xMe

At the end of this week I wave goodbye to the sports data industry.

Since I walked in to the office at PA Sport in Jan 2006, I’ve been working in the same market sector.

In that time I’ve marketed PA, Opta, Perform, RunningBall, Omnisport, Catapult and Sportradar.  All different flavour of sports content.

I’ve spoken at conferences, judged some high-profile awards (and even won a couple), become close personal friends with Jessica Ennis (I said ‘excuse me please’ when she was in my way at an awards do, and she said ‘no problem, sorry’) taken credit for other people’s wonderful work (sorry about that, Rob/Dunc/Matt/Si/Edney/Colm/everyone else) and got to know some fantastic people.

Met some twats too, but the ratio has generally been very healthy.

But I’ve always had an itch to test my marketing chops in a different sector, marketing some new stuff to some new people and being exposed to new business models and buyer behaviours. As a ‘sports data B2b marketer’ I’ve always considered myself more at the ‘B2b marketer’ end of that than the ‘sports data’ bit, as much as I’ve enjoyed watching that world develop into a mainstream industry.

So, time to test myself, and in mid-April I’ll be joining an exciting, growing business called DealTrak, and seeing what the automotive F&I sector has to offer.  Hopefully I can help them develop and thrive.  I see a lot of similarities between the culture there and the culture at Opta, which was unquestionably the time I’ve enjoyed most so far in my career.

It’s pretty scary though.  It’s daunting to essentially have a large chunk of my brain stuffed with knowledge that won’t help me in my new gig – people and what they do, sport industry events and whether they’re too expensive to attend or not (spoiler: they are), the names of data feeds and what is in them, and so on and so forth .

I’m well aware that my brain has a finite amount of space in it, and as the lyrics to the World in Motion rap and the full name of 90s Everton midfielder Preki are inexplicably retaining their place in it, I need some sort brain de-frag to clear out the space for the equivalent mind-clutter in a new industry.

I’m also nervous about taking the role of the bloke who asks the stupid questions (probably for months) rather than the bloke who brings a level of industry knowledge to the table right from the get go.  That has been a useful short-cut to some form of “credibility” in my last few jobs, and something I’ll need to start from scratch on.

But I think it’s good to be nervous at work.  To feel challenged and to have to learn. And it’s good to work in a culture that allows a level of vulnerability (so here’s hoping that’s what I walk into.  It certainly feels that way.).

I’m delighted to be staying in Leeds, a city I’ve grown to love, and where me and my family are settled. Hopefully  I can also contribute to the growing tech marketing scene here and across the north of England as and when the opportunity arises.  I’d always steeled myself for a relocation at somepoint, so nice to not have to think about that for a little while.

North > South.  Don’t @ me.

I’m also looking forward to re-calibrating my relationship with sport as a fan and player again, and hopefully getting involved in more community and participation led stuff in that world.

Once I’m settled into my new routine and established in my new role, I’ll have a think about what to do with any spare time I have (now that I won’t be spending the bulk of it it on the Virgin Trains East Coast express or in a London Premier Inn).  I’m keen to keep learning, to keep broadening my experience and knowledge inside and outside of marketing and I’m also keen to mentor someone (so if you know anyone who might benefit from that, let me know).  I’ll also be developing my new found role as semi-professional run-bore, so you have that to look forward to.

If you need me, you can still contact me across all of my usual social media channels, where I’ll no doubt be haemorrhaging followers as people realise I can’t introduce them to OptaJoe any more.

 

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Imagine if Disney owned The Premier League

[Before we get into this, I do understand the Premier League is run on behalf of the clubs.  I know they have to vote and stuff.  I know pretty much everything I’m going to write here is pie-in-the-sky nonsense.  Mmm pie.]

Entertainment.  It’s been a central theme of sports industry conferences that I’ve been to over the last few years.  No longer is the sole occupation of a football club to ensure that a team of people are fully equipped to fulfil the task of playing football matches, and to enable a larger group of people to watch said football matches.

