What Brands Can Expect With Sports TV Back

Mike Herrick SVP of Technology

This article was originally published on ANA.


The COVID-19 crisis has made clear how we as a society rely on entertainment to enjoy ourselves. In other words, we’ve been dearly missing our movie theaters, our crowded concert halls, and — especially when it comes to marketing — our live sports. Consider that sports make up 26 percent of brands’ global content spend. Yet, due to public health concerns around the coronavirus, the only U.S. sports on TV for months were a few NASCAR and Grand Prix races. The MLB recently came back to record ratings, the NBA is back, and the NFL plans to be soon. Most of college football has been cancelled, and there’s a chance all of it will be.

When we see sports on TV, the viewing experience is different, due to arenas being nearly empty. The MLB is even requiring broadcasters for the visiting team work remotely to limit travel and novel coronavirus exposure. Because of such highly unusual circumstances, sports leagues and their broadcast partners are experimenting with engagement tactics for, not only the game, but the entire production. Here are a few technology-driven developments marketers can expect to see when tuning into games tonight and in the weeks ahead.

Digitizing the Game Experience

It’s been said many times that COVID-19 is speeding up innovation, making brands adopt technology overnight instead of over years. With that in mind, sports marketers were already beginning to lean into mobile and will now do so even more to keep fans engaged.

Last year, the MLB Network began offering real-time pitch-tracking stats on the league’s app. The Cleveland Cavaliers, the Sacramento Kings, and The U.S. Open Tennis Championships have been experimenting with how to engage fans in-stadium with push notifications and other promotions that mesh the jumbotron with smartphones.

Now, some post-COVID-19-era-inspired plans are getting unveiled. For instance, the NBA is using mixed-reality concepts that almost seem like a video game overlaying actual athletics. These aspects include virtual tickets as well as players and fans interacting in real-time via video screens and audio/digital platforms that allow people to “cheer live” for their team. The players can even hear such cyber-cheers in the arena similarly to what the home audience experiences. Indeed, the TV sounds coming out of folks’ personal fan caves may now resemble noises that emerged from dorm rooms back when college kids focused on PlayStations and Xboxes as much as they studied.

At any rate, it is all about keeping fans in their living rooms connected with the games and the broadcasts’ advertising partners. The NBA is looking to achieve those ideas by digitizing the TV experience in ways we’ve never seen before.

Gamifying the Action

Amazon, which has done extremely well as an e-commerce player and OTT provider in recent months, could be unusually well-positioned on yet another front for the weeks ahead. Since January, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has teamed with the MLB, NFL, NASCAR, and Formula 1 to bring more data into live TV action and — while details are few — the possibilities are numerous.

For example, what if AWS helped the NFL figure out the likelihood of different kinds of plays that could be called on third down and seven yards to go (waggle route, screen pass or a toss over the middle to the tight end?) or second down and one yard to go (halfback sweep, wheel route or fly pattern)? What sports fan wouldn’t enjoy such thoughtful, predictive analysis for each kind of situation?

And of course, of interest to CBS, NBC, and ESPN sales executives, brands could sponsor these engagement moments: “And this AWS data point is brought to you by the Ford 2021 F-150.”

Something similar could be accomplished with golf’s biggest event, The Masters, which was postponed from April to November due to COVID-19. Each golfer’s odds — based on their histories with the hole in front of them — could be explained by the broadcasters. “And you can see more predictive stats on the IBM-powered Masters mobile app, which can be downloaded via the Apple and Google app stores in a matter of seconds.”

Improving TV with Mobile Engagement

Lastly, the world will never be quite the same as it was before. Broadcasters and marketers are adapting to the new normal, and we will start to see it all play out with the NBA, MLB, NFL, PGA, and other sports this late summer and fall. On a more granular level, to achieve the greatest engagement, they should test and experiment with these mobile-minded experiences on consumer segments to see what features perform best.

From a longer view, many of these new digital bells and whistles will be utilized far beyond 2020 to generate increasingly better engagement and fandom. Though we have an inkling about what some of these features will look like, it’s going to be fascinating to see what broadcasters and marketers all come up with and where brands can fit into the experience.

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