New Sports Trend: NHL Video

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HBO’s Hard Knocks and 24/7 were the first television shows to find success in producing time-relevant documentaries of sports teams. Prior to these programs the main conflict in documenting a sports team was timeliness. Players come and go, injuries can change the tone of a season, stats, scores and trends all can change overnight. HBO’s award-winning series were the first to write the video’s storyline before the story unfolded.

Prior to HBO, documentaries and films about sports were dated; the video would be collected over a course of a season and then the producer would write the storyline according to how the season began and how it finished. Was the team a dark horse after all? Did they meet expectations? Those questions would already be answered once a video began production. For fear of inaccuracy, or jumping on the wrong bandwagon, videos could not be written in true form until the story was already over.

The problem with this was that fans already knew they storyline before watching the video.

HBO’s brilliance came first when producers and directors made headline statements mid-season. Not only was the video relevant (typically still just a few weeks old) but the producers were making claims about a team before the season was over, much like newspaper columns or TV talking heads.  The difference? The video was spectacular, the highest quality you could imagine. The players were candid, many mic’d during gameplay, and the video gave fans access that normally was privy to a General Manager and his coaches.

NHL teams took note of this high-quality production and are now making it their own. Three teams of note (Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars) began video series, exclusively online, documenting their team in an HBO-style format. A ripped version of Boston’s Behind the B already has over 80,000 views on YouTube, high numbers considering its length (40+ min) and that the majority of total views have taken place on bruins.nhl.com.

I take a look at the early successes and failures for these web series, and attempt to determine if this sports marketing trend will continue to expand across teams and leagues:

WHAT TEAMS ARE DOING:

Bruins: The Bruins new web series chronicles the team’s off-season headlines dating back to the Stanley Cup loss against Chicago. The web series is free online and some episodes have already been uploaded onto YouTube for easy watching. Behind the B goes more in-depth than ever thought possible for a team-produced film. There is video from GM meetings, scouting and even agent phone calls. Those are some very intimate shots for a sports team. I can’t imagine GM Peter Chiarelli was comfortable having cameras around for all of that.

Stars: The Dallas Stars were heavily involved with the Boston Bruins during the offseason. A major trade, along with new uniforms and a massive rebrand effort left the Stars with a lot of potential excitement before the ice was ever painted in American Airlines Center. Their web series, though more brief than other teams, focused on highlighting the major offseason headlines in video form, while giving fans an exclusive look to the “new” Dallas Stars.

Blackhawks: The Chicago Blackhawks are not actually providing fans with a web-series of video. No, they are providing fans (for a price of course) with an entire documentary that relives that Blackhawks Stanley Cup run. The video looks great, and the behind the scenes celebrations after winning the Cup seem to get fans their money’s worth.

Flyers: Flight Plan began documenting the Flyers offseason training, draft and roster moves. Now it has evolved into an ongoing documentary of the most disappointing team in the NHL. Early failures led to firing their head coach, constant lineup changes and player frustration. And it’s all being caught on film and being uploaded to the Flyers site.

WHY A VIDEO SERIES IS GOOD FOR FANS:

Fans get access. One of the best sold assets for professional sports teams is access. Season ticket holders for a team get special lunches with coaches, exclusive jersey signings with players and inside looks at the team. Access is an incentive for someone to buy into a team. Fans love to get to know their players, whether it be a quick meet and greet or hearing what the player is saying on the ice. Hearing their interaction with other players, teammates and referees make the fans feel like they are on the ice during that game. Plus, isn’t it cool to see and hear what a guy was thinking during a game?

The video is high quality. Fans can sit at home and watch their favorite team on television so there has to be an extra incentive to watch the video on a team’s website. The film used in these online videos includes high-def looks in slow motion, up close to the faces of players and uses unconventional angles to capture key moments of the game. Remember that big fight a week ago? Well the Flyers have six different angles for you to see that fight.

It builds excitement. A team’s success, or future success doesn’t matter if there is no excitement. Excitement gives fans a reason to watch.

WHY A VIDEO SERIES IS GOOD FOR A TEAM:

Good PR. Boston’s web series is a great example of how the team used its video series as a public relations tool. The team traded away its best prospect in Tyler Seguin, a former 2nd overall pick. Seguin was still only 21 when he was traded. Most teams are afraid to “give up” on a player that young, having only played in the NHL for three years. Not everyone in Boston was happy with the trade, and the national pundits were still sorting between themselves why the trade occurred — simply put there was a concern for public relations. Once Episode 1 of Behind the B debuted everyone seemed to have a better grasp on the situation. The Bruins included actual footage of the meeting when it was decided to trade Seguin. Fans and media got more than just a press conference quote about the Seguin trade. Due to the video, they now had better context and understanding of the events leading up to the blockbuster move. It didn’t seem to matter if the video made fans agree with the decision, what it did was help put their worries and strong opinions at ease.

Profit. Chicago’s video series is a good example of a video series turning a profit. If the team has exclusive access to their own players and staff, why not film it all and then sell it directly to fans? 17 Seconds is being marketed as commemorative team merchandise. This is the same team that sold their own ice  (for charity) to fans to commemorate the Cup win…

Sponsorship. Dallas, Philadelphia and Boston all had sponsorship for their videos. For major league teams, revenue from sponsors can be one of the largest assets to a team. After camera equipment, staffing a video producer and labor, odds are a team is making some sort of profit from the video series’ sponsor. And the money doesn’t stop there. NHL.com sells 30 and 15 second ads for all videos hosted by any of its teams — another chunk of change.

WHAT ARE VIDEO SERIES DOWNFALLS:

Mobile Capability. Yes a mobile device can play these videos, but it isn’t easy for the user to watch them. It take a lot of data to stream the video, the user needs sound to be able to understand and the videos are typically long. The highest internet traffic times are at the beginning of a work day and right before people go home for work. Online content needs to meet the demand of its users, and the majority of people can’t sit down and watch a 15 minute video at work. Facebook and Twitter posts receive high interaction during these hours but its for smaller items like photos, something that can opened, viewed and closed quickly while at work. A video is not conducive to the average online sports fan.

They are chopped up. In an attempt to solve the above problem, some teams have chopped up their videos into 3 or 4 minute segments. The problem with this is that many users don’t go on to click the next segment. Or even worse, they can’t find the next video in sequence. Some users are also turned off by the amount of ads they have to watch in order to watch all 4 segments of the video.

Losing never helps. If a team is bad, they’re going to look bad on video.

Team videos are made  by the team. There is a fine line between making a marketing piece, and making a factual documentary. HBO’s Hard Knocks and 24/7 has even run into the problem of losing access if they are too harsh on the team they’re filming. But how does one criticize its own team? The Flyers producer currently is enduring a 4-9 start. Some questions they have to ask: How far should I go to criticize the team? How much game footage can be used if they’re always getting scored on? Are players less apt to interview for the film if they don’t have many positive things to say?

These are all questions a team must answer before the video series is ever made. There is always the chance of having a great season, or a terrible one, but the team has to be prepared to keep making videos no matter the results.

Conclusion

There are many benefits to creating documentary-like videos in a web series. Fans love the access the team gives through these videos. However, if a team is not prepared to answer the tough questions or devote the appropriate resources to create a high-quality product, then it should avoid making the videos altogether.

The videos can serve a diverse range of needs a team might have: public relations, marketing or sponsorship sales. Because the videos are relatively easy to meet any of these needs, and a team has control over the access required by these videos, it may seem that web series videos are a trend that would continue to grow in sports marketing.

Fore more news on sports marketing trends and online content be sure to follow @Digi_Sport on Twitter.

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