In this Sports Geek Podcast we chat to Dan Butterly from the Mountain West looking back on how the conference started and how they developed a fan base and brand for the conference over last 10 years. Twitter does a deal with NFL what does it mean for sports fans in NFL and other sports and how does Facebook counter to show it’s dominance online?
More specifically, in this podcast you’ll find out about:
- Why Mountain West was formed.
- How the digital landscape has changed in past 14 years for college sports
- Why the Mountain West TV network was vital early on
- Importance of fan research for Mountain West
- Why the ESPN deal was so important to the fans for Mountain West
- What the NFL Twitter deal means for sports fans
- How Fox Sports will report Facebook chatter
- Why Telstra continue to misfire on NRL activations
Resources from the episode
- Find Dan Butterly on Twitter (@DanButterly) and Linkedin
- Find out more about Mountain West – TheMW.com and @MountainWest
- Check out the Mountain West via Social Hub
- USAA picks up Air Force’s tab for football game at Navy
- United make an offer to fly Falcons via Twitter
- National Football League and Twitter Announce Strategic Partnership to Bring NFL Content to Fans around the World
- Why the NFL made Twitter its first social draft pick
- New Tools for Surfacing Conversations on Facebook
- FOX Sports Brings Real-Time Facebook Streams to the Sidelines
- Twitter testing with @MLB Twitter campaigns
- @Telstra_News trying to engage Sean via Twitter, even after this tweet
- Our discussion of Snappy TV and #Origin back in episode 8
- Chat with Manly Sea Eagles prop George Rose back in episode 4
- Please leave a question for future Sports Geek Podcast via Speakpipe for Ask Sports Geek episode
- Sound of the Game from Ireland Hurling final thanks to listener @AnthonyDinan
- Thanks to David Mackay, DT Talk, Dion Bennett for iTunes reviews in Australian iTunes and USA iTunes.
- Check out Beers, Blokes & Business podcast (BeersBlokesBusiness.com or iTunes or Stitcher)
NFL Tweets with embedded video
Hopefully my achilles recovery is this successful.
Last year Kendall Hunter suffered an Achilles tear. This year he’s outrunning defenders to the endzone. WATCH – http://t.co/qQEwzycgGB
— NFL (@nfl) September 27, 2013
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Sean: Welcome to episode 19 of the Sports Geek Podcast, on today’s episode we talk to Dan Butterly from the Mountain West, and what does the NFL’s deal with Twitter mean for sports fans? And how will Facebook respond?
DJ Joel: Welcome to the Sports Geek podcast, the podcast built for sports digital and sports business professionals. And now here is your host, who once was Mayor of Laker’s locker room on FourSquare, Sean Callanan.
Sean: Thanks DJ Joel. Yes, I was mayor of the Laker’s locker room for a short while in 2010 when attending seat in Los Angeles and I was lucky enough to steal it from good friend Shane Harmen as he was flying back to New Zealand. A little bit of fun playing on FourSquare there. On this week’s show, I chat to good friend, Dan Butterly from the Mountain West, looking back at how the conferences formed back in 1999 and how the landscape has changed as far as understanding their fan base and how digital has made some big differences in that space.
Later on in the episode we look Twitter’s deal that they did recently with the NFL, and how Facebook responded and how they’re really, really for the fight of the sports fans is on in earnest now. And then later in the show, stay tuned, I have a look at how brands are trying to engage sports fans on Twitter and in this case, doing it very poorly, so I’ll come off the long run there. But first here is my interview and discussion with Dan Butterly with Mountain West on ABC Grandstand with Francis Lynch.
Francis: Francis Leach here. Good day, Sean Callanan digital sports guru from Sports Geek HQ, a regular visitor on ABC Grandstand talking sport in the digital realm. How are you, Sean?
Sean: Good day, Frank, how you doing?
Francis: Not too bad. In the United States at the moment shut down.
Sean: Well, part of it is shutdown or yeah.
Francis: Are sports shutdown as well with the government shutdown?
Sean: Well, most of it hasn’t been, most of it hasn’t been affected, but there have been a few and unfortunately Air Force and Navy and Army have football . . .
Francis: They do?
Sean: They can’t fly around because the government is shutdown, so unfortunately . . .
