For sporting franchises and related companies to capitalize fully on viral media they need to focus on creating content that resonates with their communities by using their professional resources, keeping a level of transparency and developing a plan of dissemination. Before these companies can understand the steps they need to take in order to tap into the viral media market, defining the term “viral” is a necessity. According to David Meerman Scott, while the term “viral” can have different meanings in different contexts even within the field of media, it can loosely be defined as content that spreads through the Internet quickly.
While Scott is quick to use the term “viral”, Henry Jenkins the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, feels that the term viral is not only too all encompassing but also too limited. Therefore, in his eight-part essay “If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead – The Value of Spreadable Media”, he uses the term ‘spreadable media’. This term plays on the principle of spreading content not only across one platform but several. In part six of his essay, he writes that, “Content is spread based not on an individual evaluation of worth, but on a perceived social value within community or group.” Keeping this in mind, the sports team attempting to create engaging content would be better off creating an entertaining video starring a couple of their players rather than an informational video solely stating the upcoming promotion.
In Beyond Viral, I studied the similarities and differences between professional and amateur status. With new abilities for the everyday person with a Smartphone and an Internet connection to publish what could turn out to be the next big viral video that sweeps the nation and even the world, the notion that a company has to put out content for it to be seen by the masses simply isn’t true. While companies may have more professional equipment, they also may have the same equipment as an ‘average Joe’. In order for professional sports companies to be considered in the professional realm they need to employ their professional athletes. Amateur don’t have the same type of access to this talent. Although content that appears to be amateur or more informal could be more appealing, truly amateur content doesn’t have the resources to appeal to the audience the same way.
Going with the distinction between viral and spreadable, if Beyond Viral, written by Kevin H. Nalty, were titled Beyond Spreadable, it would have not sounded as appealing. Viral is a very big buzz word right now in the media industry. Everyone hopes to “go viral” because this means that your content is being shared by the masses. For sporting franchises, focusing time on developing a campaign that has a common entertaining theme throughout is essential. A sports fan has certain traits such as emotional ties and loyalty that give the company several options for determining which strings to pull when creating content to distribute to their audience.
Sports franchises have a distinct advantage in their connection with their professional athletes. This allows them to develop official content where someone not affiliated with the organization would have a very tough time booking the team’s star player for an afternoon to shoot a commercial. Nalty writes that the line has blurred between amateur and professional. This is true in everyday scenarios but with sports teams I don’t believe the line has blurred as much as other industries. Only team employees have direct and legal access to the players, clean high-quality feed of the highlight footage and permission to use it, etc. I’m not saying that amateurs can’t get a hold of content illegally, but the hoops that have to be jumped through in order to get this content make it a lot harder for an amateur to do the work of a sports team employee.
As mentioned, minus the star-power, what is stopping an amateur from producing a video where a baseball is flying towards someone when someone on camera grabs the ball just before it hit his or her significant other? I really found the discussion of professional versus amateur an interesting one, although, not quite as directly related to a sports franchise. Minus the star power, identical content could be produced. Both Gillette and New Era campaigns have professional athletes or well-known celebrities appear in their videos — something the ‘average joe’ would have a tough time pulling off. In the discussion of amateur versus professional, there are three separate types: polished professional, unpolished professional (fake amateur) and actual amateur.
ESPN has a running campaign called “This is Sportscenter” advertising their main program, Sportscenter, which features professional athletes from various sports interacting with the Sportscenter anchors. While these are obviously professionally produced, they have a somewhat raw feel with no special effects and very little post-production work. They first run on television and then are distributed secondarily online and via iTunes promoting not only Sportscenter, but also sharing, by distributing the thirty-second sports on a variety of electronic platforms. They plan for these to be spread from sports fan to sports fan around the world. By drawing on athletes with such wide-spreading appeal, they have tapped into the sports fans’ minds. By having Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in a commercial, they are attempting to resonate with not only Cowboys’ fans and Dallas area residents who recognize Romo but football fans in general. They do a great job of getting top athletes in all sports, whether they are the big United States sports (football, baseball, basketball) or not. By using Albert Pujols, the popular St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, they tap into all baseball fans and St. Louis fans. They choose their athletes very carefully and almost always feature all-star athletes that are well respected around the country.
Both Tony Romo and Albert Pujols are not only some of the most famous athletes in their respective sports but are always widely known as quality people, therefore, the commercials have a positive appeal. After LeBron James made his “decision” and signed with the Miami Heat, it would have been risky to do a commercial starring the Heat star because a majority of the public’s opinion changed from when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The commercial would receive much more of a mixed response than the Pujols and Romo commercials. In a sense, spreadable media is much more inline with popular culture and is originally intended for mass sharing. Viral media could be shared by the masses but generally refers to something shot or produced by an amateur with low production value that has entertaining aspects. The “This is Sportscenter” campaign is considered spreadable first and then via secondary electronic distribution methods would be considered viral. Even though the campaign is considering spreadable, being spreadable is not a necessary component for being viral. The need to spread these commercials is not the goal. The goal is to raise awareness and chatter on various platforms within the Internet.
