Ep. 41: Sports Content Innovation with Jay Sharman
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to the GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy. Joining me today is Jay Sharman, CEO of TeamWorksMedia. Jay, great to have you on the show.
Jay Sharman: (00:29)
Thanks for having me, Rob. Happy to be here.
Rob Cressy: (00:31)
Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Jay Sharman: (00:35)
Sure. That's probably a longer existential question, but TeamWorksMedia is in the content business. We are a storytelling company. We do anything from content strategy to execution social video, the written word all types of content for clients like the big 10 network, tennis hall of fame, NBC, universal, ESPN, etc.
Rob Cressy: (01:02)
So you recently wrote an article titled large market teams, media recycling when fans want re-inventing about how content is being published and or innovated right now or a lack thereof. And it certainly speaks to fan engagement in a content mindset. And really what's going on is a lot of teams and media companies right now, their strategy for fan engagement and content is let's just recycle the old stuff that we've got. Instead of saying, Hey, let's innovate and there are those who are innovating and those who aren't. So let you sort of give some thoughts on this.
Jay Sharman: (01:44)
Yeah, you talk about it yourself quite a bit. I mean I think I, I think quite candidly with a few exceptions, most leagues, sports media companies, teams and entities, in general, are just completely whiffing with the thing. May not even be the right baseball metaphor cause they're not even taking that or even getting in the batter's box. Right? It's what I'd like to see whiffing. I'd love to see people try and experiment, but I think there's this failed notion right now of we have, we're a league or a media company and we have access to these rights and past games and content, right? Everyone uses the word content. That and authentic are probably the two most overused words in the sports marketing realm and people are throwing up old content and calling it a day. I just, it's so obvious I think to the fan, I mean you just, you could do a poll of fans and be like, what people are seeking now isn't consuming past games. They're looking to connect with the community, right? The very same thing that pulls you into your favorite sports team or league or player, that tribal being part of something bigger than yourself and they're just missing on it. I mean we're what a month into the stay at home and people are just now starting to come out with, Hey, we're going to have a Q and A, a Google hangout or a zoom with several different stars from the game that was in it. It's taken a month to get to that level. That to me is just, it's crazy. It's just, I feel like there's so much missed opportunity here and in the article probably not surprisingly, the ones that are making some noise are ones that are upstarts. You know, we've seen some, some people do some innovative things and good for them, you know, like the drone racing league and some other people who are doing some really innovative stuff. But I feel like the 800-pound gorillas are kind of asleep at the wheel.
Rob Cressy: (03:34)
So the biggest missed opportunity that I saw in the marketplace in this was immediate, was around March Madness. So this is very early on in all this going on. We're seeing, well there'll be no fans of the games all the way to, there's no more March madness. And it really hurt me. One is a sports fan too, as a college basketball fan, but I had already blocked off on my calendar last year, Thursday and Friday to watch March Madness. So this is like, it's my favorite time of the year. And guess what, when it came Thursday at noon and Friday at noon, you know it was on Judge Judy or some rerun of something and I couldn't believe that someone couldn't be quick enough to say, can we at least put together a package of the best first-round games of the last 20 years? And I know we talked about recycling content and we'll sort of getting to there, but what I missed was being part of the community in being able to watch the Bryce Drew game and in the next game is Weber State beating North Carolina and Mercer beating Duke and imagine for 12 straight hours if we are watching the best first-round games of March Madness, what's that? Gonna allow us to do me part of the sports fan community. I'm going to be on Twitter the entire time saying, can you believe this happened? Because one, not everybody saw all of them too. Not everyone remembers this in three is this an escape for us because you nailed it with the I'm looking to connect with the community. That's what I miss so much about this in sports because I am part of the sports fan community on the team level, on the league level and on the, we're all in this together level and I just couldn't believe that in the four biggest days when everyone was there, it was the opportunity for them to say, listen, we got you.
