SVG Digital Chat: John Burris, President, SportsLabs and Co-Founder, Silver Chalice

SportsLabs is one of the digital industry’s leading sports technology developers. Founded by Silver Chalice – the venture arm of the Chicago White Sox and owner Jerry Reinsdorf – the company built its proprietary Advanced Media Platform (AMP), which help sports content creators stream video content to a plethora of platforms that exist across the media space today.

Burris_JohnEarlier this year, SportsLabs struck a partnership with the University of Kentucky and JMI Sports, the Wildcats’ multimedia rights holder, to completely revamp the athletic department’s digital strategy. That included a new website and mobile app that launched last month that puts video, specially live streaming video, at the forefront.

John Burris, president of SportsLabs and one of the co-founders of Silver Chalice, recently sat down with SVG to chat about this robust project and to go deeper on the topics of fully-responsive website and mobile design and how video is becoming top dog across all digital strategies.

When did this relationship with Kentucky begin?
We work across the broader sports and media space and we’d like to believe that we are plugged in in all the right places. So these are relationships with folks [at Kentucky] that we had prior to the overall deal with JMI Sports was put together. But it was really the JMI Sports team with Tom Stultz calling out and really doing a thorough RFP process with the industry that brought us in more formally. JMI Sports is looking to do some really special things at the University of Kentucky. They weren’t looking just for a partner to, as they say, check the box and launch a new website and mobile apps. They really wanted a partner that could help them do something special and really build a business in a way that was unique.

When you got down to the creative process, what were some of the features that were at the top of their wish list?
A couple of things. One is bringing the Kentucky brand and the student athlete front and center; promoting more of what we’d call rich media, like video, was a real priority. Prior to this relationship, most of Kentucky’s sports video resided on YouTube but it didn’t reside on their own branded properties. That was a key priority.

The ability to build custom experiences was also very important. Our platform isn’t some rigid thing where all of the sites look the same. So whether it was highlighting updates to a stadium or the way that rosters and bios were presented or the way unique content like live coaches shows could be displayed, they wanted that all to look unique in their given space.

To speak specifically on how this translates to mobile, what did you specifically try to accomplish there?
Surprisingly it’s a huge opportunity. University of Kentucky fans were underrepresented on mobile platforms and not because they’re not great mobile users but because the mobile experiences in place weren’t fantastic. So a real focus was to build a very high class, fully responsive site – we sometimes call it a “true” responsive site – because it doesn’t break. What I mean by that is, more and more sports entities have responsive websites but if you dig in to the website and the experience past some of the front pages, you start to realize that not all pages are responsive and they start to break down in the mobile space. So to have a truly responsive site was important.

To promote and drive activity around their Kentucky Game Day application was important. We were running the Game Day app for Kentucky prior to us getting into a deeper partnership with JMI Sports and the university. So it wasn’t such a restart on mobile but it was an opportunity to invest and make sure all of the great content that’s being created is showcased in the iPhone application and the Android application.

In your view, does putting video front and center like this on both desktop and mobile, alter how Kentucky might produce content to more appropriately fit these platforms?
Oh, absolutely. I’ll give you some good examples. They did ask how at the university level and even JMI Sports as the rights holder, how can we generate more valuable content that Kentucky fans will want to engage with. As an example, they started to stream their coach’s weekly show from a restaurant in Lexington, KY. It was always available on the radio – and maybe this seems obvious – but let’s go and stream that show and make it available live on mobile devices and on the website. If you are a hardcore fan you love to peek in and engage with that sort of content.

What from this project do you feel reflects a bigger industry trends or you are finding consistent across other projects SportsLabs is working on?
One special thing I’d like to believe is a trend is that as a technology and media partner in this partnership we are on the hook not just to build and manage great websites and mobile applications but we’re also on the hook for all of the digital platforms and how they work together.

So, of course it’s the responsive web experiences, mobile applications, tablet applications, but its also how do we engage with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Do we create an iBook offering for the print program that you might get if you went live to a basketball game? Do we create a channel inside FlipBoard or do we use SnapChat in some unique way? When you think about the ay we are working with some of our most progressive clients, the University of Kentucky is a great example because SportsLabs isn’t building just the core pieces. We’re thinking about broader usage across all platforms.

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