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Audience Growth, New Technology Among Hot Topics at Variety’s Sports and Entertainment Summit

Live sports events reliably draw in huge audience numbers, which broadcasters and cablers cherish in the splintered world of content programming. Variety’s Sports and Entertainment Summit on July 13 looks at the different approaches to gaining viewers and growing audiences, the ways technology can enhance a fan experience and branding, for both teams and athletes.

One way to engage fanatics as well as casual viewers is through feature films and TV series. Filmmaker Billy Corben, who made his name with “Cocaine Cowboys” and University of Miami doc “The U,” thinks that sports movies are the easiest to make. “Inherent in sports are all the essential ingredients of drama – obstacles, all the pathos, conflict, all of the excitement and drama, it’s already baked in the subject,” he says. “Once you find a good sports story, it’s like cheating. You’re off to a good start.”

“Start with: Who gives a sh**? Is this going to connect? With sports, you are already starting with a fan base. Some of the best compliments I get about ‘The U’ are, ‘Oh, I hate the University of Miami, but I loved your movie,’ ” he says.

With the bio-doc “Mr. Chibbs,” former NBA superstar Kenny Anderson, who will be at the summit, is making the kind of connection that goes beyond basketball fans. Anderson was the best on the court, but his life after the game spiraled out of control — drinking, drugs and a 2013 DUI arrest. The doc follows him as he’s building his new life and inspiring others to stay straight and sober — and play ball.

Technology is another big focus of the professional sports leagues. “Technology is critical to sports because of the nature of the live window,” says David Nugent, partner, chief commercial officer, Omnigon, who is moderating the Creating Immersive Fan Experiences panel. “In a digital environment, we can tell stories with data, beyond just watching a match. You enhance the storytelling ability.”

And also deliver the content to fans wherever they are. “Dates and times don’t move,” he says. “You have to consume that content wherever you are. And for most people, that means content on the phone. There’s a desire to consume that content even though people are not at home. Technology is critical to that. We have opportunities in digital to dive deeply into events and grow the audience.”

Amy Trask, CBS Sports analyst and former CEO of the Oakland Raiders, says athletes need to think about fan engagement after their playing careers are over. She moderates the panel It’s Not Just About Winning — Athletes Engaging Fans Beyond the Game. “Each athlete has to decide for himself or herself a goal to put in place. Athletes need to build post-playing careers while they are playing.”

She adds that athletic careers — especially in the NFL — are, on average, pretty short. And while it’s smart for athletes to engage fans while they are still playing, they should also build engagement that will last into post-playing careers. “I invoke the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take when I tell players, ‘First thing, do no harm.’ At a minimum, you should not harm your post-athletic career. …You cannot assume that you have privacy anywhere other than in your own home, with your closest family. What is captured now, certainly will impact what opportunities you have in the future.”

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