Every sports network and its brother seems to be ramping up their social TV and second-screen efforts this baseball season, but few outlets are pushing the initiative as hard as Fox Sports’ regional networks. Last season, a handful of Fox SportNet RSNs launched the Game Connect online companion application for their MLB coverage. This season, however, the platform is being utilized by every FSN for its MLB coverage.
“When we launched the regional sports Websites just under three years ago, we were relatively late to the game, so the community and loyalty had already been established,” says Mike Conley, director of product and technology, FOX RSN Digital Media. “We needed to provide our users a unique platform and give them a reason to peel away from the competition. We are live-event-driven networks… so we decided to turn to the power we have in those live-event telecasts to build a platform that engages our users.”
Each RSN has fully integrated the platform – which combines a feed of real-time game data and statistics with a breadth of social media functionality – into their MLB telecasts and traditional production workflows. In addition, Fox has licensed the product out to YES Network and ROOT Sports RSNs for their MLB coverage.
Keeping the Focus on the First Screen
Built in conjunction with Omnigon, the HTML5-based platform consists of two key elements: Game Stats (enhanced game statistics) and Game Talk (a live stream of relevant social media conversation). The Game Connect home screen is split into two columns – one for Game Stats and one for Game Talk. There is also a dedicated tab for both features that allow users to delve deeper into stats or social conversation while watching the FSN telecast.
“Our platform was built with the same layout and look as our on-air product, so you will see the same look from our on-air — same slabs and slates and player cards — as you do on the Website,” says Conley. “What you are seeing online, you are also seeing on TV, which creates a cyclical marketing effect and makes it feel like one overarching experience.”
In addition, fans can submit questions to be asked on air via Twitter, email, or the “Ask the Broadcast” form tool on Game Connect.
All questions proposed for air are fed into a single browser-based admin interface that allows producers in the truck to monitor Tweets, emails, Facebook posts, and fan polls powered by Phizzle. Questions can then be fed as XML files directly to the truck’s character generator, which automatically integrates the text into the on-air graphics package.
“The one area that we really wanted to focus on was providing a conduit back into the telecast for the fans,” says Conley. “And to be able to create a workflow that was quick, allowed us to react to the action on the field in real time, and provided the user an environment that would cause them to stick around throughout the entire course of the game.”
FSN often adds a dedicated “social media producer” to the truck for higher-profile games and series.
Game Stats Get Visual
In addition to the traditional statistical elements such as score, player cards, lineups, and play-by-play feeds, the Game Stats section features unique visualizations of player statistics such as pitcher-batter match-ups, batting average, ball-to-strike ratio, and pitch count. The Match-up feature also allows fans to view how pitchers and batters have fared against each other over the course of their careers.
The most visually striking of these elements is the color-coded gas gauge used to illustrate a pitchers pitch count and stamina. Game Connect takes a starter’s or reliever’s average pitch count and ties it directly to the gas-gauge graphic. With every pitch he throws, the gauge begins to drop as if a car is losing gas.
“It is pretty amazing how accurate that ends up being,” says Conley. “When a pitcher gets down below a quarter tank, they almost always start to get shelled. Then a pitcher goes over his average pitch count by 20%, the gas-gauge [graphic] literally shatters. It’s just a different way of providing the user content that they are used to finding in other places but it registers in a more efficient way.”
These elements are updated in near real-time so they are synched up perfectly with the FSN telecast.
“Rather than making this a single-screen experience, we wanted to enhance what the production team was doing on the TV side,” says Conley. “You won’t see lot of granular details found on some other platforms because we felt that TV was already providing that. We wanted to provide a unique offering surrounding those statistics that users can’t usually find, so we decided to focus on more on the data and statistical visualization.”
Game Talk Aims to Engage
The Game Talk area aggregates all game-relevant tweets leading up to, during, and after the game. Users can submit tweets directly from the Live Conversation text entry box. Tweets can also be viewed in four categories: All, From Fox, Players, and Teams. In addition, Game Connect provides a bar graph element displaying an inning-by-inning breakdown of the “Volume of Tweets About This Game.”
FSNs have begun to employ Twitter-focused calls-to-action during telecasts in an effort to drive interest in both Game Connect and the linear telecast.
“We have the ability to control the Twitter hashtag for Game Connect, so we can make a call to action on-air and tell users to interact with the telecast using #FSBraves, for example,” says Conley. “That filters out a lot of conversation that we would not want for air and allows people to interact with the product from their own comfortable environment.”
To see the full Fox Sports Game Connect platform in action, visit Fox Sports South’s Atlanta Braves version by CLICKING HERE.