Jay Sharman: (05:35)
Yup. I mean I think those are great points. I think the other point that I'm fascinated by is just, and maybe I'm delusional cause I just look and maybe my anecdotes are just wrong, but I talk to a lot of people, right? Got a network as you do. I'm constantly talking cause I'm curious about consumption habits and what people are doing. I, I've been out there for years talking about digital, and like this is the digital's moment, right? I mean most of us are working despite the rapid unemployment, but many, and if you're not working, you're on your computer trying to find work. So you're glued to, you know, if your post-college person, you're glued to your computer 10 hours a day and you've just turned it into full work. But you're also, surfing social going down rabbit holes. It's a digital moment and like the light went off quite literally for me. I, I'm, I'm a little bit of a Luddite technologically, so there was on Facebook and I get these notifications from NBA. It's like, Hey live game and I don't know, it comes every night and it's like, Hey, you know, 2005 San Antonio Spurs game is on and I'm sitting there being like, you have me captive and you're going to try to pull me into a rerun of an NBA finals game from 15 years. Like what's the value prop for me to come there? I can YouTube that at any second. Right. I can, it's we need, you need something that's communal or that's going to bring me in, whether it's guest speakers or you know, look, we're doing a zoom right now. Bring in two people from the, and people are starting to do this. I mean the place where I've seen it really starts. I actually want to podcast today on this topic with Jeff Eisenband of NBA2K just around Twitch and video gaming, right? NBA and MLB, to their credit, have done these player bracket games where they're playing MLB The Show and NBA2K and they're actually using star players and you have access to communicate. Like that's where there's so much opportunity for these leagues that have these assets and these players that are quite candidly, relatively idle.
Rob Cressy: (07:46)
And I actually think that this is a huge opportunity for newer technology to increase the adoption curve. So let's look at what zoom has had happened to them in the last month. I'm someone who's an early adopter across the board. I've been using Zoom to record podcasts for years. So this is business as usual for me. But what it is now doing is passing, we'll call it the mom test or the dad test is your mom or dad or grandfather now using zoom in if they, if it gets to that point. And it's the same way where if you say, does your mom know who LeBron James is? Yes. Does your mom know who Chris Dunn from the Chicago bulls is? No. That's the mom test. That's when you know, something has reached a certain level in zoom has reached that level. So now let's look at e-sports. It's something that we know from an attention standpoint, it's gigantic. The challenge being for the majority of the people in the media, it is not their demographic. They can report on it, but they're not active in playing video games. And if anything, it may be the kids of the people reporting that are playing video games. So I think about last week, and you even talked about consumption habits. For me, my consumption of television is down to 99.5% I'm almost not watching it because you said there are reruns of old games and stuff. Why I love all that. It doesn't serve me, but I did turn something on in, what was it? It was Kevin Durant versus Derek Jones in a one versus 16 matchup at NBA2K. So now all of a sudden I'm like, huh, I've never watched an East sports game before. And then there's Kevin and Derek Jones and they're live streaming and they're talking versus each other. And while I didn't watch a ton, what it did do is I at least watched some and I was like, Oh, I could see why people might like this because wow, I would rather watch Kevin Durant play a real basketball in a time where there's nothing. I could certainly play fantasy e-sports. I could also bet on it right there and or just having casual interest. So there's an opportunity for them to grab market share where previously there's so much vying for their attention that the curve of adoption for eSports may have taken a lot longer. But right now if you're the only game in town, boom, this is where all of a sudden e-sports can explode. Like zoom did.
Jay Sharman: (10:13)
Well, yeah, I think you touched on something there. And I think here's, here's a couple of things that I'm watching right now and, and you know, we have a property called LaVida baseball where which is the only U.S Latino baseball focus lifestyle brand that's out there. And so just sometimes you get lucky. Obviously we don't want to be lucky in this environment with so many people suffering. But the whole premise was creating a digital media first social media engaged in property and, and the relevance. I'm a content snob. I grew up working for Fox Sports and production aesthetic means everything and it's part of the storytelling process. But as part of this, we're using iPhones and zoom technology and, and really kind of down and dirty as you know, I mean, we shot it in our own office. It was not high production value, but it was incredible access to take people inside stadiums to players' homes. We've been doing that for about a year and a half now. And so we were built for this moment a little bit. What we're fascinated is like conversations two months ago with media companies where they're like, yeah, but we need to put it in a studio, a multimillion-dollar studio. So it looks like Scott Van Pelt or whatever. Now all of a sudden, to your point, everyone's going to be trained on watching, you know, insert Anderson Cooper, Scott Van Pelt from their basement. Today show is being done out of people's basements. And so that'll be interesting to see when we go back, really the CFOs of these companies being like explain to me why we need that $10 million set.
Jay Sharman: (11:53)
Content is not about production value. It's about I mean look at YouTube, look at some of the top-performing people on YouTube, but it's about their giving to their community. Something, either of extreme entertainment value, extreme insight, value or take-home value. There's a value proposition there. And I think that what we're doing now is going to do two things. It's going to reframe how people use technology to be innovative with content. It's going to change the business dynamics, right? All of these media companies are losing hundreds of millions of dollars by not having advertisers on live games. And then it's also going to change kind of the of digital versus linear. I'm still surprised in this day and age if you follow the money and we work with these major sports media companies and advertisers, they still are TV first. And it's, it's amazing to me how digital is not viewed even as on par. And many people would argue that digital is even more effective. And I think all of these forces of nature of the COVID-19 are going to, when we come out the other side of this, it's going to completely reshape the content sports content experience.
