With the universal visibility and influence of athletes, often harnessing bigger audiences than their own teams and the leagues themselves, the demand for them to control their own image and reflect their own identity has become necessary.
In a demanding sporting world, they are their own brand, trademark and entity.
Unscriptd is an athlete media company that helps athletes create, manage and distribute content across their own social media channels with the assistance of the company’s proprietary technology platform.
Hundreds of elite athletes with a combined social media footprint touching the billion mark across sports such as football, cricket, tennis, athletics, surfing, and more have produced content with Unscriptd. Yet, as Unscriptd’s co-founder Ben Crowe told Bullpen what matters most is the vision that athletes want to project.
He spoke further about the power of giving athletes their own direct voice to their fans as the sports media industry rapidly changes.
Bullpen: Why should athletes take an active role in the quality and authenticity of their content and messaging?
Ben Crowe: “If an athlete wants to increase their positioning and profile in what is effectively a media driven industry, and a social media driven industry in particular, then how they differentiate in the marketplace depends on how they show up. We are hardwired for connection as a human race and the way to connect is to be real, raw, vulnerable, unscripted and authentic.
“If you are not authentic people will see through you, they won’t believe you. If you truly want to connect with the world, the importance of being authentic, coupled with the quality of your message, in presenting the best vision for yourself is extraordinarily important.
“The problem today that most athletes face is they think they have to present the best version of themselves. The problems that youth culture and teenagers are facing has created a narcissistic, ‘look at me, look how good I am,’ version of themselves rather than presenting the best vision for themselves. Once they realise that in presenting the best vision of themselves that incorporates things that they care about, what they’re compassionate about – it could be their relationship with their mum, it could be a teammate that’s overcome injury, it could be community or cause related, it could be comedy related, he or she wants to make people laugh – once they realise in creating the best vision of themselves, a whole world of stories opens up as does the authenticity in the way they connect with the world.”
BP: Producing earnest stories or anything that’s credible, fun or personal can be very difficult in really capturing that tone. Does it become very difficult to produce content that really captures an athlete’s authentic side?
BC: “No, not at all. It requires the ability to embrace vulnerability as a strength and for athletes to accept the fact that they are imperfect specimens, like we all are. Once they realise that the stories don’t have to be about themselves but rather the things they care about it’s very easy to find stories that they are passionate about.
“If you feel you have to put on a mask to portray this perfect image of yourself then it is hard to be a good storyteller.”
BP: In your experience especially going back to your career prior to starting Unscriptd, what are the wisest words that you would ever impart to an athlete to cultivate their voice. Not necessarily their personality but just their voice?
BC: “My advice to athletes around the world is that our imperfections connect us the best. It’s the little self-deprecating humour, the nicknames, the laughter at a haircut or fashion. It’s the imperfections that makes a stronger connection with us therefore being real, raw and dare I say it ‘unscripted,’ enables them to um and ah, laugh, joke and be real. If there’s a story and a message where we both educate and inspire the audience then that’s a bonus. The number one advice we give is that if you are prepared to embrace your vulnerability as a strength, then anything can happen. You’re far more open and open-minded, far more compassionate for yourself and others and you’re far more connected.”
BP: What about the opportunities that Unscriptd can pursue in reaching audiences in a very fragmented media landscape. You’ve got OTT networks and social media led content distribution networks. What kinds of opportunities can be pursued to target different demographics, across different channels and mediums?
BC: “We are primarily a B2B, or ‘B2Athlete’. We believe in athletes as media and athletes as the destination. As opposed to trying to create a destination, we believe that athletes are publishers themselves. We are effectively our ‘king’ in a connected world of sports where every professional athlete worldwide is connected on our platform and every sporting team, sponsor, league, event or agent. In short, we connect athletes to content and we connect brands to the athletes’ audience.
“One thing every athlete in the world wants access to is great content, predominantly of themselves or their team. One thing that consumers want is to follow these athletes on their social media channels. One thing every team, league, brand, broadcaster or sponsor wants is a way to connect with the athletes’ audience.”
BP: And that’s where you sit right in the middle of that ecosystem.
