Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten Things: SBJ Sports Media & Technology Conference

As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the Sports Business Journal Sports Media & Technology Conference in New York this past week.  It was undoubtedly one of the most valuable industry gatherings I've ever attended from an insights standpoint.  Every session brought something valuable to take away.  I'd encourage you to search the hashtag #SBJSMT on Twitter to see great coverage from the event, including from @SBJSBD.

Today, I thought I'd share "Ten Things" from the conference.  It includes some of the more salient points from the two days of discussion, in addition to the coverage that's been out there.  While this doesn't represent the whole event, it's what's interesting to me and I think is applicable to #sportsbiz on the whole.
  1. There's still a lot to figure out from a sports streaming perspective.  No one's truly figured out how it's going to all completely shake out.  Renewals of deals like ESPN & Time Warner Cable, rumors of an MLB/MLBAM reconfiguration, the potential for more arbitration between programmers and distributors ... it has people up at night, no doubt.
  2. "Cord cutting," or eliminating cable in favor of online-only programming, remains a threat to cable, but it's not one that is really likely at this point -- at least for sports fans.  While ESPN is doing a nice job with ESPN3 and, the majority of sports content remains through cable boxes.  However, with cable subs who aren't sports fans and only enjoy a subset of programming, it's a real option.
  3. Authenticity and tonality remain two key ingredients to great social media by teams and properties.  I did not hear much about value, which I also consider critical, but sports media professionals are definitely understanding that consumers/fans want real content, not contrived tweets.  One panelist went so far to say that most teams are still "playing defense" when it comes to SM (which I read as functioning more as PR) and I tend to agree with that.
  4. The marriage of CBS Sports and Turner for the NCAA Tournament will be huge.  It will reshape how we look at March.  From the advent of a "National Bracket Day" on Monday after Selection Sunday all the way to the TNT crew working programming around (and maybe even in) the Final Four, it's going to transform our viewing experiences.  I can hope that they'll approach SM engagement this same way, and continue to push the innovation that Turner has achieved around the NBA.
  5. Tablets are huge.  Period.  There was more passionate talk around how we can integrate sports programming through tablets than just about any other topic at the conference.  It comes back to the same streaming discussion as takeaway #1, but there is real potential and application across the board.  (Funny to think, but the iPad was probably the number one promotional giveaway at the conference.  Sports Business Journal/Sports Business Daily even gave one away at the #SMTTweetup.)
  6. 3-D sports viewing was probably the second-most interesting discussion.  After the ESPN release on 3-D, there were several sports media professionals who doubted the future of the offering.  However, after seeing this panel, I don't think the future so much is in doubt as is the means to pay for it.  A YES Network executive reported on the panel that the cost to produce a game in 3-D on the channel was six times more expensive than a traditional HD game.  Those metrics simply don't work.
  7. The fantasy panel was interesting, but it really didn't show any major advancements for the category, honestly.  I am a huge proponent of fantasy, but I sensed that everyone is still waiting for the next big advancement.  A question was asked from the audience as to whether or not social media can drive more interest in fantasy.  One panelist went so far as to say that SM can't drive the next wave of players.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  I think between SM, TV Anywhere and iTV enhanced television applications, there is major opportunity.
  8. Speaking of room for growth, one of the most anticipated panels of the two days was the discussion around local fans.  Each of the panelists saw wide growth potential in the coverage of local sports online, which validates the ongoing evolution (not destruction) of newspapers.  Everyone looks to ESPN as they are promoting their market-specific sites nationally, but it might be networks and individual blogs that has it really figured out.
  9. Verizon and the NFL have had some early success around their mobile offerings, as more than 5,000,000 have downloaded NFL Mobile.  However, it's clear from the discussion on the case study panel about the parties' record deal that Verizon is holding the NFL and itself accountable to monetize the relationship in a positive way.  Reps from Verizon said that the company is evaluating the value "every day."  This should not be a surprise to anyone in #sportsbiz.
  10. Finally, the most important point of the conference: the threat of a labor stoppage scares everyone, even those whose sports are secure in their current CBA.  A panelist stated flatly that a lockout threatens the entire sports industry, as sports fans tune out and turn off.  I think the #sportsbiz industry sees major opportunity for college sports if there's a lockout.  College football still has room to grow to catch the NFL in popularity, and with a stoppage, we might see just how much growth there is to accomplish.
Thanks to SBJ and SBD for putting on a great conference.  Again, it was one well worth attending and anyone who's in #sportsbiz should sincerely consider attending.


  1. Great post. It was fun reading your tweets throughout the conference.