This diverse panel from Hashtag Sports 2017 touches on strategies in Fan Engagement both in venue and out, best efforts for capturing the attention of today’s millennials, understanding what the “new fan” wants and how they expect to consume content, as well as, the importance of having a well-defined digital and social strategy to reach a broader and more diverse set of demographics.
Check out the full video and transcript below!
Anthony Morgante: Thank you everyone for coming, we have our illustrious panel here! We’re going to talk about some fan engagement strategies and how everybody’s dealing with them from a league perspective and a cultural perspective.
I’m going to start off by introducing Jill Gregory first. Jill is a Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer at NASCAR. She oversees all marketing efforts including brand marketing, social media, insights and analytics. Jill joined NASCAR in 2007 when she was the SVP of Motorsports Marketing at Bank of America. So thank you Jill for joining us from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Jill Gregory: Thanks for having me!
Morgante: Next is Alfredo Bermejo, he is the new Head of Digital Strategy at La Liga where he leads all their efforts in developing integrated strategies across La Liga digital platforms including social media, apps, gaming and other platforms. Alfredo has over 10 years in sports experience, and he just came from leading media partnerships at Facebook. Thank you Alfredo for joining us from Madrid!
Alfredo Bermejo: Thank you!
Morgante: Next, we have Matthew Cenedella, Chief Operating Officer and treasurer from the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) where he has a multi-faceted role, including integrated marketing, digital management, strategic planning, member and member relations. Matt joined WTA in 2010 from IMG Worldwide where he was their global controller. So Matt, thank you for joining us from beautiful St. Petersburg.
Matt Cenedella: Thank you, Anthony!
Morgante: And last but definitely not least, we have Noah Garden from MLB, Major League Baseball, Executive Vice President for Business where he works directly with all the national MLB partners, oversees partnerships, corporate sales, consumer product licensing for MLB Advanced Media, MLB Properties, and MLB Network, as well as all of their commerce, ticketing, advertising, and subscription businesses. Wow, how do you have time to be here? So, Noah joined MLB in 2001 from Outpost.com where he was Director of Product Marketing and Business Development. Noah, thank you for making the far commute from Chelsea, New York.
Noah Garden: Thanks for having me!
Morgante: So our conversation today is focused on fan engagement. We would love to have your perspectives on how you guys have solved so many of the different challenges that engaging fans in today’s digital world brings to the table, and how you go about harnessing some of that fan passion that is so prevalent across sports. We’ll start off with a question for Matt and Noah. It’s essential for any sports organization to have both a digital and a social strategy. Tell us a little bit about how those are different and how you guys are approaching those from a different angle?
Cenedella: I mean for us, we’re certainly — thank you good afternoon — we’re certainly at an interesting point on the digital and social side at the WTA. You know, as the governing body we still have to report through all of our digital channels, email, .com, any of our corporate communications side.
You know the scores, the stats, and the insights that come from our 2000 matches over 300 days every year. What we find is that our social really has to somehow be able to unify our global audience and be able to provide the behind the scenes aspects that really the casual or even the diehard fan tend to gravitate towards. So for us we’re investing heavily on the social side in our content production and really trying to make sure that everything we do social eventually is driving people through the digital ecosystem.
Morgante: And how is that different in baseball, Noah? Since you have a high frequency of games…
Garden: You know, I don’t think it’s much different. I think that if you look at overall strategy, it’s part of the overall plan that you talk about each channel. Whether it’s social or traditional digital, you’re just talking to a different audience and you know the goal there is there’s some people that spend hours at a time in their social environment. And the question is, how do you reach that individual and what do you reach that individual with?
So what we try to do is just be respectful of their time that they are spending with us, and if it’s a score that they want, or if it’s a highlight from the game or something that’s happened that night we want to make sure we get it out to those folks that are on social at the right time because it could be that they never come to our site; it could be that that’s where they spend all their time increasingly.
Morgante: So social has definitely accelerated the timing of where you need to get messages out to folks. So Jill — and this is for Jill and Alfredo — nobody really likes to be targeted as a marketing — you know — well no one likes to be a fan that’s targeted from a marketing standpoint. What do you guys feel is the most effective way to get your brand across and elevate your brand and at the same time not make the fans feel like they are a target of a marketing campaign?
