Boaty McBoatface; Pro Sports Bubbles: Of Interest for May 6, 2016

Boaty McBoatface: Another Community Management Failure

So the people who ran the “name the boat” contest decided not to follow the results of the contest and are naming the boat after David Attenborough. This is the right decision, to be honest, but the process makes them look like humorless stiffs that are a bit full of themselves. And maybe they are, but I doubt it.

The internet is littered with the remains of online events that backfired in the faces of the organizers. This is just the latest, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. And the common factor seems to be they’re built by people who are too busy thinking about “hey, this will be fun” and don’t stop to think about how the process can be abused or hacked. Most people realize that if you’re organizing an event in real life you need people who understand how to set up and manage the venue, crowd control, etc, etc — but online, people are still in the “we have a barn, we can put on a show!” mode and wing it, and then find themselves with an audience that brought it’s own beer (and often its own entertainment) with no way to control the situation. This is why people like social media marketing people and community managers exist, folks — to protect your from your best but naive intentions.

This problem would have been easily avoided with a bit of thought. Instead of opening the naming to the world and then watching the world decide that Boaty Mcboatface would be a great pimp on all of us, they could have done this in two phases: nominating names, with some kind of “like” on nominations so people could express interest, and then the group could have curated that list and chosen a set of finalists, and then open up voting on those finalists. That not only gives you a second round of activity you can market around and do publicity on, it makes sure the final vote is on names the organization can live with. You can even do a round of marketing on those “interesting” names that didn’t make the cut — instead of coming across as too serious, embrace it and turn it into a positive with a bit of humor — without having to live with it forever.

If you’re going to create these kind of events, make sure you have people who can walk you through the minefields of doing these things online. A bit of planning and some thought up front will save you from this kind of embarrassment later, and it’s not too hard to avoid the obvious problems that are most likely to occur.

There is too much money in pro sports

For almost as long as I’ve been a fan of sports people have complained that there’s too much money in sports. At some level I agree, and it’s a sad commentary that a utility infielder’s annual salary could pay for five or six teachers at the high school — but that’s a societal problem, not the infielder’s problem.

And we have to remember that the teacher’s impact in a year is dozens of people, but that team’s impact is on hundreds of thousands or millions of people and it’s easy on a simplistic level to trivialize entertainment as less important forgets that people have always needed and often prioritize entertainment. That’s how we are. And honestly, when you look at sports as entertainment and compare the top salaries of athletes with the top stars in, say, the movie industry, you see that there’s not a huge difference.

But in the last couple of decades, I’ve watched massive money flow into pro sports. Top line pitchers or football players or Premier League footballers are signing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars (or pounds, or euros) and I do think it’s fair to ask the question when the amount of money in sports is too much and whether this is a bubble that’s going to burst?

Just as there have been many complaints about how expensive sports tickets are (they are) and how much money athletes make, we have had many stories written over the years about how the sports industry is headed for a fall and that the money isn’t sustainable. Pro sports overall has ignored those predictions and ticket prices have continued to increase and revenues have continued to escalate.

Kevin Draper at Deadspin is the latest to write the sports is in a bubble and the implosion is coming piece, but there are some things going on around sports that make me think he may be right, and his story is worth a deeper look.

The big driver for pro sports revenue is television, and until recently, sports seemed to be immune to cost cutting or the cord cutters. Sports is still very much event driven and something that we want to watch live, and so it’s not a piece of content that lends itself to catching later on Netflix, so it’s been seen as safe content for big media and so the big networks have been throwing a lot of money at it to maintain and acquire broadcast rights.

There are cracks in the foundation, however. Earnings results at ESPN have been weak and led to layoffs, because it seems we’ve hit an inflection point where people are starting to decide they can live without ESPN and the cable carriers have been creating what’s become known as thin bundles that allow people to opt out of being subscribed to it by default.

If you look at college sports, which is a big, pro sporting conglomerate that’s figured out how to not pay it’s athletes (and that will likely change, or break badly, sooner or later) there’s been a lot of shifting around across conferences, and some conferences have gone away, as universities have aligned around groups designed to maximize TV exposure and revenue, but that hasn’t been without problems; the Pac Twelve cable network has struggled to get onto carriers; other regional sports networks have shown financial weaknesses as well and some like the proposes Cubs TV (based on the Yankee’s TV channel model) have simply not gotten off the ground.

One could argue, and I guess I am, that the current problems we’re seeing with FIFA really tie back to greed and people looking to suck every possible dollar into their universe.

Television and cable, like others are on that path of change that has already impacted movies, newspapers, magazines and many other entertainment industries, and one constant that seems to be true across all of those previous industry disruptions is that when it’s finished, there’s fewer dollars in the pot than there was with the old system. Changes are that’s going to be true when the whole television/cable/satellite TV universe reshapes itself into network-based streaming thing, even though the media providers are fighting it.

So I’m curious how this is all going to shake out, but one thing I do think: the shake out is is coming, and if we aren’t at peak revenue for pro sports, we’re close to it. And when the bubble bursts, it’s going to be painful for many, starting with the fans of the sports.

Of Interest