Chaos Theory and the NFL.

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If you've been in the digital industry for a while you’re probably bored of hearing grizzled veterans regretting the diminished frontier spirit of the old internet, before the walled gardens of social media turned everything into an ad platform.

But chaos lives. The internet is still out of control (phew).

Of course, we’re all trying to figure out what to do with the horribly chaotic bits (trolls) but I am fascinated by the way this chaos is being channelled.

My current favourite example is the frenzy of live events where content is disseminated in real-time, to an audience of rabid, gregarious and often half-drunk smartphone warriors. Here, in the realm of World Cups, general elections and royal weddings, the rewards for marketers are great – huge audiences, all looking at the same thing and, increasingly, fully engaged online. But the pitfalls are there too, how do you carry your flag through this chaos without getting swamped by the hordes?

In the last few years the live-blogging of events has become the norm. Let’s take one of Apple’s keynote speeches; it used to be that to follow one of these presentations live you’d have to visit the one or two sites that had invested in a robust enough server architecture to handle the huge volume of requests from avid tech consumers. Even then, the experience was hit or miss, waiting minutes for an unresponsive page that, when it finally loaded, hadn't actually revealed the new iPhone but a bathetic “Steve Jobs, looking good in his trademark jeans and turtle neck.”

Social media changed all this, making every live event an opportunity to be a global spectator by following a hashtag, joining in with friends on Facebook and actually becoming part of the conversation.

Meanwhile, the BBC was pioneering the true live blog, offering minute-by-minute updates of sporting events within a page framework that didn't need to be reloaded by the user, matching their experience on Twitter and Facebook. Alongside the constantly updating commentary users were also invited to contribute, seeing their contributions on Twitter and by SMS become part of the live feed.

An organisation like the BBC is rare, one that has a huge, loyal user base that sees them as the default option for live events. More often, such events are experienced across channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, WhatsApp…) in a disparate, schizophrenic dance between nuggets of live content.

Here is where the chaos lives.

Remember the first 3G contracts a few years ago? The big selling point was getting a package of the goals from Saturday’s football available on your phone (in spot-the-ball resolution). Now you can see them all for free, moments after they happen, recorded on Sky+, filmed on a smartphone and posted to Vine/Instagram/Twitter etc.

A rights-holder’s worst nightmare.

How do you combat such outrageous free-booting? You give it away yourself, in better quality. All the goals, great plays & gaffes broadcast on all channels within minutes.

The king of this approach (and the reigning champion of content marketing) is the NFL (National Football League), a multi-billion dollar organisation that takes digital very seriously.


The NFL puts up every significant play as a clip, within moments. Touchdowns, sacks, all of it. Shortly after a game finishes a highlights package is available to watch for free. Bear in mind, the NFL also streams premium video of live matches from the same website (with subscriptions in the order of £100 per year) and are now taking bids for exclusive online broadcasts of games from the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon.

Of course, the NFL are also lowering the boom on any publishers using unauthorised content, therefore shrinking the competition. Nonetheless, the core approach is fascinating – here is a huge, enormously successful organisation effectively aping the ruffian behaviour of users to ensure they are the primary source of this shareable content – they own the chaos.


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Alex Lee
UX Lead
Alex is an award-winning producer with over a decade's experience in the industry. Alex has a wealth of experience in the creative and digital arenas with extensive knowledge of websites, mobile apps and social media campaigns for blue-chip global brands such as Sony, Pepsi, Tesco and Red Bull. Alex's mix of creative and development expertise ensure a strong connection between clients and the agency team.
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Alex Lee

05 Feb 2016 - 7 minute read
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