Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sports, Media and Data Part V (The Great Change)

As we’ve discussed, the telegraph, newspapers, radio and TV promoted some sports more than others.  These media brought data to the everyday fan that changed his or her perspective on the games they covered.  Obviously, the Internet changed a few sports as well.

However, I think that the Internet and its attendant data streams have fundamentally have not merely made sports like mixed martial arts more popular.  Rather, I think they’ve changed many fans’ relationships with sports in ways hard to imagine even 15 years ago.

To wit, the Internet has not only brought the games closer to the fans, but it has also brought the fans closer to the games.

Bringing the games closer to the fans

At heart, all of the changes in sports media have generally centered around bringing the fan closer to the game.  Before the U.S. Civil War, few fans had the ability to follow any sporting contest that happened more than a day’s walk or ride from their homes.  Today, most Americans have a wealth of choices for watching games taking place down the street, across town, across the country or even in space.

No need to test the wind, Alan

Clearly, the Internet facilitated greater access to games.  As an example, NBC Olympics streamed 159 million videos during the summer games.  At over 20 million total hours, NBC streamed more than twice as many hours as they did four years ago in Beijing.  One out of every eight people who watch the NFL do so on a computer.

In data terms, the Internet has added availability to sports.  Sports fans have greater access to data than they have ever had.  Fans displeased with the games on a hotel TV can access something else on their laptops.  They can pull up ESPN videos on their phones while they ride the bus.  By way of a personal anecdote, I traveled to England on business some time ago when the Brits had gotten themselves into some kind of fancy cricket match.  While my office mates asked each other “I wonder how our side are doing?” I pulled up a rare noon EST Yankee game on MLB radio.

However, the Internet merely hastened a trend long evident in sports media.

Bringing the fans closer to the games

Think of the last you watched a game on TV.  Did you have your phone, tablet or laptop nearby?  I’ll bet you did.  I certainly do.  I can’t watch a baseball game without using my phone at least once to fetch some bit of information about a player or a team.  

More to the point, fans use these devices to comment on games.  In a previous post, I showed a graphic that listed the top 10 most-tweeted-about TV programs in the first half of 2012; all but two were sports.

Do you follow your favorite teams?  The Yankees have over 690,000 followers on Twitter.  The Heat have over 830,000.  What about your favorite players?  LeBron James has over eight million followers.  Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson has over three-and-a-half million.

Social networks alone don’t account for the vast transformation of sports by the Internet.  Rather, they speak to the fan’s newfound ability to participate in some degree with the sports world.  YouTube has, as of this writing, over 73,000 videos tagged with “high school sports.”  While professional videographers produced some of them, clearly, many people have clearly taken it upon themselves to shoot, edit and upload their own sports videos.

On a more immediate level, TV broadcasts of games now bristle with online and text polls to keep viewers engaged, but also to allow them to speak up on what they think their teams should do.  Stadiums often allow fans to post messages on the big screens via texts as well.

While talking smack on Twitter or posting your son’s Little League game doesn’t make you an athlete, some Internet sports outlets just might do so.  New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul made his name during the  2010 draft with a video of him performing back flips.  The producers of the car racing video game Gran Turismo have created the GT Academy, a contest that begins on the online Play Station Network and results in the best racer’s offer of a slot on a professional racing team.

In short, the Internet has enabled a sort of complementary sport that plays out alongside the main game.  Strange as it may seem to categorize the Internet as an enabler of activity, it has, in fact, given more fans more opportunities to do more than just sit down and watch.

From a data perspective, specifically a marketing data perspective, the data have become more truly conversational.  The flow of data has gone from one-way to two-way, much in the way that marketers talk about dialogue with customers.  The smarter sporting organizations have already begun to tap into those data especially via social networking.  

It remains to be seen how much more conversational data will have an impact on sports.  For certain, it means that fans will have the increasing ability to participate rather than just follow.  So. for those of you keeping score at home, get a mouse and get in the game.

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