The global reach of digital technology and digital media dictates that we now live in a more connected world than ever before, and for an athlete’s marketability, this means that competing for followers, views and retweets has become equally as important as the battle for records, medals and trophies. In other words, platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are providing an opportunity for sportsmen and women to develop their brand away from the pitch as well as on it.
Since its inception in 2014, Unscriptd has been enabling athletes to take advantage of this shift by transforming its clients into world class publishers through the provision of refined technology, which helps athletes to create, manage and distribute content across their social and digital channels.
The company has already attracted the likes of Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and six-time World Surf League women’s champion Stephanie Gilmore. The platform specialises in two-minute video segments geared towards providing fans with a unique insight into an athlete’s life, opinions and career-defining moments.
With all that in mind, SportsPro caught up with Unscriptd’s co-founder and chief executive officer, Brent Scrimshaw, to learn more about leveraging digital content to develop an athlete’s brand, and to find out how the company plans on disrupting the sports media, sponsorship and publishing landscape in the future.
SportsPro: What service do you offer to athletes, and what benefits do they get from using it?
Brent Scrimshaw: We are the world’s first ‘athlete media company’, with a clear aspiration to enable athletes to be world class publishers. That’s born from the notion of what we see each day - a fundamental shift in the way consumers engage with athletes, led primarily by the rise of social media. Our goal is to provide athletes with the opportunity and the tools to build their personal brand chiefly through the lens of content and technology, and at the same time unlock the power of their audience through what we call ‘athlete media’.
So when we talk about enabling athletes to be world class publishers, the three fundamental areas that we focus on are: providing value to the athlete as a publisher, through the development of an intimate and emotional connection with their audiences around the world; the provision of education and inspiration to help them be content creators and great publishers in their own right; and innovating through our technology platform that enables access to meaningful content as well as making their social publishing simple, easy and therefore more efficient and more effective.
Can you give some examples of the athletes that you work with, and some of the activations you carry out with them?
We’ve already built a rapidly growing global athlete network and over the last few years we have worked with high-profile athletes including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gerard Piqué, Ander Herrera, Virat Kohli, Steph Gilmore - the six-time world surf champion - and also Andre Agassi [who is one of Unscriptd’s investors] to name a handful.
Because of this growth, we have a deep and broad network of athletes that we’re now building on around the world. During this initial period of growth we’ve primarily focused on the creation of short form original content that helps the athletes tell their story in the most compelling and interesting way for their fans. At the same time, through our technology, we enable them to develop an understanding of what it takes to be a digital publisher in a world where consumers are witnessing a rapidly evolving digital media marketplace. Athletes are quickly able to see that there is tremendous value in an engaged audience, as well as how that audience can be engaged regularly over time to create value.
How important is it for athletes to be engaged with their fanbase through digital platforms like Unscriptd?
I believe engagement with an audience that has made a deliberate choice to follow you and be immersed in your world is incredibly important for today’s athletes. Not only in terms of building and shaping an athlete’s own personal brand but also, most importantly, as a means of rewarding those fans that have made that choice to follow your journey by providing insight to your life both on the field as a professional sports person as well as off the field as a human being.
We are living in a very transparent digital age so the most important advice we provide to athletes is to be authentic, to be real and, most importantly, to share their story. The depth of connection between a fan and an athlete has been redefined through social media, and that provides an enormous benefit for both athletes and fans alike.
Brent Scrimshaw, co-founder and chief executive officer of Unscriptd.
How has the way athletes and public figures use social content changed in recent years? What lessons should they be learning?
I think initially, the notion of social media was not well understood at all by the athletes we worked with around the world, especially in regard to their reach and the immediacy of the medium. As a result of this, it has often been viewed with some degree of caution within the athlete community. Everybody we engaged with knew that social media was something meaningful but not many truly understood the power that it had to deepen the connection between athletes and their fans.
