NFL’s Blake Stuchin On Snapchat Partnership Evolution, Social Strategy, AR

NEW YORK — In 2015, the NFL and Snapchat announced a strategic partnership that would see The Shield become the first professional sports league on Snapchat Discover, the social and messaging company’s publisher platform.

Since then, the relationship has expanded in a number of different directions, which recently included over 20 advertisers aligning themselves with NFL content this past season, according to Ben Schwerin, Snap VP of Partnerships. Last year, 42 million people in the U.S. watched NFL content, with nearly 70 percent being under the age of 25, he said.

Both the Snap executive and Blake Stuchin, NFL Vice President of Media Strategy and Business Development, spoke on a recent panel at Hashtag Sports last month, highlighting the ongoing relationship, its evolution, the NFL’s first ‘Our Story’, how Snap fits into the league’s digital strategy and more.

Below are key thoughts from Stuchin in particular. 

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On how the league looks at different distribution platforms on the social side, choices being made regarding what content is populated across the various platforms…

The way that we tend to look at these things is in some ways the elegance of our business model is that it’s both unchanged for the last several decades and wildly different, which is to say we take a reach business model. We have distributed our content on the largest reach media platforms of the day since we broadcast the first NFL game on NBC radio in 1939. That’s unchanged. We continue to distribute content to the broadest possible audience that we can reach on television, on radio and increasingly on many digital platforms, including Snapchat. The way that we think about any opportunity to engage an audience and ultimately reach our fans is where are fans spending their time? What is the evolution of media consumption? What are the areas where people are spending their leisure time, and how ultimately can we create the right types of content and experiences to serve those fans?

On the NFL identifying Snap as a partner in 2015 and why…

We saw that what Snap was building was something that was a way of telling stories that we had not previously seen or done before and that we thought was exciting. One, it was a large audience, particularly of younger people who are hard to reach that were on the Snapchat platform. Additionally, one of the things we spent a lot of time looking at over the years was, for many of us in this room especially who work in sports, the best way to experience a game is to be there in person. The next best way historically was to watch it on television and then increasingly through digital platforms. There’s so many things that happen during that experience of being there that you can’t otherwise capture, couldn’t see.

We have such incredible volumes of B-roll from all of our great broadcast partners but also from the fans’ experiences. Historically, there wasn’t a way to tell that story of what is it like to be there, not just in the seats or even on the field as an athlete, but from every perspective, from being in the control room, from being at the tailgate three hours prior to the game to being in the stands during those moments when a touchdown is scored and the entire crowd goes wild. We looked at that and were excited about what Snap was building. We saw ‘Our Story’ product as the first of what would become many different iterations along the way and continue to progress forward. That was really where it began.

We had spent some time getting to know the Snapchat team. We got excited about that product. The first piece of content we created together was an ‘Our Story’ for the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago. One thing that was exciting about that was it was the first time that we had taken the Draft on the road in more than 50 years. It was hosted in a series of places, both in Chicago but also in and around the country with teams having their own draft parties. We saw ‘Our Story’ as a really elegant way to be able to capture all of these incredible moments and share them for people all in one place.

That first piece of content that was created…was Commissioner Goodell comes out, announces the draft pick live from an auditorium theater in Chicago. That’s six, seven seconds total. Cut immediately to the second overall pick because I remember that one well. Marcus Mariota was selected by the Tennessee Titans. Immediately after you see the Commissioner announce the second pick in the 2015 NFL Draft…cuts immediately to Oregon, and you see these fans throughout Oregon celebrating. Then, immediately back to Hawaii where the entirety of Honolulu had been geo-fenced that night in collaboration with the Snapchat team, some of the NFL team, Marcus Mariota and his team, all celebrating that single moment.

We had this incredible shot of Marcus Mariota and this culmination of him for what would have been his lifetime of preparing for this. Getting a hug from his mother, seeing the phone call as he realized he was picked. Then right back to Tennessee where the fans in Nashville are celebrating because they have their quarterback of the future. That’s a piece of storytelling that we just couldn’t do before.

The next guest for our weekly professional conference call is Bryan Srabian, Vice President of Brand Development/Digital Media, San Francisco Giants. It’ll be Wednesday, July 11 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. ET.

