Full Court Press: The NBA’s Esports Strategy

As arguably the most digitally innovative sport in the world, the NBA has always been willing to try out new ways of engaging fans in an attempt to sustain the passionate fanbase so long associated with the sport. This morning, they took another step in that direction, announcing to ESPNthe formation of an NBA 2K eLeague, in partnership with video games developer 2K Games and their popular NBA 2K17 title.

At it’s core, the League will feature 30 NBA 2K teams, each associated with one of the real-life franchises. Each team will consist of 5 professional gamers, playing out a five month season that mirrors what happens on the court; right down to the playoffs and Championship matchup that has sports fans on tenterhooks throughout the month of June.

For the full article, click here

Successful Digital Transformation: The Barriers & Overcoming Them

The goal is not digital. The goal is simplicity, which digital can provide.

Russell Davies, Director of Strategy (GDS)

Recently, I read a study from infoMentum on the challenges CEOs face with digital transformation in organisations. Whilst the study talks specifically about transformation from the very top, a lot of modern organisations aren't necessarily lucky enough to have a digitally savvy CEO that recognises the value in digital.

I should at this point caveat that, thankfully, we don't face this challenge at the LTA, but I have experienced it at almost every other company I've engaged with over the last few years.

For those not fortunate enough to have a digitally savvy CEO, what can you do to address some of the common barriers to transformation? In order to address the barriers, we need to understand what some of the more common barriers presented are:

Corporate Culture

Culture within an organisation can be a huge hurdle for anyone looking to change behaviour and drive innovation. To be able to really innovate, buy in needs to be sought from your executive team and digital thinking ingrained throughout the organisation at all levels. With an increasingly digitally savvy consumer (even forgetting the millennial for the moment), consumer expectation of an organisation or brand to be digitally aware has never been higher. 

The most effective way I have found of securing executive buy in has been to highlight areas of success within digital and present the audience demographic to help your executive better understand how the consumer mindset is changing. Knowledge is power as they say, and we are well equipped with the statistics to prove our case.

Secure buy in at the top level and prove the value of digital and that trickles down into the organisation. Speak to other departments; some of the best innovations and suggestions will come from those teams that interact with a different customer segment and highlight even greater opportunities to engage. By involving the wider business, digital becomes ingrained in everyone's thinking.

Nirvana in this case becomes the willingness of the organisation to try new things and not fear failure. I spoke with the VP of UFC's EMEA Region David Allen a few weeks ago, and he highlighted that because the UFC is a relatively 'new' sport (14 years old), they have little fear of failure; they have the buy in from their CEO Dana White (himself having a following of 3m+ on Twitter - it doesn't get much more digitally savvy than that) and recognise that they can innovate in ways other organisations can't.

Fast Moving Change

The nature of digital is change-driven; whether technology or consumer led. Such fast-paced change can often disturb employees as they struggle to keep up with the ongoing innovations.

Not necessarily the right type of innovation... 

One of our biggest wins at the LTA has been to highlight a process of agile development to the organisation. When we had completed a 14 month project to redevelop and relaunch our consumer facing site, we made it abundantly clear throughout the process that it was an ongoing project; it doesn't just stop with the relaunch. 

We have a feature stack that is prioritised in hand with our web team, ensuring we feed in requirements driven by our customers so we don't just develop functionality for functionalitys sake. We have implemented a number of content processes alongside this to ensure that content is not only updated regularly, but that business teams have become accustomed to regular change.

This has produced a more thoughtful, less reactive process for content creation and ensured that teams think twice before generating content that wouldn't be suitable.

Lack Of Expertise 

Digital is still a relatively new skill set within the business world; whilst technology has been around for a while, the tools and best practice evolve at an alarming rate; ensuring that those in digital spend as much time monitoring change within digital as activating around their own organisations strategies.

Educating the rest of the business to digital change and doing so on an ongoing basis can be challenging, especially if the organisation are yet to buy into the culture of change and shifting sands digital is built on.

The organisation needs to trust those responsible for digital; but those in digital need to earn that trust through careful articulation of a structured digital strategy that is given as much prominence as any other business strategy. 

Those in digital need to educate the rest of the organisation, but in a constructive manner..

Cost Of Innovation

The constant change in technology and consumer behaviour can make digital innovation costly.
Sure, there are plenty of ways of activating on your own channels and driving engagement through unique content, but to truly drive innovation and an experience that delights the consumer there needs to be investment.

With Digital Transformation, the Consumer, rather than the technology, is in the drivers seat.