Francis: No money to put the fuel in the plane.
Sean: Well funny thing is that Air Force Falcons are a football team that was supposed to play this weekend and they won’t be playing this weekend because the government shutdown actually did see united have actually tweeted and offered to fly them, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. But it’s a bit disappointing that the government shutdown has affected it that much, but the Air Force Falcons are actually part of the Mountain West Conference.
Francis: Yeah I love this part about the American college sport because it’s unique in a way. You know a system where a panel sits down and decides on the performances which teams are deserving of which opportunities, and there is little cabals that are together of the different conferences, the PAC-10 and now this one you are going to talk about, but this one has got a special history.
Sean: Yeah, so and I think we’ve got Dan Butterly, the senior associate commissioner on the line for the Mountain West Conference, he is a good friend of mine. Good day, Dan, how are you doing?
Dan: Doing great, Sean, what’s going on today?
Sean: Oh it’s a good weekend here in Melbourne, but just wanted to tell Francis and the listeners about the history of the Mountain West, how it only started in 1999. Francis rattled off some of the bigger names in college sports, but you want to tell a little bit of the Mountain West story?
Dan: Yeah absolutely. The Mountain West was formed back in late 1998, eight institutions, eight teams from the Western Athletic Conference broke away from that 16-institution conference in the Western Athletic Conference and formed the Mountain West. And so we started out officially July 1st, 1999, with our first competitive academic year with eight institutions and obviously a lot of transitions since then.
Francis: Why the break away?
Dan: I think more than anything the 16-team conference was stretched from Louisiana all the way to Hawaii. It was . . .
Dan: . . . four different time zones. It was very much institutions that weren’t the same academically, athletically, when it came to budgets, facilities, those types of things. So it wasn’t institutions that were playing on equal footing, and I think the institutions that were probably the more, the prestigious names, the historical names, the teams that had traditional rivalries, wanted to get back to those traditional rivalries, wanted to compete on an equal playing field. I think that was a big reason that they formed the Mountain West back in ’99.
Sean: And so looking back then at that time, thankfully is in this startup mode for a conference, what were some of the things that you had to do just to start forming that identity for the Mountain West, really competing with these bigger conferences?
Dan: I think the number one thing you had to do was you really had to restart from the ground up. I mean even though these eight institutions had been playing each other, some for 90 to 100 years, forming a new league really you got to start things from scratch and establishing your football, basketball, cross country, track and field schedules across the board.
Establishing your conference office staff, where the office will be located, your television partnerships, I mean you really had to start some things from the ground up and one of the things that is always difficult and actually there is a brand new league that started this year called the American Athletic Conference, I know what their staff is going through because I have been here since ’99. You really have trouble creating that brand identity.
People still associate the institutions with the previous conference. And even your radio announcers, your TV announcers and those individuals that are broadcasting the game, the teams may be in the Mountain West at that point but they were still calling them members of the Western Athletic Conference. So when you’re starting up a branding, a marketing campaign trying to establish the new league, that was one of the most difficult things you had to do was try to reeducate fans that had been fans of these institutions and conferences for many years.
Sean: And the other thing you did was establish your own television network in order to sort of cover often the games and being in control of your destiny in a sense, to be able to provide content for those who are into the teams that you have in your conference.
Dan: Absolutely. That was one of the great things that we did do was we created the Mountain West Network. And it was the first conference network dedicated solely to one athletic conference. And it worked very well for us for a number of years, it really allowed us to control our destiny, when our games are going to be played, our presidents, the presidents of the universities that make up our board of directors really put an emphasis of trying to get back to playing Saturday football, and 97% of our games were played on Saturdays when we had the Mountain West network.
So it was really a good situation for us. Unfortunately the network was shut down last year for us to come back onto ESPN and the ESPN family of networks, but it was a good branding identity and situation for us relative to broadcast television.
Sean: So Dan, just to give Francis some knowledge. I work with Dan in that startup phase and did some fan research around helping the Mountain West understand their fan base, but of those 15, almost 15 years the access to data and the knowledge of your fans has changed a lot. What does the Mountain West know now that they didn’t know 15 years just because of the amount of data you can get from social and digital email campaigns and those kind of things?
