Soap Operas, Superheroes and Sports Media’s Story-Driven Future

Overview At CES 2020, a chief executive spoke to me about showing fans a never-ending soap opera. An analytics director talked about the audience’s connection to heroes. And two talk show hosts explained their philosophy of putting personal stories in a positive light.

They were all my guests in the C Space Studio, the interview stage for content and brand leaders. But these particular guests didn’t come from movie studios or marketing firms. They came from the world of sports. Our conversations addressed the power of human stories in the ever-evolving media game.


"It's More Like the Marvel or the DC Universe"

Howard Mittman is the CEO of the sports content company Bleacher Report. He said that with the rise of Generation Z, the nature of sports fandom is radically changing. 

“NBA, as an example, used to be about opening tip-off to the handing out of the trophies,” Mittman said. “And then you went on your way to follow baseball and then football and then you reengaged in the fall.” 

Now, fans can consume a sport year-round. 

“It’s more of a soap opera,” he said. “Really, it's more like the Marvel or the DC universe where you have heroes and villains, and you have a constant cast of characters that are not just playing the sport but that are creating content themselves and engaging consumers 24/7. That is of great interest the younger you get.”


"Our Heroes Make Our Sport"

As Formula 1 research and analytics director Matt Roberts sees it, hero-driven stories will remain key to the racing brand’s appeal, even as technology changes. 

I asked him to imagine how fans would relate to car racing in an autonomous future when most people don’t do their own driving anymore.

“There could be a world of driverless cars, but our heroes make our sport. And without those drivers, we don't really have F1,” he responded. “I think there's still going to be so much interest in those heroes.”

He says the brand’s Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive “was a great opportunity for fans to really get under the skin of what these guys are like, what their lifestyle is like. And that was the big success out of it, is people said, ‘I didn't know much about him and now I love him, and I want to follow him because I found out about his life.’”


"Everybody’s Got Their Own Specific Story"

Does this storytelling mind-set resonate with the athletes themselves? It certainly seems to resonate with the co-hosts of the Knuckleheads podcast. NBA veterans Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles interview basketball greats like Kevin Durant and Steve Nash. But they also talk to non-athletes, such as the rapper Fabulous. This is a show about people.

“It goes with basketball players, I think it goes with everybody: everybody’s got their own specific story,” Miles said.

The Knuckleheads don’t just want to tell a story with good characters. They want that story to be good to those characters. 

“We started the podcast to admire the people that we interview and keep positive vibes,” Miles said.

“We don’t desire to be negative,” Richardson added. “Being former players, living that life, being in that locker room, knowing our peers and knowing our teammates, we know that there's so much more to them than this negativity that's always put out there. So our thing was, we want to display that.” 

The duo’s deliberate positivity aligns with Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman’s attitude about the kinds of stories he wants to tell. 

“We view ourselves as an athlete-friendly brand,” Mittman said. “We love sports, right? So we're not looking to take anyone down. We're not looking to create controversy or be irreverent to the point where we're running afoul of celebrating the athletes and the sports that we love.”

Stories about heroes are extremely powerful, of course. And as Spider-Man fans know well, with great power comes great responsibility.


Watch the full interview with Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman. arrow-black

Watch the full interview with Formula 1 Director of Research and Analytics Matt Roberts. arrow-black

Watch the full interview with Knuckeheads’ hosts Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. arrow-black

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