In 1993, executives at the sports broadcasting network company ESPN decided to introduce an event geared towards extreme sports that included bungee jumping, in-line skating, skateboarding, skysurfing, biking and more. The first such event took place in 1995 with close to 200,000 spectators. By 2009, TV viewership of the X Games had increased to more than 5.7 million unique people, and made more than $120 million in retail annually from its consumer and licensing business.
Social media efforts are led Katie Richman, the Director of Social Media & Social Product Development for X Games and espnW, the network’s brand dedicated to women. Richman is supported by a team of about seven people, covering a range of skill sets.
With its vast library of professionally created sports images, one of the big endeavors underway is the sharing of images through social sharing. As the brand moves more into image-based social media Richman says, “I’m hoping that we’re thinking first about content distribution as much as we’re thinking about making great content.”
As a broadcast network, content creation is at the heart of what ESPN creates. I ask Richman how she feels about the difference between deeper versus lighter investments into content. Richman replies, “I’ve been on the side that those things do not always equate. Just because you tried really hard doesn’t mean it will be better. It has to do with what’s trending, your knack for something, finding it, and being lucky.”
Richman continues, “You can invest a hundred thousand dollars into a gorgeous high-end shoot with a helicopter and someone can beat you with a meme where they threw text over an image. It’s everyone’s first instinct that you need a body at an event. We have to start with what we’re trying to do and get there, as opposed to just sending someone.”
According to a survey by Nielsen, almost half of smartphone owners and tablet owners said they use their mobile devices as a second screen while watching TV. If you were a television marketer, you would certainly be working to find ways to tie second screen social media in with your broadcasts.
Richman is no exception. “With X Games,” she says, “we had six events last year where we had the chance to work with live social. It’s been one of the biggest challenges of my career to connect the dots between live TV and digital.”
Richman’s work with smaller events such as the women’s college tournaments has provided her with the opportunity to experiment and demonstrate success, which could then be extended to the larger global events. In one example, the group used social listening on Instagram. Relevant images would be sent over to the television crew about an hour before an event. Those images were then placed in predesigned templates, with messages that encouraged the audience to visit a website.
Richman isn’t shy to share experiments that didn’t work as well. She shares, “an example was our first call to action when we were on TV was ‘show us how you’re watching X Games.’ When things came in, it was pictures of people’s feet and TV sets; because that’s how people were watching X games! We’ve come to realize that fans don’t want to see other fans. They want to see famous people and athletes!”