Dan: Oh Sean, excellent point. You and Mark Seymour back when we did the research, the Mountain West had no research, we had no data, none of our institutions had really done research to find out who their fans were, who we were, those types of things. So to really establish that data early on before social media, before you really had analytics that you could use, I mean you had to go and do field research, you had to go do in person research, and that was an extremely important for us to develop a brand and an identity for the league.
And since then we’ve done research every couple of years at our basketball championships in Las Vegas, which is probably our biggest social event of the year when it comes to all of our institutions, all of their fan bases getting together at one location over a five- or six-day period. So we’ve continued the research, but I will tell you, social media nowadays, between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you really get a sense of what fans want from your conference. What kinds of information will they want, what they want to follow, what they don’t want to follow, and it’s a vital aspect of our operation at this point.
Sean: And you recently would have launched–you launched all of that with a slight rebrand, a bit of a tweak, rebranding it as MW. Effectively dropping the C in a lot of your branding. How has that been received by the fans?
Dan: It’s actually a lot of people had had referred to us as Mountain West anyway, so dropping the word conference off the Mountain West in our normal day to day conversation, has been very good, and in fact, Sean, on another note, we talked about the Mountain West network which was a linear television broadcast network, you know one of the reasons that we were okay relinquishing the rights to that network was because of the fact that we could establish a digital network, a network that was based very much online that we could establish games, broadcast hundreds more games via that medium than what we were able to do via linear television.
And now we’ve changed our website address just in the last couple months to the TheMW.com. Now you can see live games, press conferences, on down the list through that portal that wasn’t available to us under a linear platform.
Francis: And now that you’ve gone back to the ESPN family in that sense, well I guess aggregated with the other conferences, has it changed the perception of Mountain West seeing that you had a unique and independent approach to things prior to that?
Dan: I think one of the things that we heard Francis was literally a situation that our fans were upset that we weren’t on the ESPN network anymore.
Francis: So it was almost like it was an act of disrespect that you weren’t considered in the same realm as the others?
Dan: Very much so. I mean fans were complaining that they couldn’t see our highlights on Sports Center, on those types of ESPN platforms anymore, and that was one of the key motives of us moving and changing our television strategy a little bit with all the conference realignment was to get back on ESPN when we could get back on ESPN, so fans not only nationally here in the United States, but internationally could watch our games as well.
Sean: Well, thank you very much, Dan. I hope to come back and catch some of those Mountain West games, some of the best games of basketball I’ve seen during the Mountain West Conference Championship games.
Francis: Produced some stars too.
Sean: They have. Andrew Bogut being one.
Dan: Absolutely, Sean. And obviously we’ve got some great Australian basketball players playing in the Mountain West at point. You know at Boise State, New Mexico, which are two of our best teams coming into this year, and then the University of Wyoming has somebody from Australia as well, so invite you, invite Francis, invite anybody that is from Australia that wants to come to the basketball championships in Las Vegas in March. We’d be more than happy to have you and could have an Aussie reunion there if possible.
Francis: Good on you.
Francis: Thank you for talking to us.
Dan: You got it guys. Have a good day.
Francis: Dan Butterly, senior associate commissioner at the Mountain West Conference. Or Mountain West as it’s known these days Sean, which started out from scratch. Had to find its own way against the institutionalized power of the other conferences in a friendly environment. But still quite an effort, they’re done an amazing job and they’re used social media as a way to zero in on exactly what they needed to do.
Sean: Yeah, it really was just about fitting a need and hopefully making sure those colleges had a place to call home collectively.
Francis: And they’re done it. It’s amazing. It’s good of you to come in.
DJ Joel: Need help with your content? Book in for a content brainstorming session with Sports Geek now. Go to Sports Geekhq.com/work.
Sean: Thanks to Dan Butterly there from Mountain West. As I said there in the interview I’ve known Dan for many years and was one of my first forays into the sports world working on that research project for the Mountain West in their first couple of years to better understand their fans. A far easier thing to do now with all the information that we can get from social media platforms, but was a good experience in actually help start figuring out what their fans were, what they wanted, and what they could deliver to them and started the genesis of what they develop with their TV network.
Next up is actually another chat that I had with Francis on ABC Grandstand around the NFL’s deal that they did with Twitter to show highlights in the Twitter stream and also what Facebook is doing to counter that move by Twitter.