Nope.  It’s all about fan engagement now.  About connecting with fans, wherever they are in the world, in as many places as possible, regardless of whether football matches are happening, have happened, or are about to happen.  Regardless of whether they want you to or not.

It’s about blurring the lines between sport and entertainment.  Sportainment, as someone once put it, before he was taken out the back and shot in the head.

But, other than social media, where you can see it pretty clearly, are football clubs really anywhere close to becoming a true entertainment properties?  Not just yet, I reckon.

I was in Toys R Us the other day.  This is what passes for an afternoon out, in my family.

And in between the lads having an argument about which Fungus Amungus they wanted to waste their pocket money on, I started imaging a world where Disney (or similar) owned the Premier League.  Now that’s a world where football and entertainment would really meet.

In this world, you would see, pretty quickly:

Player and Manager FunkoPops.
Every single entertainment brand that you can think of has done a deal with Funko.  TV shows, movies, video games, even Broadway shows.  Not football though.  Football is still stuck with sticker albums, collector cards and those plastic big head figures from the 90s.  Why not a world where you can buy a static, over-priced, massive headed Wayne Rooney? Stop it.

Stadia Lego
Walk into the Lego shop and, after you’ve done the traditional expression of astonishment at how much that Death Star costs (usually with some sort of ‘you can buy a car for that’ hyperbole), look at the licensing deals.

They’re amazing.

Star Wars dominates, but there is everything from The Simpsons to The Beatles and The Big Bang Theory.  All done sympathetically to both the licensee involved and the Lego brand.

Why aren’t I able to express my shock at how much a Lego version of Old Trafford costs?  Or buy mini-figures of the whole Liverpool team, complete with a little Lego Jurgen Klopp?

Video Games
Yeah, I know, FIFA.  Yeah, I know, Pro Evo.  Yeah, I know, that manager game app that Jose Mourinho endorses.  But look at how far the true entertainment brands go. Transformers did a partnership with Angry Birds.  The Disney film Brave did a deal with Temple Run.  There was one with Cut The Rope that I can’t remember.

I have no idea how this would work in football, but it just feels like there should be more.  Premier League themed Minecraft patches, or Overwatch skins, or something.

I think the (absolutely wonderful) Online Head Ball has a fair few licensing arrangements, so maybe this one will move pretty quickly.

There are probably tons of examples of this kind of thing.  If you look at Star Wars, they even somehow manage to do licensing agreements with Hot Wheels.  A film that has precisely zero cars in it, doing a deal with a toy car company.   Making sense seemingly doesn’t have to be a barrier here.

I imagine this will driven initially by the biggest clubs.  They’re the ones ahead in the other areas, and with the brands that are stretchier than the smaller ones.  There probably isn’t too much of a market for West Brom toys.  Not since Tony Pulis left anyway – those little Playmobile figures in the baseball caps would work a treat.  Pulismobile.  You can have that one for free, lads.

My guess is Liverpool will lead the way.  A new-ish CEO direct from the world of video games will be no doubt looking to exploit these type of areas, and given his track record you wouldn’t bet against him doing it really well too.  He’ll no doubt be thinking of that club as an entertainment brand first and foremost.

Or it may come in future directly from the players, who might start to try to separate their own brand value from that of the clubs they play for, if they realise they can maximise its value more that way.

Neymar Nerf Guns anyone?

 

 

 

 

New Sky Thinking

I’ve been a Sky Sports subscriber since before they invented football in 1992.

Well, my parents were.  Or, my accurately, my dad was.  We had an enormous satellite dish perched on our garage, and my mum used to lay in bed worrying it was going to blow away whenever it was a windy evening.

The only football of any note we could get was the Zenith Data Systems Trophy.  Which proved worthwhile when Boro got to the final but other than that, not so much.  I think there was also a channel called SuperSport or something too.  Think Setanta, without the Hurling.

Since then I’ve taken Sky Sports subscriptions with me to University, where we had a separate TV set up in the lounge whose only purpose was to leave Sky Sports News on, all day, every day (leaving the main TV for Pro Evo, obviously).  It was at times almost like Georgie Thompson and Sam Matterface were extra housemates.

