Can the NFL compete for fans’ attention on a per-second basis?

Last month on the FanBeat blog, we looked at the much-discussed down NFL ratings. With the completion of the 2016 regular season, total NFL viewership was down 8 percent compared to 2015. Much of this had to do with the presidential election — viewership was down 14 percent for Weeks 1 through 9 — but not all.

More people are spending less time watching the traditional linear broadcast and instead are viewing highlights, checking the box score online, and scanning Twitter for updates. Jacob Feldman’s Sports Illustrated article, published on Nov. 30, pointed out that the NFL’s audience is even more distracted – and fragmented – than we thought.

The thesis of Feldman’s piece is that the pace of a three-hour broadcast, loaded with advertisements, can’t keep up in a limited-attention-span digital era dominated by Tweets and Snapchat stories. Fans are still consuming NFL content, but they’re doing it by trash-talking friends of a rival team on Facebook or taking selfies in their favorite team’s jersey and posting to Instagram.

“Football has gone from dominating a day of the week to competing for fans on a per-second basis,” Feldman writes. “And now that our average attention span has fallen below that of a goldfish, the NFL is at risk of becoming a fish out of water in the digital era. After all, how can a three-hour game with 11 minutes of action compete with a Facebook feed individually tailored for maximum engagement? What can be done about a broadcast stuffed with 70 commercials when Netflix has none?”

Feldman raises three specific problems that the traditional NFL broadcasts run into in a fast-paced, digital world. As a mobile gaming app that increases fan engagement, FanBeat is equipped to tackle (pun somewhat intended) all of them.

1) Mobile screens beat big screens — Today everyone’s mobile device is an extension of their right arm. When it comes to getting people’s attention, the 6-inch screen in our hand beats the 60-inch HD screen that’s on the wall at home or at our local sports bar. Go to any restaurant on a weekend and, even when there’s a big game on, chances are that the majority of the patrons are watching what’s on their phones, not what’s on the big screen.

How can the NFL combat that? One strategy could be by creating an incentive for fans to tune into the action on the field through a real-time gaming app. What if the question “Will the Falcons make this field goal?” is delivered to the mobile device right as the broadcast goes to commercial break before Matt Bryant lines up for a 47-yard kick?

Once the user has selected his or her answer and the game comes back from commercial, the viewer is much more likely to be interested in the ensuing play. When the activity on the device complements the broadcast, like it does in FanBeat, the NFL has a much better chance of keeping viewers tuned in.

2) Too many disruptive ads — As Feldman points out, arguably the biggest drawback to viewing an NFL broadcast is the volume of commercials. There are around 70 commercials during every NFL game. Given people’s shrinking attention spans, getting them to watch an entire game, with that many commercials, seems next to impossible when it has compete with Facebook feeds and Snapchat stories.

Our solution is to give fans something to do during the commercials that correlates with the game. FanBeat only sends predictive play and trivia questions during breaks– so as not to disrupt the action on the field.

FanBeat then weaves sponsor assets into the gameplay, but these 15-second ads are sandwiched between when a user answers a question and when the answer graph is displayed. The flow between the app activity and the sponsor message is seamless. Given the forecasted dramatic increase in sponsor spending to activate on mobile, NFL teams and broadcast partners will continue to benefit from sponsorship revenue generation.

3) Fans don’t just want to watch, they want to interact – The fact that the desirable 18-35 demographic in particular want to share photos and videos on social media is hardly a secret. Utilizing and monetizing social platforms is one of the NFL’s biggest initiatives. It should be noted that interest in the NFL is at an all-time high, and while fans may not be watching entire broadcasts, they are watching their team’s Snapchat video or sharing GIFs of funny highlights on Twitter.

The question becomes how does the NFL leverage social media/digital interaction to drive more viewers to the broadcast? Fantasy football increased the appeal of the NFL product to the casual fan, but at the cost of disintermediating the team from a fanbase only focused on player performance.

FanBeat is tied to and enhances the broadcast, dramatically lifting fan engagement. Not only does FanBeat enable users the chance to win prizes, but it also gives them a chance to compete against their friends. It makes watching the broadcast a more social experience.

The onslaught of social media and mobile apps is forcing the NFL to compete against digital media options that didn’t exist even five years ago. However, FanBeat can be a strategic bridge, merging the linear TV broadcast with its mobile future.

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