BC: “We’ll join the dots, be an enabler and overcome the fragmentation that you have mentioned.”
BP: I ask about this concept a lot, but media companies are tech companies, sports enterprises are tech and media companies and tech companies are pushing into sports and content. From your company’s point of view can you give me the scale of how strategically important having your own in-house proprietary publishing technology?
BC: “It’s so important. The needs of the athlete and their agents, as well as the entities that want to connect with those athletes and agents are changing every day. Our ability to be nimble and evolve every part of our functionality in the athlete app or the entity console has been created by feedback from the marketplace.
“Once you hand over the technology and put it in the hands of those who want to use it they are educating us on the functionality and its evolution. Our product development roadmap has changed exponentially from the first few versions of both the entity console and athlete app.”
BP: Can you describe the athlete app and console a little bit more. Is it that easy for athletes or their partners to use?
BC: “We launched the major update of the technology at the 2017 IAAF World Track & Field Championships in London and seeing the success of that event as athletes and agents being able to access and publish amazing content that they’ve never had access to before, whether that’s highlights of their races, Getty Images or content from their sponsors being pushed immediately into the app after a race as a congratulatory message.
“We then rolled it out en masse and signed the ATP Tour, the English Football League, the Commonwealth Games here in Australia, across the entire Super Netball league, AFL, Big Bash League, NRL, and we’re working with WSL and surf brands Quiksilver and Billabong. We’ll continually add entities that the athletes want to connect with particularly with content that athletes want access to.”
BP: It’s a very competitive content space you’re in currently, there are local and international competitors. What do you feel is your competitive advantage?
BC: “It’s probably been our vision. No one can compete in terms of our purpose, our athletes becoming better storytellers and better publishers and how we help them connect with the world. A lot of us are ex-Nike employees. Nike’s competitive advantage was its purpose – to bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete in the world and our obsession of helping athletes – the other advantage Nike had was its storytelling capabilities whether it was ‘Just Do It’ or ‘Air Jordan’.”
BP: Nike is a great example, I can instantly associate the brand and storytelling.
BC: “With Unscriptd, the same DNA will be the reason why we succeed and will be our competitive advantage. Athletes from all over the world are contacting us every single day wanting help with their storytelling, help with their brand, help with how they show up in the world, help with mental health, help with social media and understanding the difference between the person and persona. There’s such a huge demand for athletes to learn how to deal with this fishbowl, surreal world of entertainment yet still maintain their character and values.
“We’re also now being asked to roll out education programmes across sports, including the biggest sports in the world. We’re rolling out education programmes on top of the technology subscriptions because it’s no good having access to a media platform if you’re fearful of how to use or how to engage or connect with our platform.
“Still, our competitive advantage is our understanding of what athletes want and need coupled with our ability to help them, our vision as a company and our technology.”
BP: Education appears to be an added part of the company’s evolution.
BC: “When we create content it’s mainly to educate the brand, the advertising world on the type of content that athletes should and could be used for.
“It’s not always highly curated and well crafted, it’s very real and raw and some of our best content, such as Ronaldo’s ‘My House’ video (see below) we created simply with iPhone’s. It doesn’t always have to be well crafted and curated.”
BP: Looking at the year ahead, how do you picture Unscriptd evolving? As your own technology evolves and this segment of industry maintains its competitiveness.
BC: “We’ll continually update our technology in line with the needs of athletes, in terms of how they want to interact with the platform, what kind of entities that want to have access to exclusively on the platform. At the moment they can access their teams, their leagues, the broadcasters, major sponsors, their agents. They may want access to a whole new world of content that we’re not even thinking about and the needs of the entities that want to connect with the athletes and what are their needs in around the way that content gets published, plus the analytics of the data either from the athletes’ perspective or the entities perspective.
“We’ll continually evolve, we’re rolling out much faster than we can handle, we’ve on boarded 72 clubs from the English Football League, the entire AFL, the entire athletic world with the IAAF for example. The vision for us is to keep rolling out our vision to tens of thousands of athletes all over the world and we’ll continually grow as fast as we possibly can to make sure that happens.”