Gregory: Well I think the good news for all of us is that they’re fans. That means they’re fans of our sport, and our brands that come through and all of the competitive elements so if our fans come to either our digital or social channels, we want to make sure that they’re getting the content and all of the passion and the excitement of our sport. The great news is our fans are also very open to sponsorship and partnership messages so we don’t have to hit them over the head with a sponsorship or partner message.
The unique success of NASCAR comes from marrying the power of the fans with the value of the sponsors.
We can show them the highlights of our sport and customize that based on which platform they’re on, how much time they have to Noah’s point, and the marketing message, if you will, is embedded in that content. So I don’t think it’s really an either/or where we’re targeting them with a certain message. Everything that we do is meant to drive their passion, and the marketing comes through that.
Bermejo: Yeah, I mean, I totally agree. Content is the key. It’s how you are able to deliver relevant content to the relevant audience, whether you are in China, the United States, Spain and whether you follow a global competition like La Liga, NASCAR, MLB or WTA. How you can provide that real relevant content that is authentic and engage with fun? I think that’s the key to a social media strategy, for us, that is not perceived as a marketing target.
Morgante: So Jill, to add on to your point there, how do you achieve the balance then with reaching out during race weekend? Obviously everybody has a thirst or higher thirst for your content. How do you achieve the balance when it’s not race weekend, but it’s a Tuesday or Wednesday?
Gregory: So you mentioned in the intro that we have a new Analytics & Insights group — it’s not really new, it’s almost a year old though — and everything that we do is rooted in insight and what do the fans want? We listen to them both on the digital and social side each and every day after every race.
For us, we’re asking them how they felt about the competition, what happened on the racetrack and one of the things that they tell us is it’s very distinct needs and wants that they have during the course of a week. So you know Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is where we get to talk more about driver lifestyles, the back stories that fans want to know about. You try to get inside the helmet and have them learn a little bit more about the drivers and what makes them tick and the personal side…
Morgante: On the personal side?
Gregory: On the personal side, but we know that come Thursday, Friday when that action shifts to the track those fans want to know about competition, how the car is, strategy and obviously there’s a little bit of difference between our core fans — they want to know much more.
I think like all of us the core fan wants the stats, wants that inside look. But even the casual fans want to go into a race weekend knowing what they can expect, what they should see on the track, what the rivalries might be so there’s a pretty distinct shift for us midweek — that shift to the weekend that really gets into some of the deeper understanding of the sport and what’s going to happen that weekend.
Morgante: Interesting, so can you talk to a little a little bit about how NASCAR stepped up its game recently with some recent campaigns like the Ready Set Race campaign or the Hashtag 500 which was wildly successful?
Gregory: See you mentioned the split between digital and social, and for us, we know that the core fan is really very focused on our digital sites, our digital products are much more snackable, — I think that’s the term that we’ve been using. But we did a campaign about 18 months ago. We did a distinct shift from a traditional television campaign to digital and social first so we’ll always have 30-second spots. We have great TV partners in Fox and NBC that we provide content and back and forth, but we want the digital and social first strategy and really talk about driving our fans to our digital and social channels and then have kind of the television campaign as an overlay to that.
So we did a promotion called the Hashtag 500 — no relation to Hashtag Sports — where we drove fans to social media during the broadcast so it was a nice cross-pollination of those fans watching our broadcast on Fox, but we also encourage them to follow the race on Twitter.
During live racing action they could tweet, and whoever would tweet the fastest in this particular promotion would win prizes from that race — and also if you were the 500th person to tweet during the race which the Fox broadcaster’s promoted during the broadcast. The fans were engaged through that promotional concept so a really good way for us to drive the television audience but also keep our fans engaged on social as well.
Morgante: So bridging on the the array of ages from the audience that we’re trying to capture from a fan engagement standpoint. I have a question for you Alfredo, regarding the attention span of millennials.
