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Andy Dolich | The medium is the message

Former NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL senior executive Andy Dolich explores how interactive technology is fundamentally altering the notions of fan engagement and sports themselves.

Marshall McLuhan, the communication guru and theorist, famously said in 1964, “The medium is the message.” He posited that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself.

Nearly six decades later, the sports fan of today is the medium, messenger, and ultimate market, using whatever expanding customized digital media tools they choose.

Andy Dolich

I left my doctorate degree at home, but I know that the sports world is undergoing an ongoing eye-, ear-, and brain-opening change in the way fans are consuming their athletic passions, presenting seismic implications for the industry.

Just check out what Paramount and the National Football League have done with their Nickelodeon simulcasts. Fan tokens are now everywhere. NBA Top Shot has generated close to $1bn (€919m) in sales through non-fungible token (NFT) highlights.

As a result, we are now in a new age, one of immersive sports and entertainment.

There is a kaleidoscope of communication choices that give today’s sports fan a constantly customizable engine that is adding more interactive and informational horsepower every day. Fans are changing the sports world by utilizing their own views of what’s going on and breaking down the door that kept them outside. It used to be that we could change the channel when an announcer droned on. Now we can access game action angles from drones in the stadium.

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Look at the shrinkage of local sports reports on the nightly news. And when is the last time you saw someone under the age of 30 reading an actual newspaper sports section? In many instances we have fans now writing columns about their favorite teams. They believe they know more about the game and their team than the coach, general manager, players, or reporters that work the beat every day.

Think about what you read and what sources you were following leading up the last NFL Draft, and what you are consuming leading up to the next one in April. These days, social media is competing with ESPN in breaking sports stories.

Customization

Fans have the opportunity not just to rewind and activate slow motion for game footage, but also zoom in on certain plays without being beholden to the directors of game broadcasts. They can watch the game from a player’s first-person perspective.

Advances in camera and video technology are additionally allowing for previously unseen perspectives, and I believe we will see cameras on every player in every sport in the not-too-distant future.

I’m there without being there

We are now additionally seeing virtual reality’s impact on sports. Fans will take to virtual and augmented reality platforms because they can become a universal hub for Twitter, fantasy leagues, video, and stats, all in a way that can be totally immersive.

I think a secondary market is going to crop up for virtual live-streaming of events where fans can experience the thrill of going to the Super Bowl, Olympics, World Cup, Super Bowl, or “Fight of the Century” without being physically present.

Gamification

Take any popular sports social media storyline one step further in the realm of gamification. We now see the fanbase not just controlling storylines but also a league. Fans are deciding plays, which players to play, where team’s play, draft picks, and encroaching on all facets of the game, including business and administration. This is a case of sport getting the “American Idol” treatment.

This is already here with Fan Controlled Football, the indoor American football entity where fans indeed have direct input on key matters such as real-time play calling, personnel decisions, and franchise strategy.

The league is redefining sports for the digital age by combining the competitive element of live sports, the engagement of fantasy sports, and the interactivity of video games into a live-streamed, lean-in fan experience. FCF’s second season begins April 16 at a customized stadium at Pullman Yards in Atlanta, Georgia.

McLuhan spoke of society’s values, norms, and how ways of doing things change because of technology. He wasn’t a sports fan, but his prediction has come true.

Dolich is the president of Dolich Consulting, and is an advisor to Fan Controlled Football.

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