Sport businesses become digital media companies in the digital media revolution

Another post by my favorite sports influencer and thought leader, Stephen Bourke. He charts the present and the future of an industry that has enormous impact: sports.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

Stephen Bourke is one of my favorite sports industry powerhouses. He is a thought leader par excellence who has his pulse on both the industry he serves and the world at large. He is great at not only finding whatever discontinuities exist -- where the sports industry lags after the world or vice versa -- but also, at least for the sports industry, he is great at resolving them. In this piece he goes through what sports businesses are becoming and, in some cases, have become. It is no longer a matter of just putting the teams on the field and meeting the ticket and food needs at the stadium. It's now an exciting and daunting transformation for the teams and their businesses to become digital media companies.

One more thing: SEAT is coming up July 14-16 in Daytona Beach. For those of you who don't know, SEAT which stands for Sports Entertainment Alliance in Technology, is an organization of technology buyers on the business and IT side in senior positions in the sports world.  Each year there is a conference that pulls together all the disparate teams and leagues at the pro and even the college level.  It is unique and if you are a technology company who's technology is being used by teams and leagues it would be very smart of you to show your support for the industry using your stuff by being there. Last year, I called out five teams for their lack of support of the sports industry in this post. This year two of them represented. Three apparently not, though I will find out finally at the conference. Who are the two smart ones? Who do I have to call out again? Watch for it post SEAT.

I'll let Stephen take it away from here. He's a permanent fixture in this column.


Digital media is now a feature of any product or service because that is what consumers expect. Society is now in the midst of an increasingly complex digital media revolution. What makes this time so challenging is that many of the shifts are being driven by the voice of the market rather than industries which have historically led major economic transformations. 

For instance, the emergence of competitive gaming and esports organically grew out of the groundswell of interest that people have for video games while the current popularity of Instagram as the social platform to see and be seen is also a function of people power.

Prior to the digital era, traditional enterprises set the tone of supply and demand by offering consumers products along with some advertising to create brand awareness and attract buyers.

Now, with the range of digital and social media options that we all have at our fingertips, organizations need to understand where the attention of their audience is moving to. While people of all ages are part of the connected generation, Millennials and now Gen Z are at the forefront of business determinations about how to remain relevant.

Following is how Peter Gruber, LA Dodgers owner, describes the digital media challenge for the team's newly appointed CEO Tucker Kain to USA Today -- it could also be a mission statement for other organizations:

He has to find a way furiously to curate new audiences at the young level and connect with them. He has to go out hunting where the elephants are. He has to speak their language because the new generation of fans consume games in a different way.

It's not so much people interested in the statistics of baseball, but Fortnite, League of Legends, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, the immediacy of the environment, the gamification, fantasy, gambling and the social aspects of the narrative.

I previously wrote here about Why Sport is One of the Most Disrupted Industries and with the pace of change now in the digital media space, the era of disruption continues to accelerate for sports business. 

Due to the special attachment that sport and sports stars hold in society, all commercial or emotionally-invested participants are now content producers in the industry. This includes the teams, leagues, broadcasters, media outlets, fans themselves and now athletes are even their own version of media companies.

When faced with a Digital Media Revolution…

So, what does an organization in the midst of a digital media revolution do? Well, they become a digital media company. 

And for good reason – Salsify in their 2017 Cracking the Consumer Code report found that 87% of consumers rate product content "extremely" or "very important" when deciding to buy and a year earlier they found that 90% of consumers do their shopping online.

Content that adds value before, during and after purchase should no longer be distinguished separately by the organization from the product, service or experience itself.

In the business of sport, as teams and leagues globalize to expand their audiences and churn out content on a daily basis to extend the game-day to a week-long experience (and the season into a year-round activation), the brand side of teams are becoming digital media companies.

Also: How global sports brands like Real Madrid are learning to think like digital media companies (Business Insider)

Perhaps you work in a B2B environment and think that this content-to-product principle does not apply in your world. Think again. Business consumers make decisions the same as personal consumption decisions. B2B buyers will review product information and reviews, read branded content online and check out the companies social media profile. According to a Brand Gen Report, 95% of B2B customers view content as trustworthy when researching a company. 

In the B2B world, digital media initiatives like McKinsey's Global Institute, Salesforce Trailblazer Community and Capgemini's Research help brands to distinguish themselves from their competitors and develop trust in their products.

Digital Media Company Business Model

In another previous guest post, I reflected on how sports business is a microcosm of the broader economy. Continuing on this same theme, following is my business model to explain the strategic process of how sports organizations are becoming digital media companies. This four-phase approach can also offer insights for companies outside of the sports industry.

Digital Media Company Model

Phase One: Prepare

Establish a Social Business: Social media is typically tucked into marketing or communication areas which is logical. At the same time, leadership needs to give the function executive attention which means aligning social metrics to corporate objectives (which more often than not they don't) as well as a commitment to appropriate levels of talent and technology.

Publish Brave Content: Sports fans follow their team for the value that it provides to their lives, which is the same reason consumers follow brands. Brands need to respect the social aspect of the medium and forego corporate speak. Social media bravery is an outcome of the freedom that leadership provides to their online storytellers to create, innovate and experiment. 