I’ll start with a little story of my own so I have a 16 year old son and we were watching, he’s a big basketball fan, so watching the NBA Finals a few weeks back and we were out shopping for some stuff and it was like 8 o’clock and I was like “Hey, we got to get going, we got to get back for the tip-off.” He was like “That’s fine, you know we’ll watch it, we can rewind it.”
I was like “We are not going to rewind it.” So we got there and we were home for the tip-off and he’s sitting right next to me and he’s not even looking at the screen and five minutes into the game Durant makes this awesome dunk and the broadcaster’s are going crazy and I’m like “Oh you missed that,” and he’s like “Well, we’ll rewind it.’ I’m like “No, I’m not gonna rewind it. You should have been watching from the beginning!”
Garden: Tough dad…
Morgante: Yeah, so he’s sitting right next to me on his five-inch screen versus a 60-inch screen and five minutes later he’s like “Oh wow that was an awesome dunk,” and I’m like “Are you kidding me!” So the attention span of even something that he is deeply engaged in — he loves basketball, loves all the statistics around it — I still can’t get him to put the device down and just watch it with me without any interruptions. It’s just impossible, and the fact that he’s so spoiled that he can or his mentality is that we can just rewind it without having to sit there and pay attention, it’s tough for me to handle personally.
So how do you deal with millennials just having that — they don’t need to be at the start of a soccer game, they don’t need to be watching that great play right at that moment; it’s okay for them to watch the game an hour later a day later like how does that…?
Bermejo: I mean, it’s a great challenge. Everything is a challenge for all of us, I mean it’s gonna be almost 40% of the population in 2020, and they consume more than one hour. Social media means how to engage with that audience, it is not focusing on the live content, and basically I think we should think on what’s the kind of content, and how they consume that content when you want to watch it, how do you wanna watch it and on which platforms?
We had some examples in terms of TV production. We invest a lot in La Liga to have a better traditional broadcasting production and we realize that when you go to social and mobile consumption, they don’t care that matches, that qualities that highlight one specific moment are the most accurate moment related to the live game. So trying to adapt the narratives and build stories that engage that audience is a great challenge for us. But it starts by better knowing our audience.
Morgante: Do you see the trend line continuing from a mobile and digital consumption for your sports specifically or has it been staying the same what has been the trend for soccer in general?
Bermejo: I mean I see the trend line growing. We’ve seen in our media consumption in the digital platforms increasing in the recent years. It didn’t damage our TV rating. So far we are good, but we’ve seen our news consumption change in the recent five years, how the music industry’s consumption changed, so we think that will happen to sports and we will need to adapt our narratives and our content production to all platforms.
Morgante: La Liga has recently entered into a partnership with Microsoft to help with some digital transformation and address some of these challenges that you guys are facing? Can you elaborate a little bit on what your plans are from a technology standpoint or the transformational standpoint?
Bermejo: Yes, basically the main goal of these partnerships is to help us to better know our audience, to know our fans, and to have one unique vision of La Liga fans and track what they want. The interaction within the multiple touch points that we have with them whether our apps, our social media or gaming platforms, have a better profile identification of those funds and being able to deal with business intelligence and analytics to providing the most relevant content and product and services.
Not just from La Liga, but from the 42 teams that form the competition. Not just as some governing body, as a group of teams and being able to keep that information, and to share with the teams that information and those strategies.
Morgante: So the teams are also pushing you for assistance there?
Morgante: Right. So they’re willing to make that investment to help grow their work?
Bermejo: We want to work closely with them to get them on board on that project and to reach and to broaden the region not just for a local competition in Spain, but so we can grow globally.
Morgante: Let’s talk a little bit further about a different type of engagement versus you know we’ve been talking about social and digital up until now. Regarding fan engagement in-venue versus out-of-venue, so just to make a clarity statement here: nobody on this panel, Major League Baseball doesn’t own a stadium, NASCAR doesn’t own a racetrack and La Liga doesn’t own a stadium, right?
So it’s not like they have a personal vested interest in making the experience in this stadium the best it can be. So these are all governing bodies from a perspective of the sport and that proposes a different challenge of what they view fan engagement to be, and what their requirements/responsibilities are.
