As new technology has opened new methods of media distribution, stakeholders from across the sports feeding chain have set out to establish themselves as media businesses. Teams, leagues, athletes and event organisers have built increasingly sophisticated digital operations to chase views, reach and engagement across an expanding array of social media platforms.
But as these platforms have become saturated with short-form video, brand partners have become more demanding, and fans have grown accustomed to the usual tropes, definitions of digital excellence have had to evolve as well. Yesterday’s best-practice has become basic hygiene today.
“It used to be the case that just going from horizontal to square video or adding subtitles or changing a video from 2 minutes to 30 seconds had massive differences, but most rights-holders are doing things correctly these days,” says Charlie Beall, consultant with digital agency Seven League.
To find out where the leading edge of content produced in-house sits now, SportBusiness spoke to the digital directors at five leading rights-holders and asked them to choose the short-from videos that have been most successful for them, or of which they are most proud.
Because match footage invariably continues to trump everything else on social media, we stipulated that they were only allowed to choose videos where a demonstrable creative treatment had been applied to a match clip to avoid a collection of game highlights and player tricks.
Publisher: Arsenal FC
Video: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signing reveal
“It’s rare, almost unheard of now, for a top-flight transfer to remain confidential long enough for a club announcement to break the news of a new arrival,” says Arsenal senior content manager Tom Hines. “As a result, new player announcements have become a genre in themselves as media teams try to add layers of impact and entertainment to signing confirmations that would otherwise be little more than a full stop at the end of a long, drawn-out narrative of rumour. But by January last year we felt like we needed to raise the bar again as quirky, humorous or self-aware announcements had become the norm.
“Pierre [Emerick Aubameyang] has a big personality and a big reputation, and we wanted the announcement to reflect that while capturing and feeding the fans’ excitement at signing a new centre forward for a record fee. We’re lucky enough to have a fantastic conceptual motion graphics editor who took the brief and developed a treatment full of energy and impact that stopped people scrolling, held their attention and built affinity between the fans and Pierre.
“The full video had a retention rate around 30 per cent higher than our average on YouTube while shorter edits set records for engagements, impressions and views on both Instagram and Twitter.”
The video had generated 785,653 views on YouTube, at the time of writing.
Publisher: Arsenal FC
Video: ‘Emery Ball Deluxe’
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“As a [Premier League] club one of the advantages we have when it comes to publishing is the ability to use our own match footage without having to outlay for license fees,” says Hines.
“However, to protect our live rights-holders we do have to adhere to holdbacks, which mean that currently we don’t publish any match footage on social media until 72 hours after the final whistle. By that time most fans who have an appetite to will have seen all the goals and key moments, so our challenge is to add new and compelling aspects to those match highlights.
“Emery Ball Deluxe was an excellent example of how using the creativity within our media team and tapping into current creative and aesthetic trends can generate engagement and share of attention. The graphical treatment added uniqueness, fun and character to elevate the traditional match highlight format and deliver over four million views across three social platforms, along with above average engagement rates which outstripped our standard match highlights.”
The video had generated 986,438 Instagram views at the time of writing.
Publisher: Manchester United
Video: Buzzwire Challenge
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There is something strangely hypnotic about Manchester United’s Buzzwire Challenge, an Instagram content series which proves that the simplest ideas can often be the most effective. The club says the watch-through rates on the videos, which show Manchester United players competing against each other in the well-known Buzzwire game, have been so high, Facebook is now using the series as a best practice case study to share with other sports teams.
Manchester United chief executive of media Phil Lynch tells SportBusiness that the content series was designed especially for Instagram TV, the vertical video application launched by Instagram in June 2018 and created primarily for smartphone users.
“We design all of our content for social media in a native way, to ensure the content experience feels as natural and engaging as possible. We shoot Buzzwire Challenge in portrait mode, to ensure it fits the full screen Instagram canvas,” he says.
“Everyone knows the buzzwire game, so there is a heightened sense of anticipation, evoking fans to watch the whole video through. The watch-thru rates on this are unprecedented. That anticipation also gets the players – the human emotions they show as they concentrate, laugh, grimace is captivating for fans – adding up to an incredible Instagram content series.”
For the record, Victor Lindelof’s attempt to complete the challenge had generated the most impressive figures on IGTV at the time of writing, with 7,338,162 views, 135,573 likes and an average watch rate of 37 per cent.
Video: From the training grounds to the stadium
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Alfredo Bermejo, LaLiga’s digital strategy director, describes how his team super-imposed cones and training ground equipment onto this clip of a Real Madrid goal to highlight the tactical precision behind the move.