Then I got my own house and had Sky installed before unpacking.  And then I went for the major packages, the HD, the SkyGo, the movies etc.

And then time passed and things changed. I wasn’t remotely tempted by SkyQ.  I don’t have time to watch the stuff I have recorded now, never mind have the capacity to record 15 channels while watching a 16th, or whatever it is.

And more often than not, when I’m on my regular work trips I find myself watching stored programmes on iPlayer, or stored films on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

And the last time I watched a non-Boro football match on TV, from kick off to full time, was a long time ago.  Every time I flick on Sky Sports on a weekend and it’s Southampton v West Brom, take it or leave it, I shrug, sigh and turn it off.

So, today, I’ll be ringing Sky and cancelling.  I’m not a cord-cutter in the traditional sense.  And I can ‘afford’ it pretty much.  It’s just that it’s a big expense on my bank statements, one that, unlike Netflix, or Spotify or whatever, jumps out every month and says ‘Really? REALLY?’

I realised that I’ve been paying this money in order to watch the Ryder Cup once every two years.  And Sky themselves have given me a pay as you go option through NowTV.  And if there is a Boro game I really want to watch, I’ll buy a day pass on that. I doubt there will be any other football that convinces me to do that – I’ve become less and less interested in the games between the big teams as the years have gone on.  Boro matches, FiveLive and Match of the Day are enough these days, along with goals that I’ll catch up with on social media.

My kids won’t notice when it goes.  They go to Netflix first, YouTube second, Sky a distant third.  I can’t imagine a situation where they grow up to be slightly attracted by a big, expensive bundled TV package on an 18 month contract.

So, it’s cheerio.

The bar has now changed for value in sport and entertainment in my household, and Sky now doesn’t get anywhere close to clearing it.

FIFA All

When I was younger I used to play a *lot* of Kick Off 2.

(side note, I was amazing at Kick Off 2.  My brother was terrible at Kick Off 2. Ignore anything he says to the contrary)

(side side note, Sensible Soccer was for people who couldn’t play Kick Off 2 properly)

Anyway, I used to play this game as it was a digital representation of real life football, a game in which I was obsessed.

But it strikes me that the relationship between football and video games has changed.  Kids now come to football via FIFA.  They get their player knowledge via FIFA.  They start supporting teams because they play with them a lot in FIFA. They have an expectation of what a football broadcast should look like, and the content it should have in it based on their experience of FIFA.

The game isn’t a representation of the sport – more the sport is a kind of cosplay for the game.

How are the football content and football media industries responding to this trend?

Defining the new normal

A lot of the supply side in the sports media industry relies on creating a new normal.

Take your regular run-of-the-mill football broadcast these days, and what you expect from it.  You’ll expect a certain level of statistical analysis, a certain level of graphical sheen, a certain amount of camera angles, a certain picture definition etc.

Each of these things that you take for granted was once an innovation – sold into the broadcast industry by the plethora of companies that exist up and down the value chain.

Innovate, sell in, normalise.  Repeat.

When I started at Opta back in 2009, we dreamed of the level of data analysis that we now take for granted becoming commonplace.  We used to talk about it in the office.  We knew if could be, we just needed some others to believe as much as we did.

And it happened gradually.  A small deal here, a freebie there, a growing and increasingly influential twitter account highlighting the fan’s appetite.  And then once one or two of the media guys, online and broadcast especially, started to use it, it got interesting to a critical mass.  And now, it’s the minimal viable standard for sports media, at least where data is concerned.  It’s completely and totally normal.  You’d question where it was if it was missing.

And the same happened on the graphics side with brilliant, innovative companies like RedBee, DeltaTre and VizRT all innovating, drip-feeding and hoping to become the new normal.  And the same happened with slow-mo cameras, and with online match centres, and iOS apps.  And so on and so forth.

So, what’s next?  Who knows?  But you can be sure that somewhere, in offices up and down the land, there are groups of people all helping to work out what the new normal will be, and working out how to convince others that they’re right.

