When the entire sports industry was effectively shuttered on March 11, 2020, it left teams, leagues, broadcasters and athletes needing to innovate fast to give millions of people staying at home glued to their screens SOMETHING to keep them engaged. Here are five examples of shifting content strategies and getting creative to drive fan engagement in the absence of live sport content.
Blue Jays Watch Party
If you're a Canadian sports fan, chances are you remember Jose Bautista's iconic bat flip. The Toronto Blue Jays were in Game 5 of the ALDS in 2015 when Bautista launched a 3-run Home Run in the bottom of the 7th inning at Rogers Centre to break a 3-3 tie and put the Jays up 6-3. Fast forward about 4 and half years... Canadian's are battling a global pandemic, quarantined at home with no shred of live sports to think about. While Canadian audiences have watched a number of re-runs during this pandemic, Sportsnet had an interesting take on the 'sport re-run', weaving a live watch party into the broadcast. Sportsnet's Hazel Mae, Arash Madani, and Shi Davidi hosted the live watch party on April 17th which featured some very special guests throughout the broadcast including Ryan Goins, Harold Reynolds, Dan Shulman, and the man himself - Jose Bautista. The game was broadcast to substantial audiences on Sportsnet One and was streamed online on Youtube, Facebook and sportsnet.ca to many more.
Just as College graduates dream of shaking the Dean's hand as they walk across the stage in robes and an academic cap, WNBA draft hopefuls dream of shaking Commissioner Cathy Engelbert's hand on stage as they don their new team's threads. Friday, April 17th marked the 2020 WNBA Draft and given the impact of Covid-19, the league was challenged to come up with a new and engaging format to broadcast the draft selections to the world. The solution? As the Commissioner announced each team's selection from a remote studio, in-home cameras caught the reactions and celebrations of draftees followed by on-court highlights and analysis, player interviews, and even some special celebrity shout-outs from the likes of Simone Biles and Kevin Durant, amongst others. The broadcast had a number of special moments which included the much anticipated first overall pick, Sabrina Ionescu's selection to the New York Liberty, and the announcement of the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award. Players like Kia Nurse live-tweeting the action kept fans engaged across platforms during the draft. The WNBA overcame this COVID-19 challenge and managed to create a uniquely compelling live broadcast that averaged 387,000 viewers on ESPN (up 123% from 2019's Draft). Current and new WNBA fans clearly loved the approach!
The Last Dance
Originally set to debut in June of this year, the release of the much anticipated docu-series The Last Dance on the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls was pushed up to April 19 because of a dearth of live content. Viewers, ESPN, and sports media outlets everywhere benefited from the earlier start date because it gave them something new to talk about! Every ounce of promotional support was poured into this series, because there was nothing else to promote! Decades old content is actually the freshest content to showcase. The launch of the series was so successfully - EPSN registered 6.3MM average audience for Episode 1, 5.8MM for episode 2, obliterating the previous high for a documentary on ESPN (3.6MM) - because like live sport, we just don't know what's going to happen! While the outcome has been decided, the inner workings of the team and their response to Michael Jordan's fiery competitiveness are entirely unknown. It has translated into weekly can't miss content that (normally) only live sport action can deliver.
theScore 'Almost Famous'
TheScore has grown to become a go-to source for not just sport scores, but betting, in depth analysis, expert opinions, breaking news, and long-form sports journalism. With live sports as the backbone its content, TheScore went nostalgic with its Almost Famous content series to encourage users to keep visiting the app on a regular basis. The series goes in-depth to look at professional teams from decades past that were oh-so-close, yet never achieved championship glory. With no live content, nostalgia is an incredibly powerful engagement tool. Teams from the 70s, 80s, and 90s were purposefully selected from baseball, basketball and hockey to give different generations something to look back on fondly and wonder what could have been. This is not to mention also delivering TheScore's advertisers a high degree of sustained exposure to audiences starving for content.
The Great One vs The Great Eight
Wayne Gretzky's 892 career goals once seemed like an impossible target for any other player to exceed. Due to his torrid pace, recent murmurs grew to very real speculation about whether or not Alexander Ovechkin could surpass that illusive goal total. With the NHL on pause, and Wayne's record safe for now, the two are competing head to head in another way.
Rivalries and records are the storylines that make sport captivating. Taking an on-ice pursuit of an all-time record, and turning that intrigue into a head-to-head game of NHL20 streamed online on twitch has created an engaging viewing opportunity for multiple generations. Making the event support charity translates that engagement into social benefit.