Francis: Francis Leach, Sean Callanan, our digital sports guru from Sports Geek HQ is with us again. Hey Sean, how are you going?
Sean: I’m good thanks, Francis.
Francis: Aw, Twitter, Facebook, they’re always finding ways to try to one up each other. Which space are they working into now?
Sean: Yeah, well, the main thing is they seem to be in a bit of an arms race for the sports fans and for the sports market. I keep reading articles saying that Twitter is dominating sports or Facebook is, and to me, sports is dominating Twitter and sports is dominating Facebook, so I actually like to flip it the other way, because that’s why people are really going onto these platforms.
So I think there is a bit of the both of the social networks taking credit for how great sports is doing in digital, when really, sports should be taking the credit for how well these social networks are doing. Because it’s a big driver for why people are on the networks. And both of the networks realize that, they realize that the sports market and the all markets, so sports, music, and entertainment, live TV, is where it’s at. That’s where they’ve got to get the eyeballs.
They’re fighting for that second screen. We keep hearing that second screen experience. You know what are you doing when you are watching your TV. So your TV is still the main player in this, but what are you doing when you are on your phone, or on your tablet, while that’s happening.
And there have been a couple of announcements over the last week or so that sort of show how they are still fighting for their fans. So Twitter has announced a partnership with the NFL, which is the biggest and baddest sport in the land in the US as far as eyeballs and devotion and divinity and money, and so the Twitter Amplify product, which is one of their ad products, well it will allow the NFL to share video clips in the Twitter stream.
So you can be scanning down your feed, and the NFL, or potentially one of the teams, I haven’t really broken it down how far the level it will go, but say Peyton Manning throws a touchdown for the Broncos, they can clip that, put it in a tweet, send it out, you can be flicking through, click it, and watch it in app, in Twitter, on your phone, right there and then. So . . .
Francis: So within a minute or two of that–you could be anywhere in the world if you’re following the thing.
Sean: Yeah, so we’ve talked it before how social is a channel changer. Like you’re sitting and it’s an ad on the TV so you go to your second screen and you are flicking whether you are on Facebook or Twitter and someone has alerted you that you should change the channel. And so what’s better than a visual of Peyton Manning hitting the red zone, flip it over. You know if the NFL if it had apps that will alert you to say hey they’re hitting in the red zone.
Francis: They’ve actually got a show on ESPN called The Red Zone.
Sean: The red zone. But they’ve got apps that do alerts and things like that, so it really fits for that, and again, it primes the TV channel, it sends people back. Because again, that’s the main channel. So they . . .
Francis: How are they going to try and make you pay for it? Will they sort of say that in order to subscribe to it?
Sean: So who pays, which is the thing you’re asking is that the NFL is partnering and they’re trying to sell that to a sponsor, because it’s this premium content. So they want to put their major partners, you know Coca Cola and Visa and stuff, to have the better ads or the brought to you by, so there might be a pre-roll of an Oreo ad or whatever.
Francis: Is flash up thing.
Sean: It’ll flash up and then you get to pay the piper so to speak, then you get to watch the clip. So because it’s super premium content from a fan’s point of view, they’re willing to take that advertising hit. It’s going to be new and fresh and get a lot of reception early on, so a few sponsors are now clamoring to get that spot. So Twitter is again trying to show by producing this kind of content, having this deal with the NFL is that is where Twitter is where it’s at, and that’s where you want to be from a sports point of view. So . . .
Francis: So what’s Facebook going to do in response?
Sean: So what is Facebook going to do? Now knowing that Facebook from a market share point of view has more people. Now you and I are in the Twitter camp. If we’re watching sports we will tweet about it and tweet with our friends and our–I don’t want to call them non-friends, but the rest of the people that we’re tweeting with and having that conversation. And we get that.
They’re still a lot of people that don’t and still do it on Facebook, And they’ll want to do it in that private, semi-private personal manner, and watching the NFL or baseball or AFL grand final for instance, they will write, wow, Peyton Manning, that touchdown was great, On Facebook because they’re not on Twitter. So what Facebook is trying to open up their platform to be a bit more public, a bit more open, a bit more- . . .
Francis: So the wall guard that you created with your friends, they’re asking you, hey, do you want to lift the gates open?
