams is to reach a bowl game. These high-stakes events are not only a chance for the program to accrue more revenue, but players get one more chance to compete on the field while fans have one more opportunity to see their team before preparations for the new season begin.

In many cases, the excitement from a team qualifying for such a game can provide inspiration for great graphics and social content. Teams like the Vanderbilt Commodores all over the nation churned out striking posts on Twitter celebrating that all-important sixth victory that qualifies teams for bowl eligibility.

That win kicked off a host of festivities centered around the Commodores getting to a bowl, which, in turn, provided the digital team with even more chances to make content.

While reaching bowl-eligible status is an achievement that on its own is worth celebrating for many teams, some programs have the opportunity to celebrate a streak of consecutive years achieving this milestone.

READ MORE: ‘Ask Amelia’ Puts Customer Service in the Palm of Fans

Wake Forest, for example, celebrated its team reaching bowl eligibility for three straight seasons. This was just the second time in school history that the Demon Deacons were able to do this.

Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Dan Wallace explained the specific design elements and parts of the school’s expansive style guide (which recently underwent a rebrand) that went into creating these graphics.

“The black and white was something that we’ve been using for a lot of the score graphics this season. For a couple of years, we really put a lot of emphasis on using the black backgrounds; so this year, we went with the white backgrounds instead. Now, you look at the content going out on our social media accounts all year and you will see a very similar theme. From there, we try to use certain elements that can make each one unique, but still you can recognize that it’s a Wake Forest graphic when it comes out.”

The Demon Deacons now know that they will face the Memphis Tigers in the Birmingham Bowl on December 22.

In the final weekend of the season, many teams learn their fate in terms of going to a bowl game or not. Some programs, however, learned specifically which event they would be attending immediately following the game. This was the case with the Florida International University Panthers, who discovered they would be heading south for the Bahamas Bowl.

FIU Athletics Director of Marketing Scott Yogodzinski explained the thought process behind the design of the announcement posts for the Panthers’ bowl game on December 21 against Toledo.

READ MORE: Will Snapchat Still Be Useful in 2019?

“We wanted to make it look bright and tropical-looking. We’re in Miami — already somewhat of a tropical climate anyway — but we just wanted to push that this is a reward for our team. We have eight wins this year for the second year in a row and just the third time in the program’s history. This bowl is a reward for achieving that.”

Through these specific examples, it’s clear that bowl games can provide a university’s social media department plenty of extra opportunities to drive brand awareness and showcase immense creativity.

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