RSN Summit: Networks Fine-Tune, Monetize Social-Media Strategy

Executives continue to search for best practices in the digital landscape

In a period of tumultuous change for regional sports networks, social media has remained a constant. As platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat evolve and TikTok and others emerge, professionals look to sharpen their digital tools. At SVG’s recent RSN Summit, executives from multiple networks across the nation discussed their top priorities in solidifying an efficient yet flexible approach as well as ways to capitalize on this form of content.

SNY’s Maurice Peebles is leading the network’s recent expansion into the digital space.

Assign Proper Roles To Increase Turnout
As a major player in the country’s largest media market, Sportsnet New York has supplied linear coverage for fans of all professional teams in the metropolitan area. With a new push to improve and increase its digital presence, the network has focused on a philosophy of assigning individuals to roles that cater to their strengths and developing material with more social longevity.

“We have about 12 people on the digital side. On a New York Mets game day, we typically have some crossover with editorial producers so they can handle quick news that comes in as well as anything dealing with the game. It’s similar with our video team,” said Maurice Peebles, editor-in-chief, digital, SNY. “Recently, we have had conversations about trying to use freelancers instead of our full-time staff to cut the actual game footage, [which] may not be the best use of [our full-time staffers’] time. [Our staff] is super-talented and creative, so we want them creating projects that have been preconceived for a while. There is now an emphasis on creating content that is evergreen and could live after that game.”

On the collegiate level, the digital team needs to be physically divided to cover a large, expansive schedule of games.

Pac-12 Networks’ Sam Silverstein adjusts social content on the feedback of fans.

“[We need to deal with] 850 broadcast events, several hundred school-produced streams, and another several hundred to a thousand events that could move the needle with our fans. It’s a challenge. We staff like a fire station, so there’s always someone on [social] that is in the conversation with our fans,” said Sam Silverstein, VP, editorial, Pac-12 Networks. “[On game day,] we try to fit the right amount of people for each event. For football, it’ll be all hands on deck, and, for other events, where we think there will be fan interest but at a lesser scale, we’ll see [fewer staffers] applied.”

Establish a Streamlined Voice
Social media sits in the precarious spot of being completely independent, but also a supplement to the television broadcasts. To keep the social-media operation consistent with the mission of any given network, a familiar voice on each platform is created to convey consistent messaging. At the amateur level, rivalries run deep, and the network sometimes gets caught in the crossfire.

“We live a little dangerously because we have two in-state rivals that hate each other. Some viewers respond and say, ‘You’re showing too much favoritism to this school’ or ‘Where’s my information about this school?’ We try to sit in the middle of the fence to not ruffle any feathers,” said Eric Vasgaard, executive producer, Midco Sports Network. “It’s interesting, because we do have these rivalries that show up and we try not to do anything that makes the athletic director or assistant athletic director have to respond. We’ll continue to tell the story of the different student athletes and programs.”

Midco Sports Network’s Eric Vasgaard advocates keeping digital coverage as neutral as possible.

For Silverstein, the voice of Pac 12 Networks was aided by consumer feedback and the unique nature of college sports.

“When we are journalistic, objective, and a bit critical,” he said, “the fans told us, ‘That’s not what we want you to be.’ The fans expect us to be on the inside with complete access and showcase the best aspects of college sports. We try to hone it down to a single word: exuberance. The exuberance and joy that the student athletes experience while playing the games. It allows us to find the behind-the-scenes stories [of each university] because we have a clear understanding of what our voice is.”

Short Form vs. Long Form: Know Your Platform
To obtain the best results, teams must know the proper placement and destination for video content.

“Super-long content doesn’t play well on a lot of social platforms. Having five-minute videos on Twitter is probably not the best bet,” said Peebles. “IGTV is now given preference because it’s at the top of users’ feeds. YouTube is another property that emphasizes long-form content. If you’re putting something that’s 20 seconds long on YouTube, it’s not going to perform as well, or at least the algorithm will not make it perform as well.”

Our Stories, the Pac-12 Networks’ serialized content, is an example of using a specific platform’s function to advantage.

“We tell those stories in depth. [Given their breadth and longevity], we told a story [about former University of Washington basketball player Matisse Thybulle] in October, but the audience caught up to it [in June]. That’s when the viewership spiked, and the engagement with that content was very deep because that’s when the fans cared the most. There’s still a lot of ‘build it and they will come’ [mentality] in our strategy when it comes to features.”

Match Digital With Dollar Signs
For any venture in the corporate world, it comes down to churning out dollars and cents. Even though social media is becoming a dominant force in the sports landscape, networks are still challenged to find a way to make a profit on these platforms.

“We’ve taken some steps into testing Twitter Amplify as a means of monetizing some of our video content on that platform as well as on YouTube,” said Peebles. “There are some tricks that I’ve seen work for some [networks]. Some of it is branded content, which is peeling deals off of linear and increasing [the revenue] on that end.”

Although there are some quasi solutions to this dilemma, many networks are still seeking a long-lasting answer to this perplexing issue.

“If you’re having trouble with it, you’re not alone,” Peebles said. “There are ways of making money off of it, but with content that is natively posted on social media, it’s very challenging.”

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