Rob Cressy: (13:10)
I want to reiterate something that you said because I know you and I have both been on this mountain for so long, but it is the ease of access or the accessibility of what you can create content from anywhere that is high quality that can still deliver as good of or potentially a better value proposition. So for anyone listening right now, whether you work for a professional sports team all the way down to the mom at a booster club for a high school, think about this. You have the ability to zoom in a webcam, in a microphone to create content that is 95% as good as what you're going to see on ESPN or some of these major networks. So you need to think about how you can leverage this accessibility to engage your audience and speak to your community. I can actually reaffirm something that you said. So I had someone who is a host from one of the major sports networks on my podcast and after we were done taping, I actually asked him, Hey, what are your thoughts on the landscape and everything in what he really said was what you mentioned. I hope that they don't realize that they don't need the in-studio host anymore because you can do it from your own home. For him, he was saying that from a, his job was one of one. There's only one of him doing the job on my end. The guy interviewing him on zoom for a podcast was like, sign me up. I've been waiting for this day for the last seven years and as you said, we're built for this moment, and in one of the things that I believe is a benefit from all of this is force change. So not everyone wanted to be forward-thinking with all of this. They didn't want to use zoom and figure out how can we get CEOs or high-level people to communicate with each other. But guess what? The time is here now. So now everyone needs to understand what is the strategy around how we can start using this. One little nugget of insight that I'll tell others. Just notice what you see on social media in terms of output. So for example, you can't go on Instagram right now without seeing about 50 major influencers on IG live. So I know Steph Curry was jamming on Instagram live and he's been using that platform. So we actually use this as the segue to talk about some of the examples of innovation and these athletes have the ability to further build themselves as a media company to become even more powerful than the teams in the leagues themselves, which has always been an opportunity. But I don't think that as many athletes have thought of themselves as a media company as they would. I want to get sponsorship from Gatorade. And I think one of the best examples of this is Juju Smith Schuster from the Steelers from the second he got drafted. And I can think about the exact moment he got drafted. I followed him on Instagram and here is a 19 or 20-year-old kid who had an image that was half USC Jersey, half Steelers, Jersey initiative, beautifully manicured piece of content. And I was like, who in the world is running this guy social? And lo and behold, you then see him on Twitch playing e-sports with Drake and Ninja. He's got a YouTube channel and now all of a sudden the power is shifted because the media networks are playing old games. Well, what Steph and what's Juju doing? They're connecting with other influencers and other people of interest and now the attention is on them.
Jay Sharman: (16:52)
Yeah, I mean I do a weekly podcast, it's called Brand Story Inc. and last week I had the head of Facebook sports partnerships, Kevin Cote and we talked about this issue. And it's funny because I'm not the smartest guy. I just read a lot and talk to a lot of people and ask all the dumb questions. I mean, for those that watch entourage, we're talking about a decade ago where there is a famous scene where this over the top, you know Ari character and goes into this room and is pitching a sports agent, right? Or a sports celebrity. And he's like, you're not a human, you're a media brand, right? Like there's this whole scene about you are a media company. This is like 10 plus years ago. And so I've been talking about that probably that long. Again, it's not about, oh, I was there first but it's amazing to me how some people don't see it. We work with a lot of sports museums. We have a lot of museum clients and we talked to them about, I said, look and you know, I'll just pick out names here. Roger Federer for example, he's a media company, the guy's got 15 million Facebook followers. You talked to Dan Reed who runs Facebook sports. He told me the best way to talk to anyone over the age of 50 about Facebook is to think of every individual athlete as a cable affiliate, right? They actually have higher engagement, higher viewership. And so we're common to a point there, to your point, and I don't know if it's 1 year, five years, 10 years, but there's going to be a real conflict coming up here. Like what happens when Steph Curry says, I'm not going to the podium, fine me NBA. I'm going to just go and do a mainstream account. Do anyone who wants to come over there, I'll do my post-game presser there because he's going to build so much individual value. I mean there is, and this is just accelerating that I saw just today this morning, this cracks me up which used to be known for journalism ban an entire article that was just a series of Roger Federer. He put a call to action out there for user-generated content. The article, what I don't mean, was there any words? It was like, Hey, here's what Roger Federer did. It was a series of 20 user-generated content pieces, people from around the world showing how they were trying to practice tennis at home. That's the other moment here is this user-generated content and people like Dan Porter at Overtime, even though they just made layoffs like isn't our business model is around user-generated content from the basketball community, the young basketball community. So there's this real shift going on here and again, I don't know what the timing's going to happen, but it is going to happen. This what's in it for me to even be in your museum or hall of fame. Like, okay, that's great. You're the value prop. I'm bringing more value to this equation than you are because I'm a media company. So what do I get out of this? I know it sounds selfish and all those other things, but that's coming.
