National Lacrosse League Scores With OTT Action
When the National Lacrosse League’s season begins on Dec. 29, it will offer fans something that has become standard for larger sports: a multiplatform over-the-top solution that shares popular clips instantly over social media.
In late November, the NLL announced the launch of NLLTV.com, its new OTT destination, created in partnership with Sportsrocket. Fans can buy season passes that get them either every one of the league’s nine teams’ 81 games or all the games for a favorite team, or they can just purchase individual games on-demand. The service will also offer a certain amount of free, ad-supported video.
NLLTV.com isn’t just about selling packages, though; it’s also about connecting with fans through a variety of social channels. Fans will be able to stream live video over whatever platform they prefer and can catch real-time highlights on Facebook or Twitter. The move shows that the NLL understands how people view online video today.
“They recognized it’s not about trying to drive everyone to a single destination,” explains Brian Bedol, founder/CEO of Sportsrocket. “It’s really about reaching fans on the platforms where they consume and then having deeper and deeper offerings along the way that allow them to experience what they want on whatever device they’re [using].”
On the backend, the NLL knew it was important to deliver those multiplatform connections with as little infrastructure as possible. Bedol notes that the league is delivering a major-league experience without the budget or resources of the four major leagues.
Development time for NLLTV.com was a short eight months, something made possible by Sportsrocket’s approach. The company understands that there’s a core set of features and best practices that most sports organizations want. Its platform enables quick development of those features, which don’t need to be built from scratch for each client.
“The key features are everything from DVR functionality to highlights showing up in real time on all the social platforms, to the ability to watch games on any device with a single sign-in,” Bedol says. He expects NLLTV.com to see a lot of experimentation and change during its first season, as the league learns what works, what’s missing, and what fans enjoy.
The production workflow for NLLTV.com pivots around a central production hub but leaves many creative decisions to the individual teams, allowing them to create a tailored experience for their fans. Bedol calls this a “trunk-and-branch system”: teams are responsible for their own social presence and upload videos to a contributor queue for approval. The person running the queue will decide what graphics to add and what social channels get each video. The system was designed to maintain quality while allowing various people in the field to work on the platform simultaneously.
While the NLL has its headquarters in Philadelphia, its production facility is in Toronto, and it’s that group that will handle full-match streaming. Sportsrocket, in New York City, will also remain involved. The details of the workflow may shift during the season, but, at the start, the Toronto facility will handle most of the work. Individual teams will focus on creative ways to serve their fans. When they find something that works, they’ll share it with the rest of the league.
The NLL’s teams may all use a central graphics package when the service launches, but it’s not clear at this writing whether it will be ready that soon. It’s still a work in progress, Bedol notes. Maximum resolution on the service will be 1080p. Sportsrocket supports 4K video, but NLLTV.com won’t offer UHD this season.
Rounding out the workflow, Sportsrocket partners with Adobe Web Services (AWS) for encryption and storage, and Akamai for distribution. Although it has backup content delivery networks (CDNs) standing by, so far, it hasn’t needed them. The NLL plans to include sponsorships in the OTT service and will serve ads. Sportsrocket integrates with ad networks Google DoubleClick for Publishers and Freewheel.
This is all just a start, however. The NLL plans to offer more-advanced features later in the season, such as goalie and ref cams and 360-degree video that will make viewers feel like they’re not only in the arena but actually on the field. The NLL will iterate heavily during this freshman season to grow the service.
“Technology enables fans to get much closer to the game than ever before,” Bedol says, “and NLL really has an opportunity to develop a unique experience for lacrosse fans and to establish itself as the leading destination for lacrosse.”