So, for Noah and Alfredo, how is engaging fans in the venue different from how you try to engage them outside of the event? That doesn’t necessarily mean on the couch like at home, but it can obviously be outside when they’re traveling or when they’re in a college dorm, or there’s definitely differences. We would love to hear your perspective and your strategies.
Garden: We’ve invested a lot over the past few years in our technology at the stadiums. I mean if you think about it, go back five years ago, you walked into a venue the size of a baseball stadium or any of our venues, you knew you would have connectivity issues. You’d basically be without access to your phone and information for a period of time, and it’s really unacceptable in today’s environment.
So really for us it started with league-wide, we went wired in every park so we partnered with all the usual suspects and made sure that the technology within the stadiums gave you the ability to be able to pick up your phone or any device that you happen to have with you and connect with the outside world. You know, I mean forget for us [points to panel], but for our kids, not having their phone is like not having air so you know we didn’t want you to show up and…
Morgante: No pun intended?
Garden: No pun intended [laughs] You know so that was really the first step.
Then the second step for us was you know you look at these venues, and there was one person buying on average three-and-a-half tickets to an event and you knew who that person buying the ticket was, but you didn’t know who was coming with them. I mean we couldn’t have known less about our fans, and that really is unacceptable in today’s environment as well. So you know what we’ve done is we’ve created an app called the Ballpark App that our teams use and within that app, that’s where you manage your tickets.
That’s where you can forward tickets to others as well. You know, that’s increasingly how you enter a stadium, with mobile tickets, and that has allowed us to really understand the customers that are coming to the park, how many times they’re going to other parks. Combine that with some of the information we’re getting to our other platforms, and then ultimately the goal is to have a much more personalized experience when you’re in that venue.
Certainly you can send something out and say you know “Hey, there’s a sale over here or get a beer over here,” but you don’t want 40,000 people heading in one direction so it really does become more one-to-one and getting that information was really the foundation of us achieving that. It’s still a work in progress, but you know that’s where we’re headed.
Bermejo: Yeah, at La Liga, we’ve been investing a lot in the experience during the last years. We didn’t have a unified TV production and we had some some issues in terms of the facilities and through connectivity — no Wi-Fi access and so on. For the last two years, we’ve been working together with the teams to get all this sorted out — having a standard quality for the grass that is essential to play the game, having an effective action, connectivity improvement, but it’s also important for us the rest of the days between matches.
I know MLB — you have a lot of activity — but in La Liga we have seven days between, or at least three days between games so keeping the fans engaged in between matches it is such an important thing…
Morgante: Do you think and this is a question for anyone, do you think fans are expecting that kind of — MLB was one of the pioneers of using beacons in the stadium and stuff — you think fans have an expectation now, that you know when I walk through the rotunda at Citi Field that I get greeted and you know who I am? Or do you think it’s more of a big brother thing and they kind of don’t want to share where they are?
Garden: So you know some do and some don’t and I think that that’s why there has to be sort of a process for people to opt-in. I mean certainly when you’re calling somebody out for being in a certain place at a certain time — that’s creepy far as I’m concerned. But you know, some people want it, and if you raise your hand and that’s what you want, you need to be able to give them what they want.
But really the idea I guess is to enhance their experience and not really push them in one direction or another. So you take beacons for example, if you happen to walk by a place in the stadium, a certain part of the park that has historical significance or something that they may or may not know providing that information is kind of cool.
It’s a service versus what we did early on saying “Hey welcome to the park.” Like that’s something that was sort of shied away from. So it is trial and error, but I think you do have to be careful and strike that right cord.
Morgante: And how involved are the venue owners? And again, this is for anybody. Did the teams come to you and say “Hey, you know we’re looking to do this with our fans” and you take their input, and it’s just either hard to implement or too costly versus what the fans really want to experience?
Garden: I think that when we look at you know whether it was wiring the ballparks or otherwise I think the goal of MLB.com from way back when was to make sure if you’re a fan of a small market club that you had the same experience as someone from a large market club. So just because you’re in Kansas City doesn’t mean you should be treated any differently. — already you have less technology deployed in your stadium — then you know if you were in New York City.