“Everyone had seen this move from Real Madrid on television, but we added value and told a different story,” he says. “We are always looking for new ways of presenting our content to the user, adding new effects and elements to the clips, which helps us to create something that appeals across language barriers and can also engage younger users.”
More specifically, Bermejo says the use of graphics was designed to appeal to the younger audience typically found on Instagram. The success of this strategy can be seen in the fact that the video had garnered 8.25 million views on the platform at the time of writing compared to just 525,000 on Facebook.
The video was put together by an in-house editing team and Bermejo says it took 3 days to produce.
“Our strategy within digital is all about establishing a relationship with the fan and getting them to become a heavy user of LaLiga through our content. It is not to increase views or engagement,” he says.
“Our strategy focuses on two types of content: “nutritious” and “delicious”. On the one hand, we offer interesting information about our competition and, on the other, we combine it with behind- the-scenes stories. It’s how we provide unique value to the fans and capture their attention.”
At the time of writing the video had generated 8,256,554 Instagram views and 525,000 Facebook views.
Publishers: Dugout and Manchester City
Video: Mario Balotelli’s story, 2012-13 Premier League title race
— Dugout (@Dugout) December 7, 2017
Elliot Richardson, founder and chairman of club-owned platform Dugout, argues this video epitomises how relevant content can be regularly resurfaced and repackaged to continuously generate incremental views
It shows former Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli talking about the moment he set up the Sergio Aguero goal that snatched the Premier League title from Manchester United in the dying seconds of the 2012-13 season. “Everyone forgets that the person who played the ball to Aguero was Balotelli,” says Richardson.
An interview with the forward about the goal had languished neglected in the Manchester City archive before the Dugout digital team dusted it off and repackaged it with footage of the goal to generate new engagement.
“If Balotelli had done the interview on the BBC, everyone would have been talking about it forever, but it was lost,” he adds. “What I loved about this is it shows there’s gold just sitting there in club archives and you can repackage it, it doesn’t cost a lot of money – I think the cost of putting this together was £57.”
Richardson says videos featuring former players can generate strong levels of engagement for clubs on the Dugout platform, even after the player in question leaves a club. Fans continue to engage with videos of Paul Pogba from the time he played for Juventus, especially now he is beginning to perform more consistently for Manchester United. Dugout tends to re-post the Balotelli interview on social media to coincide with the Manchester derby to generate more views.
At the time of writing, the video had generated 5.8 million views and 94,000 engagements on the Dugout Facebook page, 109,000 views on Twitter, and 4,100 views on Dugout.com.
Video: ‘Take on History’, Wimbledon 2018 trailer
This trailer, released to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Wimbledon Championships, was distributed across the tournament’s social media channels in advance of last year’s event. It was then shared with players and the tournament’s broadcast partners to deliver an estimated $10m of free media space.
“We wanted to celebrate Wimbledon’s history but in an innovative, creative way, not just looking back in black and white, but making it feel current,” says Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital for the All England club (AELTC), the commercial rights-holder for the tournament.
“We used animation techniques that evolved as the era we were narrating evolved, moving from line drawings for Suzanne Lenglen to big bold animation for the 90s and refined style for the modern day. The film showcased players – and we know that in sport, people tend to associate with players of their era – so if you were a Fred Perry fan, or an Althea Gibson fan, or Federer, or Serena, it had something for you. The film also showcased some of the innovations from Wimbledon’s own history – the move to colour TV, the move to digital scoreboards, and so on.
“Lastly, it launched during the World Cup, so it was a positive way for Wimbledon to make a statement during that congested period.”
At the time of writing the video had achieved 2.1m views and 114k engagements on Facebook. On YouTube it achieved 41,000 views with a 93 per cent view duration and 39,000 minutes of watch time overall.
Video: Wimbledon’s funniest moments
Willis says this compilation of the funniest moments at Wimbledon helped the championships to engage an audience outside of its core constituency, generating 7,000 new subscribers to the tournament’s YouTube channel.
“It managed to speak to fans who appreciate tennis, but don’t necessarily watch it; it humanised tennis for many sports fans, and therefore appealed to the broadest possible audience,” she says.
“Interestingly, the performance of this video came despite the fact that we released it out of season, in October, showing that you can generate reach and engagement even when your event is not on. It was also longer form content which worked well for YouTube.”
At the time of writing, the video had generated 773m impressions, a 4.7m impression click through rate, and 7m views on the platform, with an average view duration of 3.50 minutes (55%) and a total of 31m minutes watch time overall.