Rob Cressy: (19:55)
I agree 100% and I think what you're also seeing is players creating workouts that you can do with fans. So if we really want to think about where could the next level be, why couldn't we subscribe to a $5 a month membership for Steph Curry's handles or whatever it is. Now I want to dive deeper into the world in like you said, we're all of a sudden, listen, I'm going to do things on my own platform in the NFL draft actually saw sprinklings of this over the last few years where they want everyone to come into the draft room so that Roger Goodell can shake your hand. Well, who wins in that scenario? The NFL. What if you're one of these first-round picks? You say, no, wait a second. I'm going to do this on my own and I'm going to have a Draft Kings banner behind me. I'm going to have my agent next to me. I'm going to be around my boys and we'd be around my friends. I'm going to jump on Instagram live immediately after that. In all of a sudden, you're going to see, like you said, this shift of power. And I think one industry that's extremely interesting to watch right now is fitness because they have had to pivot immediately. How do you go from brick and mortar to Holy smokes, we no longer have anybody coming in. What they did is they shifted to digital. Now they're doing at home workout classes. So all of a sudden this is going to be an industry that I believe will be changed forever because we've learned about the accessibility of fitness. So now the trainer has the ability, whether it's in person or via Instagram or live streaming to still train you. Now once you started to think about that, if you are a brand and say, wait a second, how else could we engage our fans in our community?
Rob Cressy: (21:36)
Well, let's do this digitally and you know what else we want to do? We want you to send us content when you're doing things. And you know who does an amazing job of this Peloton? Because Peloton is built out of the community. So when people are taking their classes, they're tweeting or Instagramming pictures and videos of their favorite instructors tagging both of them, and guess what? You want to be a part of it. And I think that's the biggest challenge is the people at the top of the brands in the media companies saying we need to build a community. Why are they not thinking this way? Because they aren't doing it this way. But the brands who do Peloton, Barstool sports, these are the ones who are crushing engagement right now. Like Dave Portnoy from Barstool, their founder, he gets more views on him opening packages than virtually every team and every media company out there, he can get 65,000 views on a live stream of him just reviewing a piece of pizza. It's incredible.
Jay Sharman: (22:38)
Yup, it's incredible. You know I've been upping my Peloton game admittedly here. So it's one thing I've been doing and I'm just, I've always been struck by them because I think you get on it and they hit every element that we're talking about of community. You hit that word. I mean, it's crazy how they've taken kind of the secret sauce of Twitter and Facebook and you know the way they visually represent different things. You have a leaderboard, you can high five people. It prompts you to encourage other people, these anonymous people in the community while you're on a bike. I mean the way that the instructors are talking to you is all dripping in language about it's not a competition. We're all part of this together and it's, it's this positive enrichment thing.
Jay Sharman: (23:27)
They've nailed every lever of community and I agree with you. I think it, there, there are many industries that are being positively disrupted. I do think the work from home fitness is going to be a ton of lessons that people can learn from one another in that space. It could just go back to the size of these companies that it's when we turn the lights back on, people are going to come to fly. I can hear it. You can almost hear the conversations. We'll get through this, we'll turn the lights back on and people are going to come flocking to insert sport here. Right? Well I mean there are murmurs out there. I'm reading the same stuff you are a college football in the spring. Imagine when that overlaps with major league baseball. We've got The Masters in November. Like the longterm ripple effect. Are people going to want to go into stadiums? I mean it's going to be, it is going to be fascinating to watch these things play out, but the only thing that I know is that the two winners in terms of revenue generation and profitability are going to be those who rethink and adapt around a community-minded mentality.
Rob Cressy: (24:36)
And I think it's super important to realize that the companies are doing well, are using technology and there are also more public-facing in terms of they have someone there to lead the community. Peloton is an example. It's a series of instructors who are leading the community for Barstool. It's a series of writers and people that you're used to. And this is one of the things that has always driven me nuts about major media brands is they're almost like a news aggregator. And if we know anything, you can see one piece of content in, more often than not, you're going to have no idea where it's from. So you're not seeing, while there are ESPN personalities, all they're doing is reading the news. And I think more brands, both big and small need to have more of a public face there to say, Hey, we are in this with you. You can say that in a tweet. But guess what? I want to see someone. I want to hear someone. I want to feel someone because that's what the majority of the companies out there aren't doing. They're not innovating by being public-facing with their community. And I think when you embrace the community side of things, that's where the real growth is going to come.