So the idea was we’ve taken a more central role when it comes to technology and delivering that with the ballpark app in particular. I think the key to that is making sure that for us that our clubs can customize it and it can be their own, and so we’ve built them with the sort of the core functionality that exists in it, but each of the teams customize it and the app.
When you open the app, it knows what stadium you’re in and it provides an experience. That’s a little different at every place — some people might have in-seat order and other stadiums might not for the different logistical reasons. But they need to know each venue is different with fans from different parts of the country expecting different things. You need to make sure that it can be localized on the local level.
Morgante: Great, andquestion for you Matt regarding female viewers. Since your sport obviously is focused on the female athletes, how do you view the competition for those viewers on the weekend?
Cenedella: Yeah, I think what you’d probably find first is we actually in some markets skew much more even between male-female. Particularly outside the United States and parts of Europe, for us what we realize is our star players they index so well across fashion, travel, cultural, political issues in some cases, and we really want to draft off that — not to use a NASCAR term.
But what we want to make sure of is that you know we’re still in the early stages of the cards — we’re in the early stages of our digital/social transformation and what we know is that linear television continues — it’s critical for us of course — but it continues to grow pretty steadily, and what we’re finding is actually the digital consumption of our matches in our sport has doubled in the last three years and that’s what we want to make sure that we’re doing, because we’re global and we don’t have anything but a one or two week window of time at particular geographies.
That’s where we’re really pushing in the last year to make sure that the social and digital products help take the fan on tour, and so we’re really trying to take advantage of, to a certain extent, our players’ images, their likenesses, their behavior. The first two or three days of a tournament is really heavy and aggregating the content from the players as they’re available before that.
What we’ve really worked on is short form content and we’re finding it incredibly helpful, both male and female. Our Facebook views are up 500% year-over-year, Twitter’s up 800%, and we’ve increased our overall social audience by 62% just in the last 18 months.
So what we’re finding in the early stages is you have to have a complimentary — telling the stories and whether it’s male/female, whether it’s different preferences or what not, where people are from in 32 countries — you really have to be you know a good tactician. But you have to also be strategic, and most of all you have to listen to the fans and when they want to sort of go down a different path and your curation process just has to adjust.
Morgante: So like NASCAR, you typically follow a driver in NASCAR right and since tennis is not a team sport it is the same way, the folks have a thirst to understand what they do off the court or in their personal lives and does that drive….?
Cenedella: I think we are (tennis) by nature in many cases a regional sport. So although we have maybe 10 or 20 — if you’re an avid tennis fan maybe you could name ten or twenty players — but what really happens is it’s the German populace they want to know how the top five to ten German players are doing in the UK. It’s the same in China with Li Na a couple years ago. I mean it was the most-watched CCTV sporting event when she’s in a Grand Slam Final. We have to be able to adapt and take advantage of those.
It’s obviously a challenge from a timezone standpoint, and that’s why we’ve really doubled down with WTA Networks and our thought process — really trying to be able to customize as much as possible content that might be captured at the same moment. But the way it’s edited down, the way it’s overlaid with music, sound effects, etc. can kind of focus on different countries appropriately.
Morgante: So building on that a little bit, Jill if you can give us your perspective on how NASCAR has had a continuously growing female population and viewership in your Latin communities have grown as well. Can you tell us how that is different from what Matt just mentioned regarding his strategy?
Gregory: Yeah, I think a little bit for us, we’ll always probably be surprising to some folks, but we’ve always had pretty much a 60/40 split between a male and female audience, and that has stayed consistent over time. A lot of the elements that are true to our brand resonate with a female fan base as well, but we don’t have a dedicated female strategy. We’re going to go after moms in this market or young females in another market.
We know that the things that NASCAR fans want are pretty ubiquitous across male-female audiences and across demographics as well, they want to be inside the helmet;they want competition. They want the intense passionate racing; they want crashes and excitement. I would argue that women are no less competitive than men so our fans want the same thing. So we deliver that to them and we’ve actually seen the way we’re delivering it through digital and social — that 40% of our general audience split is actually you know a little more evenly balanced.