The traditional challenge with the finance team and CFO is that of a 'liquid' budget within digital. In much the same way as a technology budget, there needs to be flexibility to react to innovation trends. Some organisations I've worked with have worked on a project by project basis, reviewing a feature stack on a quarterly basis and highlighting large scale expensive projects well in advance where possible (data warehouse restructures, marketing automation etc)

Red Tape

A common challenge for digital teams, and arguably the smallest obstacle (generally speaking, I have seen some horrendous contradictions) centres around data protection; fast-moving innovations and new technology mean the modern digital team need to be best friends with their legal department to ensure they are complying with common restrictions.

Involving the legal team (and often commercial teams) from the outset and being clear around your objectives and data usage allows digital teams to avoid the legal minefield data protection so often throws up.

These are just a few of the key barriers to successfully transforming an organisation into a digitally-driven one. A few more might include:

  • Proving ROI from digital
  • What metrics are relevant?
  • Fear of trying new things, instead reverting to a 'we did that last year, let's just do that again' approach

Many of you will experience these and you're own unique ones depending on organisational structure and the intricacies of your industry. I'll leave you with a particularly poignant quote around digital transformation (pro tip: these are great for executive presentations): 

The only wrong move when it comes to Digital Transformation is not to make any move at all.
Didier Bonnet

Could Meerkat bring social live streaming to the masses?

The growing impact of short form video content continues to increase at pace following Twitter's recent update to allow in-timeline videos.Last week, the San Fran company announced the purchase of Periscope; the live streaming iOS app that allows users to instantly live stream from their phones and post it on Twitter. Users can either stream publicly or invite users privately.

In any normal week this might have flown relatively under the radar, but with the annual SXSW festival underway (at the time of writing), the buzz around the already available Meerkat app has been growing. At this moment in time, Meerkat has been live a few weeks, but has already generated an impressive groundswell of interest, with a number of celebrities and journalists jumping in to live stream themselves.

It works in much the same way as Periscope, but as Periscope is still in beta and Meerkat is live, they have a little head start on the competition. If your Twitter followers follow you on Meerkat, they can choose to receive a push notification whenever you start a stream. Watchers can 'restream' the stream to their followers in a similar manner to retweets. Additionally, you can add text updates whilst streaming to create more context to what your streaming and engage with viewers in the stream. Once you have finished the stream it can be saved locally on your phone, but not in the cloud.

You can also schedule streams, so for instance you could setup a weekly live stream to review the latest sports news or similar (as some early adopters have been doing). As other bloggers have alluded to; this feature could be the make or break for the app in terms of longevity - users will be forced to think more strategically around content creation, which could certainly benefit those users looking to build a regular live stream show ala weekly podcasts.

Both Meerkat and Periscope play heavily on the story telling trend that is becoming increasingly popular with the millenial generation, and give users yet another chance to engage with their fans and followers in a more personal way.

Along with the backing of Twitter, Periscope could be propelled forwards and driven by the uptake of Meerkat, but even the creator of Meerkat, Ben Rubin, is wary of the formatIndeed, shortly after the announcement that Twitter had acquired Periscope, news broke that they were restricting Meerkat's access to Twitter's social graph. Despite that, Rubin and the team at Meerkat have been upbeat about the restriction.

Aside from the wariness around new social video apps, and indeed any new social app labelled the 'next big thing', the opportunities from a sports marketing perspective are exciting.

Sports teams and organisations could live stream Q&As with athletes, encouraging questions through the live stream and providing a personalised experience for fans. Athletes could give fans greater insight into their lives and build their fan base through engaging livestreams; perhaps behind the scene tours of stadiums or training facilities.

Ultimately, the success of apps like Meerkat and Periscope (when it launches) will be down to the content; whether that's brands buying in and getting involved or the athletes and fans innovating to create engaging content.

One thing is for sure though; innovative mobile video solutions are impacting social media more than ever before, and that can only ever be a good thing for the fans. Organisations and teams will have to continue to look for ways to engage their audiences across the latest platforms, and with the audience moving across a wider range of platforms, content is no longer king, but the dictator.

Next Level Experience – fan engagement at sporting events

SXSW is in full swing in Texas; an annual Mecca for music, film and technology fans. As well as being a breeding ground for start ups to promote new ventures, 2015 has seen the festival utilise technology that might not be new, but certainly seems to be reaching a greater level of maturity.

If you look closely around the convention centre, you might spot the small hockey puck sized discs dotted around - Bluetooth beacons. The concept is simple; using a network of these, you can serve contextual content to people with the corresponding app through push notifications. They utilise low energy Bluetooth, so are much more efficient on device battery levels.

With over 1,000 in the area, the SXSW technology team are utilising Beacons to track attendees across the event and serve up relevant information about sessions, guest speakers and networking opportunities; including allowing attendees to find like minded individuals to connect with at the festival.