On describing the type of content on Snap, Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster’s NFL Films piece…

The type of content we publish on Snapchat is very different than even the type of content you see on NFL.com or on some of our traditional broadcast partners or on NFL Network. There’s a host of things that come to mind. We’ve had a bunch of different examples of things that we do within our Discover Channel. We were, I think, the first sports league to publish a regular Discover Channel every day during our season. There’s different things that have come up. One example is last year, we tried to do a lot more working directly with our players. Ultimately, fans are usually fans of a player or they’re fans of a club first, not necessarily fans of the league. We know that. We think about this collectively across the league, clubs and our players. We’ve got to do as great a job as we possibly can at engaging the players directly and engaging our clubs. Our team has done a lot of work and made some really great progress over the years to that end in trying to increase the ways that players can be part of that conversation.

So, one example is the Pittsburgh Steelers had a second round draft pick last year, JuJu Smith-Schuster. … He was the league’s youngest player last year. He lost his bicycle and had no way to get to practice because he didn’t have a license. So, he posted this on his social media, basically somewhat joking around and saying, ‘Hey, I lost my bike. Someone stole it’. The team reached out to work with him to work with the club. This became a worldwide manhunt. The story of help JuJu find his bike became somewhat of a major storyline throughout the middle of the NFL season. Ultimately, it culminated in a spoof of a NFL Films presents (JuJu & His Bike, A Football Life), which was published on the NFL Snap Discover Channel as well as a host of other places.

It’s a minute and a half long. You can still see it. It’s got all of the gravity of a NFL Films piece of content outside of the fact that we’re talking about a 20-year-old whose bike was stolen. It was a really fun example of something where we can’t and shouldn’t necessarily do that just on NFL Network or even on NFL.com. There are other places where we can put that that make more sense. Snapchat is a great example of that. It resonated not only with the audience that we see that engages with us on Snapchat but especially it resonated with JuJu’s audience. Antonio Brown, who is a friend of his and a teammate, was featured in that video and posted it as well. It got a lot of traction that way. Ultimately, that’s where fans are engaging with this content.

On who is driving which content, programming a content calendar…

We have some different dynamics. For many of us who are in the sports world, especially at the league side, there’s a rights holder landscape that we have to be mindful of. There’s also a desire to do more broadly. What does that mean? How are we going to engage our fans through the clubs, through our players? Ultimately, content that’s published by one outlet may be far more impactful and frankly, better than coming just from the league. The team and my colleagues on the content side at the league do a great job in thinking about that everyday and trying to answer the question of, what is the right content reaching the right audience on the right platform?

On brands aligning with NFL content on Snap…

We have many of our biggest corporate partners that have been anchors with this program for years, and they have come back. … They’ve been with us for a very long time. They’re hugely important as NFL partners, and they increasingly have found value on continuing to activate that partnership through Snap as well as frankly, a whole host of other new kinds of partnerships that we’ve introduced over the past five, six years.

On the NFL’s content evolution, Snap relationship, AR integrations…

We’re moving to a place where, what did it mean for us as a content strategy, as a media distribution strategy, to have content and experiences for our fans four, five years ago? Version 1.0 of that was taking highlights and the best moments of the game and putting them online where fans can access them. Historically, on destination websites and…distributed across social platforms. The next evolution of that was what we started with Snapchat, where you’re actually bringing fans into that experience to be more interactive and actually include themselves in that Story. That’s what ‘Our Stories’ was for us. It was saying, ‘There are moments, and there are events and experiences that only certain types of people get to see. Let’s bring all of those together with the right partner and tell the story that way’.

The third kind of phrase of this, and where we’re really excited to continue working together with Snap and all of our partners is where messaging comes into play to say, how do we make the NFL ultimately a part of the conversations that always happen fluidly when you’re with your friends, but how do you do that in a world where people have digital devices that they’re opening 150 times a day? Lighter types of AR experiences are a big way to do that. Whether that’s GIFs, filters, emojis, stickers, any form of engagement tool that allows fans to express themselves creatively. We talked about things like helmet lenses and these dynamic scoreboard filters that let fans express themselves.

It’s really exciting to us because it’s giving fans the ability to one, talk to their friends about the game, about their teams, about their favorite players, in a more interactive way than they could when they’re just sharing a highlight. The second is our fans are far more creative and far more exciting and going to introduce all kinds of use-cases that we haven’t contemplated yet. Putting the tools into the hands of our fans to let them express themselves and ultimately talk about their fandom is where I think we’ll learn the most. We’re really excited for what that can do.

About Mark J. Burns

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