Over time, the definition of an individual being a publisher has changed considerably with athletes now attracting huge, digitally enabled audiences. These audiences are constantly searching for interesting content, and athletes soon understood that by creating this content they would give themselves the opportunity to build their personal brand as well as creating a future stream of income.
As the media industry continues to evolve and change, I am excited about the next generation of athletes who have grown up creating content as a way of life. This new breed of athlete would expand the possibilities of social content when compared to today’s older, more established athletes who are still learning the power of what social media can provide them.
How does the way athletes address audiences need to differ from others with a high media profile?
Whether they like it or not, athletes are incredibly influential people in today’s society. The growth and visibility of social media has only served to amplify that influence. Whilst I am not sure the way they address their audiences should differ from others with a high media profile, they definitely need to be hyper-aware of the influence they have, as role models, particularly with younger and more impressionable consumers.
Is there any content in particular you find being more successful than others?
The consumer ultimately decides. Anything that consumers would deem manufactured or fake is, in most cases, not aligned with the true values of the athlete and will tend not to perform as well. What we have seen is that athletes who are providing either an unexpected look into their world, sharing information as a trusted source or providing real insight into what it’s like to be in their shoes naturally do better. Any content that is personal in nature but at the same time provides the opportunity for a shared experience or something everyday that the consumer can relate to, will strengthen the depth of connection between athlete and fan.
In essence anything that humanises the athlete we’ve found has been incredibly powerful, and sharing those stories in the same way that you would with your friends in a relaxed environment is exactly the way that athletes can utilise social media.
Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera is one of a number of high profile athletes working with Unscriptd.
How does content need to be produced differently if it is for a global rather than local audience?
These days it’s a small world. Particularly through the lens of global sports like soccer, whether you’re in Singapore or the United States, the connection through digital technology and digital media that fans now enjoy with athletes is incredibly powerful and creates a lot of similarities around the world.
As I mentioned earlier, if you are honest, truthful and sharing interesting insights into your life, that resonates globally. So I wouldn’t say there’s a specific formula for one different geography, but at the same time the insight you may amplify to specifically create a local relevance. For example, in India, with Virat Kohli, it’s very different to what you might create to be local in Europe around someone like Ander Herrera.
There are a number of companies now publishing athlete-focused videos, so what do you think makes Unscriptd stand out as a leader in this space?
First and foremost we understand and have deep relationships with the athletes who work with us. We combine those relationships with our in-house capabilities and knowledge, which has been developed through years of experience in the sports and digital publishing world with the addition of key executives from the likes of Nike, Shazam, Buzzfeed and Twitter. Our team understands the power of sports, social media, the power of digital publishing and, most importantly, the role of data.
The second major differentiator is the technology we’ve developed. This has been purpose-built and makes social publishing easier and more efficient for athletes across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The technology provides a whole raft of benefits to the athlete from being able to manage multiple individual channels at once, to the simplification of how - in some cases - they interact with their social media manager. The bespoke technology also offers access to rich content sources such as Getty Images that enables them to quickly and easily find and create content for themselves. It’s a specific set of publishing solutions built specifically for athletes directly from their insight.
Thirdly, I think, the expertise we have built around the way we think about content relative to the athlete’s personal brand, and an understanding of what’s important to the athlete and the values they have as individuals. It comes down to the fact that we understand the athlete and we serve the athlete, and that’s how we’ve built our entire business as an athlete media company. Simply put, we believe that if we serve the athlete well and deliver on that vision, we live in an age where athletes are at the new frontier of sports digital publishing.
What do you see as the future for your platform?
Our vision is around enabling athletes to be world class publishers. Athletes are known for what they do best, which is amazing us with their athletic achievements and performances. But I do believe that in the future we will see a world where athletes = as generations shift - will also be great content creators in their own right.
If we focus our business around serving the athlete, and if the athlete thinks of themselves not only as a world class athlete but as a content creator supported by the capabilities that we bring, then we believe we can connect them more deeply to their social audiences and create real value for the athlete and for our business.
If we can do that, then we’ll be creating a fundamental disruption in the sports media, sponsorship and publishing landscape.