Showtime Boxing’s Split Decision Gives Fans the Judge’s Card
When Michael Bradley was awarded a controversial split-decision victory over Manny Pacquiao to claim the WBO Welterweight title belt a month ago, it sent shock waves through the boxing and sports communities. The stunning ruling caused fans to question the legitimacy of boxing’s judging and scoring systems.
The HBO pay-per-view event drummed up a ton of buzz and, perhaps ironically, served as the perfect red carpet for rival Showtime’s launch of its second-screen boxing app Split Decision.
According to its creators at digital agency Canvas, Split Decision is a prediction and real-time round-scoring companion mobile Web experience available on both iOS and Android devices. It allows viewers to test their boxing prowess at predicting against the community and trying to match each of the official judges round by round.
The timing of its debut couldn’t have been more perfectly timed: Victor Cruz met Andre Berto on June 23, just two weeks after the Pacquiao-Bradley debacle.
“That could really work across all sports, though, because every sport has its controversies,” says Matt Garrity, director of business development at Canvas. “With something like this, it’s adding an education element to the fan while enabling them to put themselves in the shoes of those referees or judges. I think, by doing that, it illuminates the issues in the sport but also allows for the fan to have a better voice and understand the rules of the game in general more clearly.”
The mobile Website is HTML5-based and is a relatively fresh take on the interactive, second-screen experience. Although the service is still in its early stages and Showtime is working out a plan on how to fully utilize the tool’s capabilities, the focus of the app was on enhancing the fight-viewing experience while not creating a product that distracts users from what was on their TV screens.
In the weeks since the event, Canvas has gathered both usage data and post-event survey results from users. Through the survey, Canvas determined that users pay closer attention to the fights when actively scoring through the game and that they are more likely to focus on undercard fights because interest level in the game overcomes the fact that they may have little connection to or knowledge of the fighters involved.
Canvas executives were also pleasantly surprised to discover than 90% of participants scored every round of the Cruz-Berto fight.
“We were pleased with the level of consistency that we’re seeing from players,” says Garrity. “I think that typically, whether it be with a second-screen interaction or your typical app, users can be prone to drop off or lose interest quickly. I think that [our result] says a lot about the thought that we put into the user experience and making it simple yet quite involved in the fight at the same time. I also think that it is proof that fans, especially in live sports, may be apt to stick with an experience like this if it’s the right experience.”
Aside from allowing viewers to actively participate in the event, Split Decision is also an all-encompassing social experience with a curated Twitter feed highlighting expert opinions and selected public polls.
Garrity believes that, rather than just shine a glaring spotlight on boxing’s shortcomings, the app could actually play a positive role in helping return credibility to a sport that many feel has little of it left.
“It lends an advantage to quelling the controversies around judging sometimes because it leads to more transparency,” he says. “When you have more people openly judging a fight, it creates a fascinating look at not only what the broadcast experts are saying but also a broad insight into what the viewer is thinking.”