Beacons have been available for some time now, but the pickup rate has been slow thus far, with a number of obstacles to get over to utilise the technology. Recently though, the price of Beacons have come down, and you can buy one for as little as £20 nowadays. The primary cost lies in app development and covering the area adequately with enough beacons to ensure effective coverage.

If you've shopped in an Apple Store in the last 12 months, you've probably already experienced beacon technology. They no longer have traditional checkouts, but use the Apple Store app on users phones to take payment from your associated iTunes credit card. Users simple find the item, scan the barcode with the app and make payment, all without even speaking to a sales advisor if so inclined. The app also allows your to check stock levels and make appointments with Apple geniuses.

That's conference and retail usage scenarios, but what about beacons in sports?

In keeping with sports marketing trends, the U.S. continue to lead the way in the technology realm. The NFL trialled beacon tech in Times Square for the Super Bowl this year, but haven't really implemented it to a wider fan base in games; unlike MLB who have had beacon technology implemented at 20 of their 30 league teams since early 2014.

This isn't uncommon for MLB; they are traditionally an early adopter with new technology and have previously run successful trials with Apple's passbook tech alongside YouTube parterships to get highlights to fans.

In terms of beacons, I was lucky enough to experience it first hand at the San Francisco Giants' AT&T park at the tail end of last year. We settled into our seats 20 mins before the first pitch and fired up the Ballpark app that is available at all MLB games; features vary depending on the stadium though, and this is where the Giants are leading.

Thirsty or fancy a hot dog? Check the menu, order straight from your seat and have it delivered. Not sure where the nearest toilets are? Check out their interactive map that highlights the quickest route to get there. Want to impress the person your with and see the game from those fancy looking seats? Simply view available seats, pay a nominal fee and upgrade; all from the app. Users are also able to check in at the stadium and are rewarded with discounts and offers based on their previous behaviour.

In short, beacon technology is being used here to create that feeling we all strive for as sports events marketeers; the fear of missing out.

By adding to a fans experience and rewarding them for engagment, you create additional value. By creating additional value you build loyalty. Increased loyalty builds revenue and generates new customers as your existing customers tell their friends about their experience.

All this, from a tiny disc. Contextual onsite marketing should be an increasing trend for 2015, both in the US and across the world as more and more venues and digital teams begin to grasp to the value of what it can do for customer conversion.

The Apple Watch – what could it mean for sports marketing?

Yesterday, amid a plethora of news about the new MacBook Pros and a Game of Thrones trailer debut, Apple gave us a little more insight into the type of apps we can expect to see on the new Apple Watch when it launches this April.

As they rolled through the almost mandatory demonstration of social apps, we started to get a feeling of what Apple are really driving at for the primary use of the app. Engadget referred to the usage scenario as ’10 second bursts’ - engage with the Watch for longer than 10 seconds and you should really be pulling out your phone. Whilst Apple haven't been implicit in their primary use scenario of the device (perhaps because the stark nature is that the phone will become less important), the beauty of the device lies in short-form, informative content; or ‘micro-experiences’ as I'm going to coin them.

The combination of location awareness and haptic feedback is a killer feature for us sports marketeers. I give a football example for reference; imagine you're into the final few minutes of a crucial league match and you're sweating on the result of your local rival's equally important match down the road.

Your watch knows your location, and knows that your a football fan through the apps on your phone in your pocket. If you’ve shown a preference for a particular team, it’s fair to assume that the watch could also know who your sporting rivals are.

Imagine if your wrist buzzed, you glance down at your watch, and see that your rivals have just lost with the last kick of the game - leaving you smug in the knowledge that your team are now in the clear. You know all this without needing to even look at your phone - cool right? Contextually aware apps are in the marketplace already, and sports teams and stadiums are doing some excellent work with beacons to create that all encompassing experience for fans; they all require physically removing your phone from your pocket though.

For sports marketeers, this is just the start for a far more immersive experience; both at sporting events and outside of them. No longer will we just be talking about the second screen experience, but the contextual micro experience, a persistent state of connectivity that encourages the 'hyper-connected' customer. The change to that micro experience could be subtle as well; the sub-conscious glance we give our existing watch throughout the day could suddenly start to deliver so much more that it is a genuine possibility that we could see a decline in mobile usage for information consumption on the go.

Only time will tell if Apple can succeed in driving the take-up of wearable technology, but like history has shown; whilst Apple are rarely first to market, they have a habit of refining the solution and packaging it in a slicker fashion than their competitors. To quote Apple's own propaganda:

Apple Watch represents a new chapter in the relationship people have with technology. It’s the most personal product we’ve ever made, because it’s the first one designed to be worn.