Sean: Well, But they’re just trying to get that appearance. So what they’re done is they’ve actually opened up an API, an application programming interface, and given access to some of the TV networks. In this case, Fox Sports, so Fox Sports now is able to report on air, to again, to encourage people to do what Facebook wants them to do on who is trending, what is being said, so again, Peyton Manning scores, they can put up the graphic and say the mentions of Peyton Manning have grown 500% in the last ten minutes.
And that they can either do that in the game that you’re watching, and you’re watching Peyton Manning, or you might be watching the Green Bay Packers and they put that up and again it makes you change the channel, makes you engage, or at least triggers you to go, oh I better go on Facebook and I’ve got to talk about the NFL. Or I’ve got to talk about Fox Sports, so again, they’re both fighting for that fan, Facebook is coming from the position of market leader, but not necessarily the market leader from a conversation point of view.
Francis: So do you still feel that Twitter is the best conversation forum?
Sean: It is for me, personally.
Francis: I agree.
Sean: And you know, I think once you do get Twitter, and you know I’m doing air quotes here, once you do get and understand that it is a conversation platform, that there is a lot of people-you can still have that Twitter on Facebook, you can put up a post and you can have your five or six mates that are sports fans . . .
Sean: . . . and have a chat to, and there is people that say I just want to have chat to some of my mates and I use that old fashioned thing called text. And you just text a few of your mates, and you just have that really super private conversation, so it is-horses for courses to a certain degree. Not that there are any horses on social network.
Francis: Yeah. Which one do you think is more likely to actually turn a buck?
Sean: Oh. That’s what it comes down to. At the moment, Facebook is doing a better job turning their advertising wheels. But these kinds of things from a Facebook point of view are actually better to partner with the sport and help the sport make money and help the sports see that the platform is viable for them, rather than just going hey thanks sport, build our audience, now we’re going to advertise to them and we’re going to make money.
So I’d like to see Twitter keep doing more of these partnerships, because there hasn’t been too many of those partnerships with leagues. They’ve just sort of been happy to have the relationships, thanks for bringing all the fans. But they haven’t provided much return to sport.
DJ Joel: Sign up for Sports Geek news at Sports Geekhq.com/signupnow.
Sean: That actual conversation actually leads quite well into some tweets that happened today. I’m recording this on the Sunday just before the NRL grand final. The NFL deal I should say, with Twitter, and they have now put video inside the Twitter stream, is actually done with SnappyTV. We spoke about SnappyTV back in episode 8 when it was being used around [origin] by the account Telstra News telstra_news.
And we gave them a bit of the whack at that point in that episode, because they were effectively sharing near live footage, and they really should have been doing it with the NRL account. It wasn’t terribly integrated at that stage. Unfortunately they guys at telstra_news must not of been listening to the podcast and I wish they would because they’ve continued with a campaign they’ve called Fan Army. And I don’t think much of the campaign. I saw it getting shared around, I spoke to a few of my teams about it.
The main reason I didn’t think it was a great impact because it really didn’t do much, it didn’t provide value for the clubs involved in, the NRL clubs or the NRL or the fans involved. It was really a me, me, me campaign, where Telstra wanted to be in the spotlight. It wasn’t that it’s not a campaign that’s been integrated with anything that the NRL is doing. The NRL is trying to build its digital footprint and grow its audience.
And telstra_news appears to be wanting to build its own audience. It’s quite strange that in the account called telstra_news wants to be tweeting NRL all the time. I don’t know what exactly why people would be following the account when it’s effectively saying that it should be sharing telstra_news and updates. And pretty much it’s been pumping out post after post on NRL in the lead up to the grand final. So the main thing that got my attention was that I did send out a tweet to George Rose for the Manly Sea Eagles, a good mate of mine who is on episode 4 of the Sports Geek podcast to say good luck for the grand final.
And telstra_news decided to send me some fan art to say “Let’s go Manly!” Now I’m not a Manly fan, they have been a client and wish them well in the grand final, but it just showed their lack of knowledge of the sports market, how to engage fans, and just doing a little bit of research. Because if they had of checked their Twitter stream, I actually did give them a bit a whack on Twitter just a couple of hours before they sent that tweet.
