Seven Key Takeaways From Hashtag Sports Fest

This week, Hashtag Sports hosted its inaugural Hashtag Sports Fest, drawing digital leaders from across the country to the new Brooklyn Expo Center in New York City.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 12.10.20 PMTechnology leaders and content owners and creators dove deep into topics currently resonating throughout the industry: mobile experiences, social media, virtual reality, and more. There was plenty to learn at this two-day conference, but here are some key takeaways from the show for video-production professionals, in particular, to take note of.

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1. Digital Is All About Mobile First
Recent numbers on mobile usage have been staggering, and some data dropped at Hashtag Sports Fest only raised more eyebrows.

Digital, particularly in sports, has migrated rapidly away from the desktop computer (and even the tablet) to the mobile device. It’s a factor that sports leagues and teams have taken note of.

Barclays Center Chief Marketing Officer Elisa Padilla echoed that sentiment, noting that mobile, once the third screen, is now the first. And that’s true for more than just in-venue users.

According to Danny Keens, head of sports partnerships at Twitter, 90% of the video posted on the social-media platform is consumed on mobile devices. Bleacher Report GM Dorth Raphaely noted that 80% of his site’s traffic comes from mobile and, at peak sports moments (like last Saturday’s conclusion to the Michigan-Michigan State game), that number can jump to as high as 90%-95%.

So content creators and digital experience designers need to stop — if they haven’t already — building platforms around the desktop experience. Users and consumers are around a television set or desktop/laptop computer for only a finite period, whereas a mobile device rarely leaves their side.

2. SnapChat Is Growing
As image-focused social-media platforms (Instagram, Pinterest, Vine) continue to grow, SnapChat has gained significant momentum, embraced by a generation even younger than millennials.

Media companies lie USA Today and SB Nation have actually made SnapChat a social priority, designing and distributing content that most would find a little too casual, even silly, for their traditional platforms but that are appropriate for the target demographic (ages 18-24) that currently uses the social platform.

Sports leagues, most notably Major League Soccer, see SnapChat as a valuable storytelling tool and a great way to connect with its younger, more digitally savvy fan base. Said MLS VP, Digital, Chris Schlosser, “SnapChat does such a nice job of curating not just the official stuff but behind-the-scenes [content] that we are putting out, and it complements the TV broadcast really well.”

3. Social = Video and Facebook Is Still King
With all the talk about SnapChat at Hashtag Sports Fest, it made Facebook seem like the graybeard in the social-media room, but some major content creators were quick to jump to its defense.

For obtaining reach and impressions through video, Facebook is currently the best. A recent study by social-analytics firm Locowise shows that video was, by far, the best type of content for extending reach in September, and that has been the trend for the entire year, according to other analysts.

Fox Sports SVP, Content, Mark Pesavento noted that, as a video-production network, Facebook is the top social-media platform of choice when it comes to getting maximum digital exposure for its video content. Mike Allen, SVG , digital products and emerging technology, NBA, agreed, noting that videos “blow up” for the league on Facebook.

4. The Industry Is Hot on Esports
Many attendees representing startups were bullish on esports, a market segment that has boomed over the past half decade on digital platforms, such as Twitch. Even YouTube made a play at the market when it established YouTube Gaming, its answer to Twitch.

It makes sense for YouTube because gaming is one of the most popular categories on the site. In fact, according to data released by YouTube this year, the 100 most popular gaming channels on YouTube garner around 3.5 billion views. Most of that is on-demand content, so the move to live to match Twitch’s huge audience (which broke the 100 million mark for unique monthly viewers in 2014) is a logical one.

When looking for the next great sports stars, talent agencies and sponsors are looking at esports celebrities and their massive social-media followings and their ability to attract viewers for live events.

5. VR Will Change How Teams Tell Their Story
Virtual reality had a strong presence at the show as the market continues to zoom toward an inevitable showdown at January’s Consumer Electronics Show.

More than ever before, teams are looking to give fans insider access, and virtual reality offers exciting opportunities to do just that. The sports market has already seen properties create VR content, such as 360-degree social videos to take a viewer into a unique or exciting moment, or headset devices take viewers into the locker room and into the best seat in the house in real time.

It was noted that “virtual reality is coming of age but it is still a teenager,” and that’s important to note. The technology is still young, but it’s growing at a blistering pace.

6. In-Arena WiFi Turns Fans Into Brand Ambassadors
Most professional (and some college) stadiums and arenas have made the necessary investment to offer free WiFi to fans attending games.

As any small business will tell you, the best form of advertising is word-of-mouth, and, if your fans in the stands are posting pictures and videos of the great time they are having at your game, they instantly become your best advertising tool (or, as they were referred to throughout the conference, “brand ambassadors”).

Padilla acknowledged that, “if we didn’t have free WiFi at Barclays Center, it would be an awful fan experience.”

7. The Core of It All Is Still Storytelling
Regardless of all of these factors — be it the platform, medium, or the content itself — there’s a core to sports that has always been true: fans connect with great storytelling. Whether one is producing Super Bowl 50 for CBS or posting to the latest social account, sports is storytelling.

The days of social media as a source for raw play-by-play are essentially gone, and engaging users across the digital and social space is about telling a broader story and giving fans access that they could never get across traditional media sources.

Keens says that is especially true of Twitter. He advises content creators that, “when you stitch all your tweets together, it should tell a great story.”

Also, with so many distribution channels for content, it can be tempting to want to be everywhere as often as possible. When competing in the massive glut of content, quality tends to rise to the top, so long as it has good distribution.

Jayne Bussman-Wise, director of digital, MLS’s New York City FC, noted that, when creating content for her fans, she asks, “Is this a good piece of content? Are we adding value?”