Watchalongs: Sports and the new generation of consumers are at a crossroads
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With creators playing an ever-increasing role in marketing across all verticals, it was just a matter of time before they found their way into live sporting events: And the major networks are taking notice.
Whether it’s the ManningCast for the NFL’s Monday Night Football, The Bird and Taurasi Show—featuring Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, during the 2022 NCAA Women’s Final Four, or the Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez hosted KayRoad cast on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, alternative broadcasts for sporting events are becoming, well, mainstream.
Sports entities are being forced to make their games more engaging, using eSports codes, gamification strategies, pushing daily fantasy, interactive experiences, and sports betting. Simply put, Gen Z doesn’t want to just sit back and watch traditional sports broadcasts. Alternative broadcasts allow viewers to essentially watch a live podcast with the game playing on the screen at the same time.
Take the ManningCast for example, occasionally, Peyton and Eli Manning will comment on what is happening in the game, but the majority of the focus is on the interviews they have each quarter.
Initially many said no way anyone would want to watch something like that.
Then ESPN extended the Manningcast for two more seasons.
So where does all of this come from?
The desire for the modern sport fan is not only to enjoy a sport, but to enjoy it their way. And sometimes that doesn’t have anything to do with watching the match in real time.
That’s the idea behind YouTube channels like TroopzTV and Expressions Oozing.
Troopz was a regular on the famous YouTube channel ‘AFTV’ — the largest football (football as in soccer) fan network in the world—and known for his explicit post-match interview rants. AFTV has built a channel of more than 1.4 million subscribers and many of the regular pundits have become stars in their own right.
Barstool saw the potential and came calling. And now with Barstool’s supercharging, Troopz has built his own AFTV-like channel, complete with a podcast, live watchalongs, and commerce.
Troopz watchalongs average 50,000 views.
That’s 50,000 people willing to watch someone watch a game and react.
With Troopz success, Barstool also signed Expressions Oozing. EO is basically what Troopz is, except he’s a Tottenham Spurs fan. Same type of humor, same rabid audience.
The devoutness of the audience is the hook
I did some digging on sports forums going back pre-2020 when the watchalong phenomenon really began. Questions like “who would actually watch somebody watching a game of football live when they can be watching the game themselves? Does anybody actually tune into these events? What do they get out of them? Enlighten me.”
Some of the responses I found most interesting:
“Sometimes I will turn commentary off for a game and have a watchalong in the background.”
“I'll turn on AFTV when they are losing or have had a decision go against them.”
“Think of it like a podcast but with moving pictures. You form a bond with the caster as you would with DJ's in radio, you login to listen to the caster as much as watching them play the game. The game is just a bonus from my perspective. I often listen to them while I'm working.”
“It's basically seeking validation on our own opinion, finding people who have the same passionate reaction to what you experience yourself and kinda spiritually bond over that. Even better when you have reactors who are genuine, entertaining, and/or insightful about the things they're reacting to.”
This type of viewing experience is so popular, Sky Sports started doing them, again for soccer.
The watchalong gives the viewer the communal viewing experience. Specifically during the COVID pandemic, things like Zoom meetings changed the way we work. The watchalong changes the way we experience our sporting events.
“While using the Fanzone feature on skysports.com (laptop or PC only), fans can also simultaneously view the Sky Sports Watchalongs (via the Sky Sports Football channel), where Sky Sports pundits and presenters will be watching the game, reacting to events and answering your social media questions,” according to Sky Sports.
Redefining the future
The further we move away from traditional sports viewing, the more the content we see will become tailored.
“Every year we have continued to make the experience more customized and more personal for fans,” Amazon’s VP of global sports video Marie Donoghue told Forbes.
During its product rollout event in October, Apple featured the ability to watch NFL games from up to seven camera angles simultaneously—including streams from players’ helmets.
Where I think the next natural step is somewhere even more progressive than streamers like Troopz and Expressions Oozing.
Think of streamers of all levels being provided the raw media for broadcasting, access to all the camera angles, audio feeds and news updates.
The streamers can compose their own broadcast, and you’re sure to get a very unique look from each and every stream. Ninja did this to an extent with Thursday Night Football.
What’s next for sports broadcasts? How do you see leagues or rights holders changing the way an audience engages with a broadcast?