College GameDay Gets More Social

ESPN is the latest network to socially infuse its TV broadcasts. Starting on Sept. 3, the network is dialing up the number of opportunities for social fan interaction during College GameDay, its weekly college football preview show.

Besides rolling out a dedicated Twitter feed (@CollegeGameDay) and encouraging the show’s hosts to tweet more frequently, GameDay is launching a raft of social hooks designed to push more viewer engagement via social channels. For example, you know the guy who spends an inordinate number of hours making a clever sign for the big game — and somehow even incorporates the name of the network televising the game? You can be that guy without ever leaving your couch. Each week, users can submit an idea for such a sign via the Twitter hashtag #cgdsigns. ESPN will then take the best idea and create an actual sign to be held aloft in the background of GameDay’s live-on-location broadcasts from whichever school is hosting the big game that week.

Speaking of GameDay’s on-location shoots, each week the network will snap wide-lens photos of the crowds of fans. Those photos will then be posted on ESPN’s College GameDay website where fans can zero in on their images — and then share them across Facebook, Twitter and email — enabling all sorts of “I was there” digital bragging rights.
In addition, GameDay is once again featuring the Lee Corso Mascot Head Generator, which allows fans to incorporate their own photos into a mock college mascot mask — much like the masks host Corso dons each week during the show.
According to ESPN’s svp of marketing Carol Kruse, the network is using GameDay to harness the natural fan chatter that’s already happening on platforms like Twitter and channeling that chatter to cement viewers’ relationships with its shows.
“Sports are inherently social,” Kruse said. “And now we have a bigger stage to amplify that, and get ahead of the conversation. With GameDay, it really lets us play up the hosts’ personalities. And for viewers it’s about participation.”
And better to have that participation happen on ESPN’s properties, or via its own Twitter and Facebook personas than in scattered pockets — from their own blogs of Facebook pages to social TV apps like Yap.tv. Thus, ESPN is looking to centralize its social presence with GameDay — and possibly other studio shows down the road.
“A lot of people are doing this in their own separate worlds,” said Kruse. “This allows us to bring it all together and help the connections grow.”
As part of the GameDay social strategy, the show will once again showcase its Saturday Selections iPhone app, through which viewers they can compete against friends and the show’s hosts to pick winners of each week’s games.
But ESPN is stopping short of a full-fledged co-viewing app for college football, something it has experimented with for other sports, such as the X Games, during which it offered viewers supplemental programming tied to the games’ broadcast. Giving iPad or smartphone users related extras is something that sports networks like as MSG as well as entertainment networks like MTV are quickly embracing, as so many users have taken to watching TV with some kind of mobile device in hand.
ESPN is moving cautiously for now, perhaps not wanting to flood the market with apps. Plus, it may not want to irritate the sports leagues it partners with by seeming to encourage viewers to ignore its broadcasts, i.e., the actual games.
“It’s not going to be a thing where we check a box for every single studio show and live game,” said Kruse. “For us to do a thing like this, it’s got to be unique. And a lot of times there is a question of rights and talent. Of course, as a brand we want to stay in the center of these conversations. First and foremost it’s about engagement … but we want to enhance not disrupt. We don’t want announcers tweeting during live games. I think that might cross the line.”
As Corso might say, “Not so fast, my friend.”

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