Jay Sharman: (25:49)
Yeah, I mean you said it. I do think it is interesting though. I think what this does is going to also help talent, you know, and by talent, I mean you look at a Scott Van Pelt, the guy's amazing, right? He's supper, you put him in a basement and you put them in a fancy set. The guy crushes it. I mean there's a reason he's kind of the face of ESPN. That being said, people like yourself, let's face it, two months ago people would look at this, look at this and say, Oh, that's nice, but there are baseball cards behind the shelf and it's done out of the home. I think for people like you and, and the many people out there who are really smart, who understand their subject matter, this becomes like the democratization of like where the focus now becomes on the, and not things around the talent if that makes sense. And so I think there's a moment there where it's going to level the playing field and give many personalities and smart people and fun people are entertaining people a real opportunity to get a voice heard and build a community in a way that maybe they didn't get looked at that way a couple of months ago.
Rob Cressy: (27:06)
I agree. I believe companies need to think about what is the communication strategy for this? Are you using podcasts? Are you using video? Are you using live stream? Are you using newsletter? And even, especially if I'm on the small side, I believe the opportunities to be resourceful and stand out. This is how you can differentiate yourself from a giant iceberg that slow moving with these big companies. They can't get people on live stream quick enough to learn how to do this. Well, guess what? You're a booster club. Imagine a mom who puts herself out there for the community and says, all right, we're going to do a 21 day challenge for our fundraiser of X, Y, and Z. Traditionally she might just sit in a booth outside of the stadium. But what if instead she is rallying up the troops by jumping on live streaming once a day? And then, Hey, I want you guys to share this. Oh, I'm going to bring on somebody else now, boom, let's do this in an Instagram live. And that's where all of a sudden you can start to see this, this positive growth where you can make a difference in a quicker way than the slower, bigger companies.
Jay Sharman: (28:13)
It's interesting because I rely on the sports marketplace to be a perennial leader in terms of trendsetting as it relates to the content. They're usually at the head of the pack and they just have simply put, have not been, they've been a laggard in the Coronavirus time. I've looked at other areas and one that's popped out, you may have seen, have you seen the National Cowboy Museum? So I think the point here, again, it's, I'd never heard of the national cowboy museum and I think they had 5,000 Twitter followers as of 30 days ago. They're in, I want to say Oklahoma, I think they're in Oklahoma. Their Twitter account. So what they ended up doing, right, it's a museum. So it's doors were shut and I still don't know if this is marketing or if they actually literally just did this, but they have like Tim the Security Guard who was the lone person there and it's as if we gave it to our lead EIT mom or dad, you know, my parents were in their seventies and it's like the old trying to get them on zoom and you know, is this working? Can you see that? That kind of stuff going on. It's the same type of dad joke or grandpa joke where he's going around doing his own personal commentary on Twitter and it is hilarious. Their Twitter following is now close to 300,000 in 30 days. And you think about the value that that place has. The point here is it's because they struck a tone in voice that it just, it went viral because people like myself were like, this is awesome. Right? They went up to the plate. It could've whiffed miserably. People could have said, these jokes are terrible and they got no engagement, but instead every tweet has like 10 to 20,000 engagements on it and people are sharing this thing and it's almost like, who cares about the cowboy museum? I'm not really into Cowboys, but I'm really into this guy's brand voice. It's one of the more extreme examples I've seen of how the quality of brand voice and the quality of the content if you will, can change the game. And I mean, think about it now think about what that's gonna do for their approach to digital sponsorship becoming like a culty brand almost where no one had even heard of them 30 days ago. So I'm fine having fun finding these little pockets of experimentation where people are doing things and just try, like, if there's ever a time to try, it's right now and God forbid it works. The upside is huge. But I just, you know, coming back to the beginning, this notion of we're 30 days in and your favorite football team, basketball team, college team, if they aren't giving you new insights or ways to connect in a communal way. It's just a miss.
Rob Cressy: (31:04)
I agree 100%. Jay, I really enjoyed jamming with you about all things content. Where can everybody connect with you?
Jay Sharman: (31:12)
Sure. The easiest way is probably on Twitter at @_JSharman, just ping me there and I'll happily connect and continue the conversation.
Rob Cressy: (31:24)
And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. I'm curious, do you have an example of a brand team league or media company who is doing a great job right now of building their community? We would love to hear it. You could hit up FanFood on Twitter at @fanfoodondemand on Instagram @fanfoodapp or on LinkedIn. As always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms at @RobCressy.