Five Keys to Nailing Social Video Strategy From the NBA, MLS, and Fox Sports

What makes digital content distribution so challenging is the staggering number of avenues that a piece of content needs to be sent along to reach a fan. Long gone are the days of building a single piece of content, running it on a network, and hoping fans watch.

Now, with media consumption patterns so fragmented, teams, leagues, and networks need a strategy behind television, the Web, mobile, and a flurry of various social-media channels. It’s well documented that what works for Instagram might not work for Facebook. A great SnapChat “Story” is not necessarily told the same way as a Twitter “Moment.”

Key digital execs from the NBA, MLS, and Fox Sports shared their thoughts for how they cut through the digital marshlands at last month’s Hashtag SportsFest. Here are five takeways from their conversation on how they get the most out of their video via social.

The NBA found success with SnapChat during the 2015 NBA Finals, leading to further partnerships with the social platform this season.

The NBA found success with SnapChat during the 2015 NBA Finals, leading to further partnerships with the social platform this season.

1. Real-time Highlights Are a Winner
With each new technological development through history, there’s been concerns that capitalizing on that progress could dramatically impact a company’s core business. There was even a day where there was a concern that broadcasting games on the radio would decimate stadium attendance.

Social-media platforms have brought forth an even greater level of disruption. However, the NBA has decided to fully embrace its young, tech-savvy fan base by publishing real-time highlights to channels such as Instagram, Twitter, and SnapChat.

Naturally, that decision was a hard fought one, but one the league ultimately relished.

“There was hesitation around it at first,” says Mike Allen, SVP of Digital Products & Emerging Technology for the NBA. “There was concern if people would still watch the broadcasts if we shared highlights across these various channels. What we’ve found is that it’s absolutely additive and, in fact, it’s been driving tune-in. If there’s an exciting play that’s happened, we will post it and that post will mention where to tune in to continue watching that game.”

2. Tent-pole Events Are Prime Time
For teams, leagues, and networks, there is no greater time to make big content pushes than around major marquee events (opening days, All-Star Games, championships) throughout the calendar.

On the final day of the regular season, MLS sent Twitter "Mirrors" to all 20 of its clubs to generate social content around "Decision Day."

On the final day of the regular season, MLS sent Twitter “Mirrors” to all 20 of its clubs to generate social content around “Decision Day.”

On the final day of its regular season earlier this year, Major League Soccer rebranded its slate of games as “Decision Day.” The concept was to schedule all games to start at the same time, with games that had major implications on the playoff picture placed in prime windows with national broadcast partners.

MLS’s digital department jumped at the chance to build a major content initiative around the day. The league expanded its partnership with Twitter by sending Twitter “Mirrors” to all 20 MLS clubs.

If you haven’t seen them, Twitter mirrors are cameras that essentially allow for the quick publication of photos and videos taken with the device. MLS utilized these to provide unique behind-the-scenes content with players, coaches, and fans.

To manage the workflow, the league sent social content managers to all 10 game sites for the day to produce content for Twitter, Vine, and Periscope. The league itself also shared a plethora of real-time highlights and peeks inside stadiums to give fans the feeling of being at the games. They also encouraged fans to share their own content with the league.

“These big events really help us break through and help us drive interest in the games and the broadcasts,” says Chris Schlosser, VP of Digital at MLS. “What we think we can do [with weekends like this] is leverage all three of our broadcast partners, our own channels, and then partner with a company like Twitter. We can make the social discussion really come alive, especially for the younger fan.”

Allen also noted that it is important to be prepared for milestone events that may pop up unexpectedly throughout the season.

“If somebody erupts for 60 points or something like that,” he says, “we manage those by having a daily content meeting that’s attended by various groups that sets the tone of the narrative for that day across all of the platforms. So, at any given time, if something happens, we have our game plan to how we program and message that across everything.”

3. Personalities Build Communities
One universal truth across the digital world is that personalities drive engagement. Be them major national broadcast personalities or YouTube stars, communities of fans exist all around the digital universe.

Fox Sports has taken this fact to heart, building content around key personalities such as radio juggernaut Colin Cowherd, breakout digital darling Katie Nolan, and college football’s controversial Clay Travis.

“Part of what we do at Fox Sports Digital is support the television side,” says Mark Pesavento, SVP of Content for Fox Sports Digital, who was one of the founding editors of For The Win and came over from USA Today Sports Media Group to Fox earlier this year. “We are in charge of building content experiences around the programming we offer on the linear side. To do that, we try to find, support, and grow voices.

“What we are really looking for is a clear voice and clear point of view,” he continues. “It’s someone who understands the fan they are talking to. Clay Travis is controversial, but he knows who his fan base is: it’s the southern college football fan and he’s speaking directly to that fan. We look for people like that who have a clear idea of who they are trying to reach and the mechanism to achieve that.”

Fox Sports also supports a wildly popular mixed-martial-arts podcast called “The Fighter and The Kid,” which has built a community of its own; a valuable and engaged community to build around FS1’s vast MMA programming.

“Their fan base is so engaged,” says Pesavento, “and not just around UFC. They just love these guys. They want to be a part of their culture. We want to engage fans not only around sports, but grow a community around the people that are leading the discussions.”

4. Experimenting Is Essential
A lot of what’s going on in the digital space is throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks, and that makes for an incredibly exciting sandbox for content creators to play in.

Fox Sports has been trying to get more out of Periscope this college football season by working with college football personality Clay Travis. Basically, Travis travels with a selfie-stick-style rig and a mobile device, and the network encourages him to go live to Periscope when big news happens or major events are taking place. He can basically go live wherever he is in the world at any time.

Persavento was pretty blunt that the idea could fail spectacularly and that there was no monetization behind the idea, but that didn’t stop Fox Sports from trying.

“That’s the reason why I got into digital — because I enjoy experimenting with new formats,” says Pesavento. “That’s what makes digital fun: trying s**t. Yeah, you might break a few eggs, but sometimes you get something special.”

5. Honesty Is the Best Policy
So with all of this experimenting, how do you know what’s working and what’s not?

It’s all about the reach. How far did the distribution method get the piece of content out into the world? Are people engaging with it? Is it generating conversation? All are clear signs of success.

When things don’t click, however?

“There’s also a hard-to-define quality of, did we think this content was the best version of what it could be when it failed,” says Pesavento. “And if so, we killed it off. If we think we can do better, we will iterate. We have to be very honest with ourselves.”

Even when content doesn’t generate the kind of buzz one would hope, there’s always something to take away from the experiment.