Appointment too few?

Sport’s big thing, it’s big comfort blanket and safety net was that it was always the big ‘appointment to view’ TV?

As other markets fragmented and binge watching took over from TV scheduling, sport still had its kick off time.  The time where everyone would be sat, huddled round, all waiting for the action to start.

Other types of programming desperately tried to copy – X Factor, The Voice, etc all set themselves up like sport, with unmissable cup finals in which people were made to cry, Gazza style.  Appointment to view was the only way to make sure you could promise your partner brands that those eyeballs would be there, pointed at your advertising.

The opportunities for interruption marketing have been diminishing day on day.  The effectiveness of display advertising is poor, bordering on aaaargh.

So appointment to view was the thing.  And sport absolutely owned it.

But is this position diminishing?  Has the appointment changed from ‘the match’ to ‘the goal’ or ‘the piece of skill’.  Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and fragmented media has allowed for the main bits of the appointment to extract themselves from the action and get to you anyway.  You don’t even need to attend your appointment to view to get to the best bits of the action these days.

Some of this is the rise of illegal clipping and sharing on social media, followed by the rights holders following suit by offering their own short form pieces of action.

But why sit through the whole 90 minutes if you’ll see all the goals seconds after they’ll happen?  The actual football is merely a distraction from the transfer rumours and the training ground nutmegs anyway. If you can see the best bits without having to even bother with watching the match, you can get back to doing some other stuff.  Or doing a lot of nothing.

So what’s the next step for live sport?  More content?  A more immersive viewing experience? VR? AR?  Who knows.

All I know is that the appointment may well becoming less and less a critical one to show up to.

 

 

Spontent Marketing

I’m a B2b marketer somewhat by accident.

Graduated with a standard marketing degree, scrapped my way into my first marketing job, then my second, then third, and so on.  And it happened to be that this path took me from educational marketing into a variety of B2b focused roles.

So, like many people I’ve had to learn somewhat on the job.  And more than a decade in I’m still learning.  It’s a fast moving space, and there is a lot to get your head round.

Over the last year or so I’ve become fascinated and obsessed by a missing link in B2b marketing – that of what I’m calling ‘sponsor content’ (spontent? no? sorry)

Like many B2b marketers, I’m also a buyer of services.  A money haemorrhaging cost-centre, some might argue.  Anyway, as part of this bit of my job, I’m often having to source services, compare suppliers, do due diligence and implement various tools.

This is all fine.  I can find excellent content assisting me with solving my problem, helping me to narrow down my supplier choice and advising me on what to do when I’m implementing the service itself.

But in 99% of the cases I’m doing a lot of this work myself, or someone in my team is.  I’ll be the one who understands that we need tool X to solve problem Y.  But it’ll be someone else that I need to get on board with signing the cheque to make it happen.  Often they’ll be happy using tool Z to muddle on with half-solving problem Y.  They won’t know any different.

So why don’t more B2b vendors help me make that case internally.  This isn’t “a sales guy will come in and present to a wider team”, this is more equipping me with tools to sell their service into my organisation.  The guys I need to convince (could be sales, the exec team, the HR team or a combination) don’t want to do your demo with you on the other end – but they’d listen to me.  Possibly.

So, B2b vendors, you’ve got me, you’re on my shortlist, I’ve followed your fancy content (look at you being all helpful and not at all salesy) and I’m sold on it.  I now want to click on a link that gives me a shit load of stuff that helps me make that case internally – without your involvement at this stage.

Let me demo your product to the stakeholders here.  Trust me to do that on your behalf, and equip me to do so.  It’ll be a damn sight easier to get a deal done if you let me be your sponsor internally here, so take some of the road-blocks out of the way.

In my recent work, and recent searches for solutions, I’ve not seen anyone do this well.  If anything, a lot of vendors want more information out of me – who are these other people? Can we get them to sign up for our newsletter? rather than just helping me make the case.

One to add to the ever growing list of ‘new stuff to think about in the wonderful world of B2b’