By Raju Mudhar
Original article: http://bit.ly/eG2TVI
Is the Score like the Toronto Blue Jays? Or can it be Nintendo?
We’ve all seen how the Jays compare (or often don’t) to the Yankees and Red Sox, whereas Nintendo has found great success and new audiences by going down different technology paths than rivals Microsoft and Sony.
Like those two examples, the Score is dwarfed by two larger, free-spending rivals, but the company’s leadership says they’re really not competing in the same world as TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. Alternating between describing Canada’s sports media battle as an “arms race” or bemusedly making fun of their competitors as being in a hurried grocery store game show, running down the aisles scooping up talent and live event programming rights in sight, the Score says it doesn’t matter to them because they’re effectively playing a different game.
“It’s interesting. There’s a big battle happening in Canada that we’re up against, and they’re taking properties, and people are looking at us with sad eyes asking ‘Are you okay? What happened with March Madness? You lost it,’” says John Levy, CEO of The Score. “No one needs to feel bad for us. Our approach has always been totally different and the bottom line is that we’re moving in a different direction.”
The Score hasn’t come out unscathed due to the increased competition. March Madness was their biggest live programming event over the past four years, and the network did an excellent job with it. It’s now on TSN. Levy admits they’re not fit to go after live events like their competitors. As well, personalities have moved on, like Cabral “Cabbie” Richards (now on CTV’s The Marilyn Denis Show) and Steve Kouleas, who now hosts a hockey show on TSN2.
Levy admits March Madness was a property that fit the station like a glove, but its loss does nothing to stop the company’s momentum into new digital spaces, which so far are reaping great dividends. In the tech world, being first is a great boon, and the Score has been working in the mobile world since 2005.
The Score’s strategy is a fan-centric (and somewhat frat-boy flavoured), sports infotainment model that is designed to move easily between broadcast and digital platforms. Instead of going for former players as talking heads or using TV personalities to write for their website, it’s the other way around. They’re moving blog stars up the chain, like tapping Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, Greg Wyshynski, for their Sirius radio station, or giving successful local web entities like J.E. Skeets and Tas Melas, a.k.a. The Basketball Jones, their shot on TV. The plus side is that guys like TBJ remain social media machines creating podcasts and funny videos that go viral, so beyond ratings, management looks to being picked up on Deadspin.com and other influential sites as success.
But are those web personalities enough to keep people coming? Their coverage, both onscreen and off, often feels like a nice add-on as opposed to a necessity. It’s clear and commendable that they don’t look at their digital stuff as an afterthought, but looking critically at their site, while it does a good job showcasing their videos and podcasts, the news is almost buried, making it seem secondary and not a place to come for breaking sports news.
Another example is the Break, their humourous online show that looks at dubious sports headlines with Renee Paquette. It’s a nice snack to go with my sports diet as opposed to a meal of live events and highlights. On the plus side, they cite Paquette as an example of how they can grow their own personalities, and talked of developing the Break into a series. Since sports humour is very hot right now (The Onion SportsDome, Norm MacDonald’s oncoming Comedy Central series), that is something I’d be very curious to see.
In an app world, the Score already has apps for all mobile platforms and talks of taking advantage of new tablets, in addition to planning to build more, focusing on specific sports, talking up a recent ScoreFC football app that is gaining traction in Britain. Perhaps out of necessity, the Score is looking internationally for new audiences and revenue, saying they have plans to open up an ad sales office in the U.S. soon. The question for the network is if they can find a way to monetize that global audience, which is a challenge for any small player.
Locally speaking, the other fear is that they become little more than a farm team of talent for the bigger players. Their model is an interesting one, and one that bears watching as every media company moves from a broadcast-centric model to more of a web-centric one, and they admittedly feel further along than most. We’ll be checking our TVs, phones and tablets to see how they do.