Fans will – within some reason – watch anything. That’s what it is to be a fan. And what you have within your sport – which no one else has – is access
Jack McGillJack McGill is the Founder and CEO of QTV Sports, an award-winning UK-based production company and digital agency that delivers outside broadcasting, livestreaming, and digital content in over 30 sports.
We’ve worked with governing bodies and federations for the last six years advising on and producing live and short-form digital video content. In that time, whilst the technology and opportunities for creating bigger and better content has progressed, the principles of creating and publishing great content have remained broadly consistent.
Much is discussed at conferences around the world (and has been for at least the last five years) about engagement, authenticity, activation, and – more recently – OTT. For major rights-holders with resources and a wealth of broadcast output or cameras pointed at their athletes and events, it’s often (although not always) easier to grasp and implement these concepts quickly. If, however, your start is a standing one, then what is the first step?
First, let’s assume that everyone now accepts that digital is the single most important way of communicating with fans. You can get closer to fans – more immediately and relevantly – than through any other medium. So what do you want to do about that?
Set objectives (and understand your story)
The overriding aim of any content strategy is to create meaningful engagement or conversation between sports body and audience, but knowing what you want the public to do once they’ve engaged – or activating them – underpins the type of content you will produce.
Is your goal to extend reach, and drive and develop participation? To reward existing members or fans? To enhance your reputation? Perhaps you’re looking to generate revenue through subscriptions, advertising, or sponsorship?
Different types of content serve different purposes and it’s important to be clear from the outset what you want to achieve. Only by doing this can you then measure the success of your content strategy and adapt it to remain fit for purpose.
If it’s all of the above, then your task is to establish what assets you have that can be allocated to each aim and work out how much resource it would take to create a calendar of content that can help you tell the story you want to tell.
Everything is an asset (and people watch the strangest things)
Fans will – within some reason – watch anything. That’s what it is to be a fan. And what you have within your sport – which no one else has – is access.
So, where, traditionally, there has been no coverage of your sport, or where the cameras cannot go, do not be afraid to put in your own.
Simple, but well-presented, content from development and youth events, from preliminary rounds, from your team and athlete training camps, or from your archives is all part of your story and comprises a rich seam of content for you to mine.
So, film EVERYTHING (even at a basic level), live-stream what you can, and take good photos. You don’t need to use it all – it might not be in your interests to let everyone see, live, how the sausages are made – but capture it all and think how to break it up over the course of your week, month, or year, into live and produced stories.
Create partnerships (and don’t be precious about it)
Partnerships can exist inside and outside your sport and they all help in the distribution and reach of your content. Which partnerships you create will very much depend on your objectives and – where applicable – on what you can carve out of your rights agreements for your own digital channels without diminishing their overall value (which you should at least attempt).
Within your sport, harnessing the reach and content of your members (be they individual, regional, national, or continental) can help in gathering more content than you, individually, can produce. Speak with them, create a basic style guide, and encourage them to feed up the chain the best of their own content. In return, allow them to own and promote your content (rights and brand permitting) in a way that boosts their own profile. Yes, there will be politics, but if you can engage in a common goal, everyone will feel the benefit.
The star power of your athletes is also one of the most potent weapons in your arsenal. Their following is bigger than yours (no offence), but chances are they’re also looking for ways to build their own brand and media experience
In a similar way, the star power of your athletes is also one of the most potent weapons in your arsenal. Their following is bigger than yours (no offence), but chances are they’re also looking for ways to build their own brand and media experience. Use that to your advantage.
And while preaching to the choir is all well and good, external partnerships are a great way to extend your reach beyond your core constituency. Every Facebook page and Twitter feed is a broadcaster, so look at the social channels that reflect your values – or that perhaps offer juxtaposition to create something unexpected – and think how your content on their platform might create mutual benefit and reach new audiences.
Be consistent and sustainable (and here be dragons)
With an obvious hat-tip to the YouTube Playbook as my source, this – in my humble opinion – is the most important aspect of any digital content strategy. If people can and will watch anything anywhere, then your audience can also be a hungry beast that requires constant feeding.
It’s important to understand that the quality of content is often less important than the expectation you set in the mind of your audience. Ultimately, audiences look to the consistency of your output as a measure of how much you care about them and respect them.
The frequency of posting, style of filming and editing, and tone of voice all matter, to the extent that they create audience expectation. They are crucial elements in building an audience over time that knows when to return to you and for what they are returning.
So, set expectations that are sustainable for you. Don’t populate your channels with a flurry of beautifully polished short-form documentaries and then spend the rest of the season sporadically publishing mixed zone mobile phone interviews.
Start slowly with something that is sustainable and honest – or authentic – within your budget and resources; create something upon which fans come to rely, trust, and with which they engage, curate it simply, elegantly, and intuitively on your chosen platform, and then build from there.
All this said, it’s important to get going. Don’t get writer’s block, staring at your blank canvas waiting for the perfect finished article. No one gets it right instantly, so hire a hungry graduate with a journalistic bent (note the emphasis) and with the drive to self-teach: someone who can hold a camera and has an appetite to learn editing skills. Give them the basic tools to shoot, edit, write, and illustrate (Adobe is a good start).
My philosophy has always been to start with a ‘content everywhere’ approach and refine from there. As a minimum, understand what is required for well-curated and brand-consistent YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram profiles (they all provide the online learning tools).
Use analytics tools to measure what your audience likes and doesn’t like, adapt your tone, hone your style, increase the volume, and develop your storytelling arc. Then, when you’ve outgrown this start and you need to think about advertising revenue, digital asset management, and subscription-based OTT, the vultures will start circling for your business and, well, that’s a conversation for another day.