Gillette recently produced a couple of videos intended to spread virally. One features tennis star Roger Federer at a Gillette photo shoot where in between takes it appears that he serves a tennis ball precisely enough to knock off a can of a production assistant’s head – twice. While this video was distributed via the European division of Gillette’s YouTube page, it quickly spread from computer to computer due to the seemingly incredible video footage of Federer hitting the ball so precisely. This video they obviously took credit for and only distributed online in hopes of massive peer-to-peer consumption. The second video was not distributed via a Gillette YouTube channel or on television either. A “random” YouTube user shared it; although more than likely it was someone working for Gillette. The video features Major League Baseball star Evan Longoria being interviewed by an unidentified reporter and quickly turning around and catching a screaming line drive with his bare-hand just before it hit the reporter in the face. This video made the rounds on the Internet even quicker than the Federer video garnering over a million hits very, very quickly. The Gillette logo can be seen in multiple banner spaces in the background around the stadium, yet, no direct mention of Gillette is visible. Since this video was additionally meant to be spread socially and electronically, it was not aired on broadcast or cable television. Why would the same company produce two ads seemingly in the same campaign and format, one directly mentioning the company name and the other not?
Building upon the topics in Beyond Viral, Henry Jenkins says that this is the time for newer ideas to enter the marketplace due to the barriers being lowered. To me, this allows Gillette to have their videos circulate without certainty that they produced and distributed them — more on this later.
While the Gillette advertisements were intended for online distribution only, New Era produced several ads in a campaign that originally ran on broadcast television playing on sports loyalties. The sports apparel company employed both John Krasinski who plays Jim Halpert on The Office and Alec Baldwin who plays Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock to simply trash talk each other about their favorite Major League Baseball teams hoping to tap into sports fans’ emotions. Krasinski who is a Boston Red Sox fan and Baldwin who is a Yankees fan trade friendly jabs throughout the campaign over the phone and in person.
There are distinct ways that the New Era ads differ from Gillette’s advertisements. The original audience that these two campaigns are intended for differ from the viewers of television to the viewers of the online content. Both ended up online and developed the ‘viral’ tag because of their ability to spread in an electronic format. Their goals, however, differed as well. New Era planned to draw audience engagement but didn’t plan that their audience will share the content with someone else.
Based on the definition of “viral” determined by author David Meerman Scott (referenced earlier) in his book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How To Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing To Reach Buyer Directly, both New Era and Gillette successfully produced viral content due to the reach of the content.
He also suggests that the main draw to social media is that it acts as a method for individuals to share ideas. A good way for New Era enthusiasts to get involved is to host the campaign of trash tracking videos on the New Era website allowing the enthusiasts to participate in their own trash talking. New Era carried through this idea while Gillette didn’t host a space for their audience to comment on the cool videos that they viewed produced by the company. I’m not sure why, however, this could be because they claimed to have no association in regards to the ‘great catch video’.
A spokesperson from Gillette was asked if the baseball video was their work and he denied their involvement. I think if someone asks, you have to tell the truth. This actually could have hurt their brand loyalty. I read several reports online of customers feeling duped to the point that they were less favorable of the Gillette brand after finding out they did in fact produce the video and hid it then before they viewed the video. It’s great to have engaging content but it is essential to not let your audience feel like they have been duped.
Posting the same content in multiple platforms can be both overwhelming and if done correctly, a successful, very powerful method of dissemination. For example, if a sports team posts a blurb, such as “Check out our new commercial starring slugger Josh Hamilton!” on both Facebook and Twitter they may get two very different responses. After analyzing tracking patterns of information and researching delivery methods, I’ve found that posting the same content over multiple platforms can be both harmful and helpful depending on the audience you are trying to reach. The Texas Rangers official Facebook Fan Page has over one million likes while the official Texas Rangers Twitter page has slightly fewer than 97,000 followers. There is a large difference between the two numbers, however, from what I’ve found if a Rangers Twitter follower has Facebook, then they ‘like’ the Rangers. Therefore, in this specific example, posting the message referenced earlier on both Twitter and Facebook would only overlap on a handful of fans feeds and therefore be beneficially to the ballclub.
Sports teams can get away with this because the emotional attachment to the team is going to overcome the potential for becoming annoyed at an overlap of content. Businesses, however, are at a slight disadvantage because they don’t have the same loyal following a sports team does, at least generally speaking. If a company posts a promotion on both platforms, it seems to be received very differently than if the Rangers post pertinent information to their fans. The key is to convey the same information in a slightly different text. Usually, this is a requirement simply because Twitter caps your statement at 140 characters while Facebook allows your posts to be as lengthy as you wish. The best way to convey any message over multiple platforms is to make the audience appreciate what you are sharing versus feel like they are being bombarded by the same message.
Overall, when analyzing both how to communicate with an audience, especially sports related, and creating content that resonates with your intended audience, it is necessary to not only use resources not available to the everyday person but also make the content entertaining and readily available on multiple online platforms allowing for electronic distribution. After analyzing several different interpretations of both viral and spreadable media, professional and amateur content and creating online awareness, it has become extremely evident that companies such as New Era and Gillette and sports products such as Gatorade employ superstar athletes to gain the upper hand on companies in fields that don’t have recognizable faces. Sports franchises must follow these same guidelines helping them to stay a cut above the amateur.