New England Patriots Content Chief Talks Social Video Analytics

Fred Kirsch, vice president of content and publisher for the New England Patriots — the NFL team —knows a little something about moving and managing content. Huge amounts of content.

In the emerging omnichannel world, that's a complex job -- not only the production and management of content itself, but how it is marketed and distributed over multiple platforms including web and mobile. He's a great guy to talk to, and was fortunate enough to interview him last week.

What a Job!

When I first heard about Kirsch, I thought -- what a job! NFL teams, are, after all, massive content producers. They are churning out a constant stream of data, videos and text for rabid, insatiable fans.  The production and marketing of the NFL teams requires a sophisticated approach for taking this copious amount of digital content and using it to engage and grow the audience. Kirsch has been on top of it from the beginning -- 1995. 

Kirsch is an industry pioneer. He believes the Patriots were the first professional sports team to launch a website, which is what he was hired to do in 1995. The site launched the same year, almost 20 years ago. Since then, he's seen the introduction of streaming live video, mobile apps, iPads and more recently, Wi-Fi in the stadium.

The Patriots produce about 60 minutes of on-demand video a day and another 30 minutes of streaming video a day during the season, according to Kirsch. That does not include special events such as streaming audio radio shows. 

The Patriots are also moving into sophisticated operations such as realtime analysis of what the fan base is doing during the game, which I highlighted last week with the launch of Extreme Networks' Purview product.

You couldn't pick a more experienced person to give you the lowdown on content management and digital marketing. So read on and find out what Kirsch thinks. Fred, you appear to have my dream job. Tell us what you do.

Kirsch: I'm the publisher and VP of content with the Patriots. I started in January of 1995 to start the team newspaper. We were the first sports team to have a website. We got the domain in 1994 and launched in 1995. That changed everything. I took over the digital content. We were the first team to have a nightly video show. It's been running ever since 1997. We've done live pay-per-view streaming. I've also gotten into the delivery of it which is apps and now Wi-Fi in the stadium.  In 2012, we enabled all of Gillette with WiFi. Now we're looking at ways to leverage it. How do you handle all the complexity in digital content these days?

Kirsch: Social media has added to the complexity. We have somebody that focuses on social media, but she works very closely with our digital producers and web masters so there is synergy. There is stuff you drive to all platforms but then there is unique content. We have a meeting on Tuesday of every week and we talk about content and synergy and what can be cross-promoted to different platforms. The complexity is dealt with by communication. What are some other daily technical decisions and challenges?

Kirsch: Sometimes the problem is doing too much. We are a content brand, more than a company like Proctor & Gamble, which is a product brand. The meat of what we do is the content. Even then, we have a lot of different departments that want to do a lot of different things. The challenge is not to do too much stuff and confuse our fans. We have to make decisions about which promotions to run and put the whole energy of the organization behind it. You have to be judicious about how much you are going to bombard fans with promotions and content. 

Patriots App.jpg What are some big trends or questions coming up in the next few years?

Kirsch: In terms of trends, TV is coming back into the fray. People left TV a little bit for mobile and iPad. But it's all coming back with Chromecast and AppleTV. SmartTVs are becoming more ubiquitous. Everything is going to go back to the living room like it used to be. It will be digital content, but it will all be available on your TV. Content owners need to be aware of that. Do we have to do a deal with Chromecast? The NFL just last week announced NFL Now, which is a new app completely focused on video. That's not something you hear every day -- we're all going back to the TV?

Even if you are not technically savvy, everything that's on your iPad can be on your TV. Right now it's not worth doing but in a couple years it's going to be worth doing. The content owners are going to be developing stuff for that. The TV as we know it is going to come back into play. Where do you get technology ideas?

Kirsch: I'm reading, I'm talking to the industries. I don't go to a lot of seminars. I get asked to attend a bunch. Where are you during the game and what do you do? 

Kirsch: I'm up in the press box every game and I'm doing a live blog. I'm using a platform called Cover it Live, which is the largest liveblogging platform out there. I have anywhere from 15-20,000 people on the blog with me sending in Twitter -- we have over 800,000 followers. I also have my @fred_kirsch  handle. I have a little over 3,000 followers. We covered the launch of this new Wi-Fi analytics application and your technology partnership with Extreme. Tell us about it. 

Kirsch: I'm excited about it. It helped me get an idea of what people were doing during the game. It's interesting that uploads were popular at the beginning of the game, but as the game progressed downloads were more popular. With Purview, I'm going to be able to create a list of Top Ten Travel URLs, and we can work that into promotions. Let's say somebody goes to Orbitz (the travel site), I can send them an offer to travel with the team to a game. 

So based on the fan's actions, I can take actions. We've also been using it to find out what's going on with the network during the game. We haven't come to the point where we're stressing our network, but as more people bring devices to the stadium, we'll be able to move people from one access point to another.  I can see and manage the network in real-time. Do you see a time when you will have to monitor all the devices at the game and what people are doing with the content and the network? 

Kirsch: Per the NFL, only people on our WiFi network can access video during the game. But if you have a WiFi network that you can limit to people in the stadium, you can do whatever you want. That's why we have this special video NFL GameDay Live, which lets fan views any replays you want. We haven't really had to worry too much about the devices, it's not an issue. You've seen the Web CMS evolve over 20 years. What's changed? What do you want in your next CMS?

Kirsch: A good CMS must have the following features these days:

  • Ability to publish to any device simply
  • Have the ability to use responsive design if desired
  • Have an intuitive interface designed for the content creators, not the webmasters
  • Feature or at least link to rich asset management

Beyond that, there are differentiators like easy hooks to social media accounts, layout features for print material etc., but the above bullets are essential. The key for publishers is to put the content where the consumer wants to consume it and in today's world there's more choice than ever.