Almost 45 to 50% of our followers on social media are female so you know I think it goes again along with the themes that we’ve heard today, it’s customization and whether it’s a male fan, a female fan, a Hispanic fan, they want what they want, when they want it on the platform that they’re consuming at that time so all of us have the challenge to deliver that thirst for customization and the delivery mechanism that is most convenient for the fan.
We all have to try to deliver against that so we don’t target female-male; we do some things in the different demos, but male and female is where it’s pretty standard across the board.
Morgante: So Noah, to her point there, regarding the personalization it seems to be a common theme, but when the whole panel used the term second-screen, I don’t know if that’s relevant anymore. It’s almost like the tablet has now become the third screen and the TV’s either maybe not a screen at all or a “sometimes screen” and the focus is that the primary screen is your phone. How is your strategy changing there from a “second-screen” perspective and keeping that personalization?
Garden: Sure, I mean for us it was always the first-screen and I think when you look at it now you used to customize based on you know age group and demographic and now increasingly, it’s really by device. So if you take a look at the iPhone or any phone for that matter, we see roughly at MLB, roughly seven minutes that somebody spends on their phone consuming us on that device, so what do they want? What are they coming for? Used to be back in the day, if somebody clicked five times to get to a score or to get to where they want…but you have to be respectful of their time with the seven minutes.
So we put scores front and center; we put highlights front and center; we allow you to customize that experience. We have a condensed game where you can watch the whole game in ten to fifteen minutes versus you know watching a full game if you come on your phone. That’s probably something that should be more front and center. So we really look at the device now and you take a look at connected devices on the other end of the spectrum.
You know we get them roughly 45 minutes on average there, so that’s a different experience and with that experience it’s you know you want more of a lean back experience, but at the same time there are people that want more information. It used to be just about the strike zone and you know, what’s hot, what’s not, where did it land, and you used to say it’s a 93 mile-an-hour fastball, but that doesn’t even tell the story because a 93 mile-an-hour fastball can get hit if it’s not moving. Now it’s really dimensionalizing the stats and showing the movement of the ball.
So you know there’s people that want that information, and while on a phone that might be something that’s hard for us to bring front and center on the connected devices. It’s something that you can overlay easily and provide so we really now look at device more than we look at by demographic.
Morgante: So all those things, those additional overlays as you refer to them: the strike zone, the trailing path of the ball, the trajectory, how fast this outfielder ran to get that ball, that kind of thing, are those things that fans that were clamoring for that you guys introduced?
Or is it a function of the fact that you have the most games of the season so there’s so much that the fans can take in from baseball? Baseball also being a sport that has traditionally been a statistic heavy sport, is that part of the strategy of how much can we overlay here, and how much is too much versus this is what the fans are asking for?
Garden: I think it’s both. I think there’s a segment of the fans that are asking for it. You know and again, if you take a look at it there’s different stats that you’ll see coming out, but we can basically tell now summaries on first base based on who’s pitching, who’s catching the lead. We can have something there that overlays on the field that say you know there’s a 90% chance a few ones from here that he’s gonna make it to second.
It’s just contextual. Does everybody want it? Maybe not, but increasingly people want to sort of understand what’s going on, and why so-and-so hit this, why they ran here and just understanding the game, I think can make you a better fan. But that said, some people don’t want it. Some people just want to lean back — so really it really just depends.
Morgante: Yeah, I mean I get the privilege at Microsoft working with a lot of our sports partnerships. Two of the questions I get asked a lot most often are if Microsoft can help us solve who ticket number two, three, and four is. That’s the Holy Grail because nobody’s done that yet. And the second is how can you help us be more contextual and more relevant so that example for?
To clarify a little further is if I’m attending a New York Knicks game and I’m attending in New York Knicks gear, don’t offer me something to go purchase merchandise for the New York Rangers — or even worse not being relevant — so that’s an example of being relevant but not being contextual.
Where if I’m already at the game and you know I’m at the game because I’m tweeting or I’m doing something, don’t offer me a discount for parking if I alreday parked my car — like that’s very frustrating for a fan. However, it’s super beneficial to know that information from a league or team standpoint. So how much is too much? And this is for anybody not anyone specifically.
