If there were a marriage between sports and reality TV, and if the matchmaker were social media, this is what the children would look like. The Basketball Tournament, which debuted on Facebook Live, let viewers help put together real teams which then played in select locations around the country.
For an event that started out on a computer screen, it initially sounded like something that could be either: (a) the most innovative idea anyone has ever come up with, or (b) a total train wreck.
Organizers are betting on (a) because (spoiler alert!) it’s already a proven winner.
The Basketball Tournament, which has debuted on Facebook Live, allows regular Joes (think: you and me) to assemble a team of athletes (generally former college players who haven’t been courted by the NBA). These athletes are already up for this, and created arrangements that would allow them to move around and play for teams. The teams play one another in live-streamed games around the U.S. Venues used are university basketball arenas; get a complete list here.
According to an article in MediaPost’s VidBlog, the live-streaming of the tournament will be performed by Whistle Sports, the youth-oriented sports app with 200 million subscribers across all kinds of platforms. And to be fair, Whistle Sports has a lot of experience with invented sports competitions
One writer noted, “Regular people put together a team--often recent college players--and solicit fans. From there the people who run the one-game elimination tournament pick its participants. The late lamented Website Grantland.com explained it best in 2014, the first year, when the winning team got $500,000. This year, the winner gets $2 million, and the final game gets played on one of the ESPN channels.”
In July, when Whistle Sports carried the first games on its Facebook page, it said it reached 23.5 million people. In one of the best games, Whistle Sports got over 2,673 reactions and shares in the second half alone. That isn’t the Super Bowl, but considering Facebook Live is new and so is The Basketball Tournament, that says something about the potency of live streaming. The following rounds of the tournament were held in Philadelphia and Chicago, where spectators are already dialed in and plan to be watching. A total of 48 games will be played in four cities. Want another shock? It has national sponsorship from JackLinks, a jerky snack.
This is a real sports event that would not exist without social media and live-streaming. In fact, without those two elements, those players might be looking for jobs in the real world. At the very most, they’d be playing pick-up games with other players locally.
A league that started because of social media. Think about that. Take all the time you need.
As a sports planner, what is there to learn from this? A lot, apparently. These tournaments may well become the wave of the future in other sports; after all, notes the VidBlog, “Whistle Sports has an association with the NFL, and it’s hard to believe the league and digital sports outlet aren’t cooking up something live, and NFL-approved weird for YouTube or Facebook’s live services.”
In a world that has become increasingly virtual (eSports, after all, happen to be gaining explosive popularity), The Basketball League has bridged the gap between real sports and gaming – and done it quickly – even by organizers’ standards.
“If you told me five years ago that like this would be a significant factor online, I probably would have said, ‘Well, I don’t know...But maybe someday,’ “Brian Selander, Whistle Sports executive vice president.
Want an example of the fast-track this platform uses? The first time Whistle Sports tried a live event on Facebook was last year, when it staged a typical Whistle Sports competition: Participants competed to toss garbage into a receptacle outside a New York City park hamburger concession stand.
From garbage-tossing to The Basketball Tournament, expect more growth from Whistle Sports – and expect the unexpected. For example, working with NBC, Whistle Sports has devised a “customized indoor golf simulator” in New York that lets unsuspecting golfers “play” the Royal Troon course where the Open takes place. And it has even injected a bit of virtual reality into the mix. For example, Royal Troon has a regular hazard, known as wind. So golfers who step into the simulator will be hit by the blast of a powerful hair dryer just prior to tee-off.
As some of the reality networks like to say, watch what happens next.