So it’s just a case lack of execution. And the other point of the campaign is that it’s living in a vacuum that’s Twitter. It’s a Twitter-only campaign and as much as I’m a fan of Twitter, it’s something that should be integrated with everything you’re doing. It was actually a really good blog post Salmon Rodgers from the Data team at Twitter, analyzing how major league baseball have done from a Twitter point of view.
And what I would have liked, and I looked at a few different methods of tweeting, to saying all of these different types of campaigns work really well. But I think the piece that should be highlighted, the first take away is that any concerted by a team to engage its fans will lead in an increase of followers and engagement. I think that’s the piece of the article that everyone forgot to read, and in the case of telstra_news, they forgot to read. Pretty much if you’re doing anything more making a concerted effort on Twitter, you are going to get more followers.
But my main contention when talking with teams about their campaigns on Twitter is what are you trying to drive? Yes, You do want to have more followers and you want to get retweet, you want to get engagement, but you want people to go to your website, you want people to consume your content on your website, you want people to like you on Facebook, you want people to get back to your home base and get into your databases.
So if you just follow the steps of again what Twitter is outlining in this blog post about doing play by play, or doing Twitter takeovers, or doing Vine videos, of course Vine videos are going to get retweeted because not many people are doing them and it’s a short sharp video of potentially behind the scenes, but that does not mean every video should be a Vine video.
So I think there is just a case of you got to take a broader approach, you can’t put your eggs all in one basket, in this case Twitter, again, this is not me having a go at Twitter, it’s just a matter of understanding that you’ve got to remember that one of your main KPIs is actually getting people back to your website, so being engaging on Twitter is one way to deepen that relationship with your fans, but then you want to drive traffic back. I’d love to that guys at Twitter actually start sharing banks of data of what kinds of tweets drive more traffic back to your site.
What kind of tweets drive more conversation with your fans. Myself, Twitter take overs is an example, I’m not a fan of that. Because Twitter is so transient and so conversational, what happens to the fan that comes into a Twitter take over half way through? What happens, you spend a lot of time shaping that voice of your account, that can be very jarring for someone coming in half way through because it doesn’t have that read it all at once type of mentality that a Storify, those kinds of things where you can, you’re reading from the start until the end. If you come into a midsection, it might not work.
And again, we have seen some issues with Twitter takeovers where the person taking over is a little bit loose. So to a certain degree, of course it’s going to drive a little bit more engagement because people are trying to see that car crash potentially happen. So yeah, the telstra_news one, it was a little bit of a Twitter rant by me today after getting that Fan Army tweet about George Rose, to me it just does not providing much value for the fan, and it’s not even integrated with the NRL at all. The fact that they’re not using the hashtag was quite disappointing. So for me, not very well executed at all.
That’s enough. Like I said, I’m getting off my digital high horse right now. And that brings me to the end of the episode. Episode 20 is next, and what I want is to start getting some questions in, and maybe doing our Sports Geek one in the next couple of episodes, just a few notes for this week as we have the sounds of the game playing.
And thank you to Anthony Dinan from Ireland for sending in the sounds of the game. The sounds you are hearing below my voice is from the Ireland curling final. [audience cheering] So yes my Irish heritage will shine through here, I’ve never been to Ireland, but my ancestors are Irish, with a name like Sean, how could I not be?
And so thanks Anthony, for sending that thrilling game. If you were at a game this weekend or any time, please take your phone out and record some audio and send it in. I’d love to include it on the show of the sounds of the game segment. Other notes, this week if you’re in Melbourne, Tuesday night at the honey bar, my other podcast beers, blokes, and business, go to beersblokesbusiness.com.
We’re having a launch party. So you can go and get some tickets there. You’ll get a stubby holder upon entry and a free beer. Also excited to announce that we’re going to relaunch Sports Geek News it’s now going to be a weekly newsletter, it’s going to include all the links of all the articles that I’ve read and tweeted and shared on LinkedIn.
So if you’ve missed anything, that’s the email that you’ll want to get weekly. You can sign up. That’s about it for this episode. If you get iTunes and leave a review I’d very much appreciate it and thank you very much for the feedback that I’m getting on Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like. Until next week, my name is Sean Callanan from Sports Geek, #smsports, #out.
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