But how much is too much about reaching out to a fan? Now do you want them to say “Hey, WTA, NASCAR, I’m here so are you sending me stuff?” or “I don’t want you to know that I’m here. Don’t send me anything, I just want a tweet on my own.” Like what’s the balance there? And that’s not an easy question, and there’s no right answer.
Cenedella: It’s hard not to listen to the fans. We’re still at the point where we’re segmenting and trying to understand — even the last two years — we’ve come to learn actually our average age is two or three years less than we thought it was. As we’re going into different modes, different platforms of viewing so you know we’re still at the point where heavy listening and adapting and trying customizing, but making sure you’re okay failing a little bit if it’s moving you forward.
Gregory: I think there’s never too much. There’s never too much for us. You know we have to educate a lot of our fans particularly moving casual fans to be more avid on the strategy — what is happening at the racetrack, where they are re in the venue is really important for us. There’s a lot of noise. We have a lot of ground to cover so providing data or some explanation and some background on what’s happening at the track through your device is really helpful for us.
It’s hard to know what’s happening and we can obviously do that much better through the broadcaster, through NASCAR comms and our products, but that data and what’s happening and the things that Microsoft has helped us with is taking all of that and making that fan understanding much deeper which keeps them coming back.
We’re not using it as much to send them to you know buy another beer or another Coca-Cola. We want them to understand and to know more about the sports, so I think a little bit you know similar to Matt is that we want to make sure that it’s enhancing their understanding of the competition.
Morgante: So in tennis you have different logistical challenges than NASCAR does. With NASCAR we’re talking about a vast space typically in remote locations, not usually in metropolitan areas that impede on connectivity. Tennis is different where there’s simultaneous matches going on and if you’re a fan of more than one… So if you’re that German scenario if you’re a fan of more than one German tennis player, that’s happening at the same time, like how are you on this court and understand what’s happening on the other court. Those are some of the challenges that you’re facing, right?
Cenedella: That’s right, I think what we have not only do we not own the venues, the venues are in use for you know typically two to three weeks around a tournament and some of the larger stadiums are a little more year-round.
Indian Wells out in California is a great example owned by Larry Ellison. They’re putting in technology to try to make the fan experience analogous to going to a major sports league. But it really is for us. We have potentially at some tournaments 16 to 24 matches going on different courts at the same time, so how do you tie it together?
I think of the analogy with golf and what Microsoft is doing with the PGA Tour is very similar to what we’re looking to do where I’m on court seven and I’m watching my favorite German player, but I hear a lot of noise bubbling from court number nine. What’s happening? I can [find out] and that’s where we have to get much more advanced with the connectivity.
But also just as simple is how we were telling the quick story or creating the platform so that the fans can really look and say “Okay, although I’m on court seven I know this is going to the third set on court nine between two top 20 players. I’m gonna walk over there right.” And that’s what we have to move towards. It’s just it certainly is a challenge, but not insurmountable right? Just have to focus on it along with our members.
Morgante: Would love to hear your reaction to the term cord-cutter? Do you hate that term, do you embrace that term? What does cord-cutter mean?
Cenedella: Well, I was probably scared of the cord-cutter until I became one right? So I haven’t had cable in about a year and a half, and yes, it’s difficult without sports. Sometimes you have to work a little bit harder, you know?
But the reality is that people that are choosing to get their entertainment through different channels/vehicles/platforms, they’re going to do that and no entertainment or brand is necessarily going to stop them. You know what we’re finding is as they’re viewing on alternate platforms, it’s helping us overall with the relevance of the WTA.
So we’re fine with it. I think it’s like anything. You know, 50 years ago there were fears of this technology. When cable started, right? Now it’s just a different paradigm that we have to work within which makes it more difficult; it makes it more of a challenge when you’re extrapolating that by 35 countries but what we’re trying to do is take it in digestible bits.
What we’re really learning is that, to the talk of linear earlier a bit, is we can work with the linear broadcasters and illustrate that the fans that are cord-cutters, they never knew them before, they never had information or data from a traditional linear side.
