Monday, 15 February 2010

My Internet 2009 Top 5: All kinds of Sports

Boy o boy o boy. Has 2009 been the year where sports has embraced the web and has turned it into it's perfect ally to make it so much more excited - or what?
I'm sure we all have are favourite sports and I haven't had my eye on everything that happened on sports coverage on the web. But the things I saw, I liked very much. I'm sure I missed out on so much more, but here are just 3 examples of how I have enjoyed sports on-line in 2009, and I hope I'll be enjoying it even more in the future thanks to internet.

There are at least 2 things which make sports and the web such great partners.
First there are the numbers and figures which make sports so great. I'm not talking about advanced mathematics, but there are the points in the league, the average per match and the time differences. It might be a boy's thing, or maybe it's just me: it's just so much fun to look at scores, calculate how many points your team are trailing or compare distances. It's even more fun to chat with your friends on what happened 4 years ago and who scored the last 3 points with just 2 seconds on the clock. The numbers tell the tale in such a way that for me it makes it more interesting to see the box-plot of a match or the scorecard, than to read an article on what happened during the match.
And that's where the internet comes in: you can find as good as any scores or stats in no time, doesn't matter if it's from the '97-'98 season or if it's live. You get a quick look at the standings; a nice interactive graph shows the story. It's all there on the web for free, right there for you. It's great to consult: just a few clicks will learn you where this player was 4 years ago and how well he bowled back then. An excellent match, if you ask me: the sports numbers are all there on the web.
The second reason why the web and sports go together so well is sharing: sports, like so much more things in life, are better when shared. The experience of seeing the same event with your friends gives it an extra angle, and feeling that you belong to a club or feel you share a match or a track with your sports idol makes it a more profound experience then ever before. And the web has become instrumental in sharing and living the experiences of sports in recent years beyond any doubt.

This said, let's have a look at my favourite moments.

1. European Basketball and a bit NBA

Maybe you'll call me crazy, but I prefer European basketball to NBA. The reason is that I like a good defence - the NBA has only 2 teams who play defence - and I prefer basketball as a team sport – not as a sport where you have 1 or 2 superstars per team who don't think of playing together with their team-mates. Basketball is of course a numbers game, so as a fan I just have to check the stats during and after every match. I used to watch matches on my TV with my laptop opened on live scores, and more often than not, I looked more at the stats. I admit that some sites on NBA are better at representing these stats – like including a plot of the position in which every shot was taken - but that's because working the numbers in sports has a longer history in the US than in Europe. Today I don't even need my TV any more while watching basketball. My favourite Spanish league is being aired on the internet by Orange, one of the sponsors of the ACB for free. It's just all there, on your screen: coverage, comments, stats. Now how great is that? The only thing maybe missing in ACB360 is the sharing part: you can't (yet?) post comments or join the experience.

2. The great communicator ends third in Le Tour

Even if he didn't win it, Lance Armstrong was the lead rider in the Tour de France. Maybe it's not so much for his comeback, but for the way in which Lance communicates that he became the lead of the play. Armstrong is one of the biggest users on twitter, and this brings your hero (or not) so close to the public, that as a fan you feel so much more part of the Tour. You actually experience with him, day in day out, how he's telling what he does and that helps you to get involved and live the experience. He posts very regularly pictures on twitpic, so you can even see what his day looks like. I remember a picture on his livestrong site of a team briefing before a race in the tour bus. You didn't get to see these things when it was a reporter who stood between you and the sportsmen. This only seems possible when the sportsmen start communicating themselves, directly to the public.
A lot of sites give live updates of events like The Tour: you see regular comments on what's happening in the race and you see a plot of the track live with the live time differences. People can log in to post live comments via Facebook or other social media, so you really get involved in the race without having to watch the live coverage. This is all very great and a big difference with what we had before internet arrived. But once the riders like Armstrong start giving you almost-live coverage of what they're up to, you really get absorbed within the sport and you even feel more pat of it then ever before.

Team meeting Astana

3. Cricket and more cricket.

I am born and I live in a country where cricket doesn't exist. I spent some time living in the UK at one stage of my life, and the combination of too much time and SkyTv made me fall for the sport: without anything else to do, I looked at 5-day Test matches during the day and that made me become a fan.
Following cricket where I live would be as good as impossible if it weren't for internet, and I must say that feeling so involved with the sport is only because the on-line cricket coverage has got it all.
First of all there are the stats: cricket is also a numbers game, and it's all there. BBC website has all scorecards – also the old ones - and extensive live scores. There are several other websites which give you even more detailed stats, with plots, fielding schemes, bowling tracking (hawkeye-style): the whole lot.

The sharing is also there: the bbc websites has a live text for most of the England matches. These involve live updates from the match. Since the sport is rather slow and takes various days in finishing, there is time to involve former players or specialists, you see reactions from people tuning in via SMS or email, there is time for some discussions on the rules, you get a picture from the action every now and then. This is all very engaging: you don't have to go to a cricket ground or have a TV in front of you to see the action. Just with your internet connection you can experience everything what's going on the field, besides the track and in the minds of a lot of spectators just like you. I haven't seen a TV footage for a very long time of cricket but I can say I was sweating as much as everybody else in Cardiff or in South Africa with Onions batting at 11 to save the match. I don't really miss the TV images: thanks to all this internet work, I have been enjoying so much of cricket the past years, and hope to do so.

Footnote: Everybody working in marketing and dealing with the issue of 'engaging' on-line with your clients: you should have a look at what sports has done to pull even more fans on board and engage with them. As a key rule, you should think 'sharing', you should think 'direct and clear communication' - don't think 'banner ads'.

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