The innovations in online politics typically come from the underdogs, those who have a lot to gain and little to lose from experimenting and taking risks. It would appear that the same principle holds true in sports marketing.
The NFL and Major League Baseball practice content lockdown by tightly controlling their video content online and prohibiting people from embedding their video. The NBA offers embed code for their videos but they bury the video sections of the teams’ sites (you’ve really got to dig to find the video section of the Minnesota Timberwolves site, for example; it is not listed within the navigation system).
The National Hockey League, on the other hand, battling for viewers and to build more fans, sets its video content free. And it’s not just highlights or press conferences that they’re allowing fans to embed; they’ve got a Hulu channel where you can snag the video of entire games. This is the Minnesota Wild‘s season opener:
Fans can also grab a widget that plays the most recent videos from the Hulu channel:
Professional sports marketing clearly points to leagues being their own media (all the major sports leagues now have their own TV channel on cable), so control of content is understandable within a traditional media framework.
That framework, however, ignores how sports fans interact with pro sports content on the social Web. One of the best things about sports is talking about sports. Fans love to talk about their teams, their favorite players, and individual games.
Letting fans embed video encourages that conversation and that online chatter builds anticipation for upcoming games and can create more fans in the process. The logic behind content lockdown would seem to be that if you set the online video content free, people won’t watch games on TV, thereby reducing the ad revenue that is the monetary foundation of the broadcast licenses upon which the leagues thrive.
But people will always watch live sports, be it at the game or on TV. It is an event that is best experienced with friends and other fans.
Just follow the Twitter hashtag of your favorite team during a live broadcast of the game. What people are doing is commenting on a game as they would at a bar or in their living room while watching together on TV. That conversation demonstrates that people will not abandon live television broadcasts of pro sports.
What it also demonstrates, though, is demand for the killer sports marketing app: A Twitter stream of your sports friends that can be overlaid on a given TV broadcast of a given game, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. If anyone’s going to do that, I’ll put my bet on the NHL.