So if we can work through partnerships — and we’re actively doing this with the broadcasters and alternate channels on the digital side — we’re able to actually go back and provide the broadcasters meaningful information. So there’s a whole question about whether it’s cannibalization or you’re building up overall relevance. I think our mindset is the pie is this big, let’s really make sure that the pie is as large. We can get it before we start worrying about cannibalization, right?
Morgante: Jill, did you want to comment on NASCAR?
Gregory: I think you could be afraid of the core of the term cord-cutters. They’re not going to do you any good.
Cenedella: Don’t be afraid.
Gregory: It’s here. [Laughs]
And I think one of the byproducts is that it’s forced us to look at the way we present our sport with our broadcast partners and make sure that we’re providing what the fans want. Live sports is a product that is very compelling, and I think that it’s best suited to adjust to to all of these changes.
But to Matt’s point, the other screens, the other opportunities, that just allows us to present it differently, to present it in a way that attracts those younger audiences that we were going to lose anyway if you’re not going to innovate. Then they’re not going to come and they weren’t going to come to us. So I think it’s forced a lot of us in this business to look at how we present things a little bit differently and take advantage of it and have it be complementary versus something that is a competitive disadvantage.
Cenedella: I do think it’s going to call into question — you know talk about the traditionalists, and tennis is very traditional in the media side — so trying to advance away from sort of a bit of an overbearing reporting. This is our three or five set match and that’s it. Talking about presenting a five minute match, a ten minute match in different contexts.
I think that certainly has to be the future, right? And whether people are going to a VOD, SVOD or what not on the streaming side, you want to be able to curate it in the way that they’ll watch. My 10 or 15 year old daughter, they’re not necessarily gonna watch a two or three hour tennis match, but boy they’ll watch a 25 minute or definitely a 10 minute match. Especially if I ask nicely, if you ask your kids nicely…
Cenedella: Snackable, right? So then you could argue that you’re gaining a fan, or attention, that you otherwise would have never had.
Morgante: So I’m going to wrap and this was a last question for all four of you, if you can give a brief answer regarding your opinion on the deals that are happening now that the Amazons and Netflixes and Hulus and Twitters of the world are shopping for deals with the NFL and some other deals that these media companies or social companies are going out and looking for. These big media deals, what is everybody’s opinion on that? Is it just a trend, is that going to continue, is it something you guys are entertaining?
Cenedella: Wait, has anyone else been approached by these companies? [Laughs]
There’s no doubt it’s happening. Of course it’s happening as the search for credible and quality content becomes a bit of a bidding proposition. Sure, so it’s here to stay and probably will continue to accelerate. The real question will be what’s the whole contextual experience for the viewer? Because in those new or non-traditional platforms, are they going to be able to like really create the whole ecosystem of data, stats, behind-the-scenes, etc.? Or is it just going to be streaming matches. I think that’s a interesting challenge — we’re ready to watch it.
Garden: I mean I would say listen, there’s enough to go around. I mean if you look at baseball in particular, and we play every day for six months, we’re doing the Friday night game on Facebook, and we’re learning — probably just as Facebook’s learning. The question is that content makes sense for that platform at that time.
I think that we’ll find out, but certainly content is still king and when it comes to sports and those of us on this stage, it’s really one of the things that’s very tough to time. So as a result you know it’s valuable. It’s valuable to platforms. It’s valuable to partners, and it is certainly valuable to advertisers so just making sure that you’re capturing those eyeballs in the right place at the right time, it still allows you to monetize it in the way that you know you want.
Morgante: It’s interesting you say time shift, is it less flexible than linear broadcast? Or just depends on the strings that are attached?
Garden: Yeah, I mean I think that it just depends, for us it’s geographical. We play every day so once tonight’s game is over, you’re onto the next day, and you’re on to the next game. If you’re overseas or you’re displaced like that and you might want to wake up and really watch the game, you might watch the condensed game, you might watch the whole game. So it’s a little different, but you know again for us, it’s just really hard to time shift. No one game — unless it’s the playoffs or the World Series or the All-Star Game — no one game has enough meaning that you go back.
Morgante: Alright we are over a little bit, so I want to thank everybody for making the trip.
Even if you had to take a subway.
[Laughter and applause]
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