Phase Two: Grow

Reach and Engagement: For any organization's digital community to become a valuable strategic asset, organic growth through reach and engagement is needed. Maximizing these digital media goals is a process of learning and refinement. Once again, it helps if executives are in the conversation and even better if they are social leaders themselves contributing to brand narrative.  Brands that achieve the best online growth do so because of the agenda and encouragement provided from above.

Phase Three: Analyze

Analytics: In this phase -- and in parallel with all others -- social media analytics are used to make business decisions. In addition to gaining insights into reach and engagement demographics, sentiment and lifestyle preferences of online followers can be uncovered.

Categorize Digital Assets: Economic analysis establishes the commercial value of digital media assets using a rate card approach to categorizing and costing their value; in sports business, categories can include the team's podcast, blog, fantasy games, match line-up, MVP, player Q&A, videos and so on.

Also: Barcelona use win over Chelsea to show the power of their Twitter account (Digital Sport)

Phase Four: Commercialize

Investment business case: This is the phase where the team's investment into its media company model creates its digital revenue stream. This is the business case that moves digital from a cost centre to income generator.

As discussed earlier, since digital content is now part of the product itself, budget for digital media should no longer be considered a cost centre but rather an essential product investment. Digital media amplifies all corporate objectives.

Corporate partners that have invested in becoming a media company of their own are well placed to gain return on investment from digital media activation of their sports sponsorship.

Go-to-market: With categories and rate card defined, rights holders can align their digital assets to existing, and potential, corporate partners based on strategic connection between fan-to-customer profiles, i.e., gained from the Analyze phase. Being well organized with fan data is a gift that keeps giving for teams, leagues and events.

Activation: Finally, co-creation of digital content between sport rights holders and sponsoring brands creates a virtuous cycle to round out this digital media company business model. The unique alliance between a team and each of its partners offers new storytelling angles for mutual benefit. Return to Phase One – Brave Content and repeat.


Organization Revolution meets Digital Media Revolution

The quality of an organization's digital content is an external reflection of its internal values, collaborative processes and commitment to market. This makes transformation an all-of-enterprise responsibility to meet the digital media revolution head-on.

FIFA and its 2018 World Cup held in Russia offer a high profile output of digital transformation and how digital media enhances the product itself. 

"2018 will be FIFA's year of digital revolution as we develop a worldwide digital future to engage and interact with fans." - Gianni Infantino,  FIFA President, Dubai International Sports Conference, December 2017

Through use of the word "revolution," FIFA's president declared the organization's transformation to be an urgent internal movement focused on fan engagement. Terminology matters; FC Bayern Munich calls its 'FC Bayern Digital 4.0' and declares it to be its most important initiative after the team itself.  

FIFA's revolution shone threw in the governing body's most important moment of the year -- the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The event achieved its highest online levels with more than 750 billion engagements across all digital platforms including 25 million followers playing World Cup fantasy and interactive games.

FIFA's World Cup digital media success was built on four pillars of engagement; Inform -- Entertain -- Connect -- Support, reinforced by the use of images and videos to match fan consumption preferences.


Since around only 1% of fans were in attendance at the World Cup, FIFA ensured that the other 99% of followers were also kept informed about all elements of the event. For example, FIFA assigned 32 reporters (one per team) to cover all of the action including a blog report of each match delivered in 16 languages. They owned match reporting responsibilities to compete against the international media scrum that was also covering the action.


Given the popularity of FIFA's digital media presence during the World Cup, it was important to create interactive touch points for fans to immerse themselves more deeply in the experience regardless of where in the world they were. 

FIFA's Online Fan Zone included gamified options that they blended with corporate partners to create mutual value for fans and brands alike. Games included the Hyundai Match Predictor, McDonald's Fantasy Game, Wanda Bracket Challenge and Hisense Fan Dream Team. In exchange for their digital play, fans traded personal data with sponsoring partners.



FIFA created the campaign ShareIt! to generate excitement and reflect the value that it placed on user generated content as the purest form of engagement in this age of sharing.  

Its #FIFAStadiumDJ twitter poll to develop a shortlist of songs to play in World Cup stadiums received more than three million votes and was the most retweeted FIFA tweet of all time. It was also the third most popular poll ever held on Twitter. Interestingly, the campaign itself had nothing to do with World Cup action which reveals the benefit of creating engaging content around a product to unify its online community.


FIFA purposefully ensured that its online presence was based on community management principles rather than one-way broadcast communications. For instance, FIFA increased its responsiveness compared to previous events through customer service outlets on social media.

Overall, FIFA's social voice had a decidedly personal feel which can be difficult for events to achieve due to their temporary nature. Its humanist style was reflective of FIFA's fan-first commitment, pre-planning and revolutionary leadership.

Author's Note: In September 2019, I will launch a new concept in digital transformation knowledge to elevate sports business careers and organizations. Having delivered the only industry specific program on this topic to some of the most recognizable rights holders on the planet, this new format will offer unrivaled access and value for the sports industry. Follow or connect with me on LinkedIn for updates.


Note: If you are interested in participating in the CRM Watchlist 2020, please email me at paul-greenberg3@the56group.com and ask for registration form. Remember, you will have to qualify to participate. There are criteria. Also, if you are interested in reading my new book on customer engagement, The Commonwealth of Self-Interest: Business Success through Customer Engagement (2019), please click here.

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