In society today, you don’t see many thriving businesses that are not represented on the Internet with easy-to-use, aesthetic website. When fans look for information, they often look for the official website of the team or league. This is no different from any college athletic department, which must keep their websites updated in order to keep their fan base privy of the most current information. Information found on college athletic websites includes rosters, statistics, schedules, history, staff directories, and facility information, in addition to press releases, photographs and supplemental video.
Often the individuals that manage these websites are the same people that are writing and distributing press materials to the media. Taking a look at NCAA Division I institutions, these individuals usually work in communications offices, or sports information departments. These departments can have anywhere from one to 15 (University of Texas has 15 Communications employees) staff members, as well as countless graduate assistants, interns, student-workers and volunteers. The responsibilities of these departments can range depending on the structure of the athletic department to include public relations, community affairs, marketing, social media, video content, creative services, statistics, website management amongst other responsibilities.
With their website aggregating not only the majority of their work but also serving as the first place their fan base goes for information it is imperative to stay cutting edge. There are four major ‘players’ in the digital platform space that host these websites, they are CBS Interactive, Neulion, Presto Sports and SIDEARM Sports. At the Division I level, SIDEARM Sports is currently the leader in the industry hosting 123 websites (as of July 1, 2015). This takes in to account the 19 schools that SIDEARM Sports will add as partners due to joining Learfield Sports.
According to SIDEARM Sports’ President and CEO Jeff Rubin, one of the reasons his company was attracted to Learfield was for the potential upside in growth, by gaining entry to other programs in the major conferences. “We believe strongly in our expertise and our points of difference and knew that if we were able to initiate conversations with Learfield partner schools we would be in a position to hopefully win over their business.”
Learfield’s university multimedia rights partners transitioning to SIDEARM Sports’ platform include Army, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Louisville, Memphis, Missouri, Montana, N.C. State, Northern Iowa, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, SMU, South Dakota, Texas A&M and Tulsa.
Most of the schools that SIDEARM Sports is adding to their portfolio are coming to them from CBS Interactive, which has the second-largest portfolio with 94 clients at the moment. Not all Learfield Sports properties have joined the SIDEARM Sports portfolio due to multi-year commitments with prior hosts. 58 Learfield Sports schools are currently under contract with SIDEARM Sports competitors, Presto Sports, CBS Interactive and Neulion. There is not one conference with a uniform host for all of their member schools.
Conferences must also decide whom to allow to host their website. They are looking for different content management tools than a typical school would be looking for. The value for a conference comes from the ability of a host to aggregate. Some of the more notable conference website deals include the Big 12 Conference and their deal with Neulion. Neulion and their base of clients has grown substantially in the last 5 years, based on the success of the Neulion College Platform. Outside of the college landscape, Neulion has made waves in the sports industry for their video platforms, including the Tennis Channel Plus, which is the digital component for the Tennis Channel.
CBS Interactive (CBSI) has been a competitor in the space since the .com boom in the late 90’s. Last year, CBSI saw the need to rebrand their video platform, formerly known as LiveU. Now one subscription to a member school will grant access to all of the schools, establishing a digital network for all of the college rights that CBS controls. This mainly covers the Olympic sports, which are streamed by the schools themselves. They’ve rebranded this all-access subscription service as College Sports Live featuring live streaming and on-demand audio and video coverage.
“We’re seeing fans are consuming more than just one school’s content,” says Hirsch. “That’s our goal and so far we’re seeing that and we’ll continue to add content to make it richer and continue to reduce any fragmentation we may find.”
The services that each of the four major competitors offer are similar, but their differences come in their live in-game statistics, creative services, content management tools and how they integrate different aspects of their experience such as video, social media and statistics.