When I came across this piece in John WallStreet written by our Chief Marketing Officer, Jed Corenthal, about the need for real-time video for sports broadcasts beyond betting, something he said stuck in my mind:
“More and more users, especially younger ones, need and want to be more engaged with content; they interact not just with the content but with each other.”
As a recent college graduate, this hits the nail on the head.
The days of just watching games are over. Like many of my Gen Z peers, I have a short attention span. Content needs to be engaging to earn my viewership - it needs to capture my attention with something that makes me laugh, fosters my curiosity, or makes me money.
Our generation craves interactivity in many forms, especially when it comes to live sports. But you don’t have to take it from me: sports media powerhouse Stats Perform states “80% of sports viewers say they use a computer or smartphone while watching live sports on TV to search for player stats, visualizations, live scores, following the action on social media and watching related videos.”
This rings true. During this past NFL season, I found myself engaging with live content while watching games more than ever before. From scrolling through Twitter, to following box scores, to texting my boys, to frantically checking my fantasy teams - which were all horrible - to placing live bets on the action, there’s always something to keep me interested – and engaged.
March Madness, arguably my favorite sporting event of the year, is more of the same. I’m in four different bracket pools and spearhead the one at our office. As of writing this, my bracket is in second to last place, only above my one colleague’s “random bracket” entry while another colleague had his victory locked up just after the Elite 8. The madness is among us.
But it’s not just me.
I have a group chat with my friends from high school; we call it “The Competition Addicts.” In it, we text about sports all week long, with topics ranging from betting picks, injury updates, and game predictions to memes, tweets, and even conspiracy theories. (Sorry guys, I don’t think there are actually magnets in NFL goalposts.)
This all ties back to the fact that there’s always something else stimulating our minds when watching live content. Watching guys pass, run and throw used to be good enough, but not anymore; sports broadcasts need to understand the HUGE variety of engaging content at our fingertips and offer something unique to enhance the viewing experience.
Another example,my college buddies and I throw a Super Bowl party every year that takes over the entire floor of our apartment building with a total of 35 guests spanning across multiple rooms. Most of our friends typically arrive 30 minutes to an hour before the game to socialize, place bets, and enjoy some friendly side games surrounding the Super Bowl ranging from trivia and prediction games to polls and contests, with the Super Bowl Squares pool being a highlight every year.
And, of course, we spend time doing what Gen Z does best - checking out Super Bowl storylines on social media, texting, and chatting with our friends.
This year, the biggest peer-to-peer and peer-to-screen interactions in the apartment were sports betting and social media. The Super Bowl is also the Super Bowl of sports betting, as sportsbooks offer a variety of interesting and unique bets for fans to wager on, like the Gronk FanDuel promotion.
Some of the most unique bets placed by our houseguests included the exact time of the national anthem, the color of Gatorade poured on the winning coach, the primary color of Rihanna’s dress during the halftime show and the final score.
One of my the-NFL-is-rigged conspiracy theory friends claimed he “saw the script” and convinced our entire crew to bet on a final score of 30-29 in favor of the Chiefs. (For the uninitiated, there’s a ton of friendly banter about "the NFL script" which dictates what will happen in the game.) Last year, another one of my friends actually predicted the correct score of 23-20 at +10,000 odds (meaning, you win $100 for every $1 bet). I wish I would’ve seen the script he saw, because if this score would’ve hit, I could’ve won a trip to Vegas!
My March Madness watch parties with my new Chicago friends are pretty similar. A couple of dozen guys get together to watch the games, most of us playing poker while others lament their brackets and frantically calculating who’s most likely to win based on the games in play that night. Not to mention the friendly wagers on whose bracket is expected to outperform everyone else's. The common theme here is that our generation can’t get enough interactivity with the content and with one another.
Now for the granddaddy of interactivity (and spoilers!) - social media. Whether it be Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter or even Linkedin (how much I love LinkedIn is a running joke with all of my friends), our guests were following statistics, sideline reports, off-the-field action, celebrity commentary, and memes regarding the game from the opening kickoff or jump ball to the final kneel down or sound of the buzzer.
On Snapchat and Instagram, fans can gain a behind-the-scenes look at pregame press conferences, player outfits, pregame routines and warmups, and ultimately post game celebrations. Fans want to feel close to the action, especially for big events like the Super Bowl and March Madness, and the best way to do that is to give them the opportunity to see things that only the players typically see.
While Instagram and Snapchat do a great job of providing behind-the-scenes content, Twitter is the holy grail of social media for sporting events, particularly for big events like the Super Bowl and March Madness. Sports fans can easily access the biggest repository of commentary, articles, memes, videos, pictures, and more at their fingertips with Twitter. At all of these parties, our guests were constantly scrolling through relevant hashtags and their personal Twitter feeds throughout the night, with most chatting about their favorite plays.
Whatever was on, there was always lots of chatter about the game itself, but there was arguably even more talk about the social media content surrounding the game.
Interactivity has many layers and can unlock countless new innovative opportunities to drive revenue. Viewers, especially those my age, want content we can engage with. Creating opportunities for fans to interact with one another during the game is the future of fan engagement.
The Future is Now
Gen Z is coming of age; we’re the first generation that’s grown up with a smartphone in our hands, connecting with others via texting, Snapchatting, Tweeting, and Instagramming. YouTube was our first tutor. We thrive off connecting with others and have led the digital revolution. Smart media companies will not see us as a threat to their business - rather, they’ll look for ways to adapt their business to the ways we want to consume and interact with media.
We want a viewing experience that enables us to connect with our friends around the world, regardless of location or internet connection. We don’t just care about the game, we also care about interacting with content creators, other fans, our friends, and random Twitter users around the globe. We want to feel like we’re a part of the game, and this isn’t really possible with massive streaming delays and disjointed viewing experiences caused by everyone seeing the same thing at different times.
Providing a real-time, synchronized viewing experience may take a little more investment up front, but the incremental revenue that would be unlocked from in-app purchases, corporate partnerships, and longer viewing times is unprecedented.
I know my boys and I would drop our providers and tune in..