Sports Media 1.0: Maradona’s “Silenzio Stampa”
In 1990, the world’s greatest footballer – Diego Maradona – found himself in an unusual spot. His Argentina side was in the semis in the World Cup against host nation Italy in a match to be played in Napoli, of all places, where he played professional soccer and his fame was legion – a quarter of all boys born in Napoli during his stint there were named Diego. A local newspaper wrote that much-maligned Napoli did not have a “mayor, houses, schools, buses, employment or sanitation,” but that none of that mattered “because we have Maradona”.
Before the match, the aging star offered an olive branch to fans. “For 364 days out of the year, you are considered to be foreigners in your own country; today you must do what they want by supporting the national team. Instead, I am a Neapolitan for 365 days out of the year.” Argentina escaped in a penalty shootout, and Maradona’s legacy remained intact in Napoli and elsewhere in perpetuity.
Things didn’t always go so smoothly for the Argentine icon – especially with the press. Maradona often dished out -and received – vicious media jabs. And when his often contentious relationship with the media spiraled out of control, he had a simple solution: he stopped talking to them. Completely.
This was known as “Silenzio Stampa” – or the “Silent Treatment” – and it came to symbolize an era in sports where elite athletes on the one side, and an encroaching media on the other, proved they simply could no longer exist in a mutually-beneficial manner.
“Silenzio Stampa” wasn’t by accident; it was by choice.
Lionel Messi during the UEFA Champions League game between Olympiacos vs FC Barcelona
Sports Media 2.0: The Advent of Twitter
In 2009, the American sports journalist Bill Simmons, creator of ESPN’s “30 for 30”, penned a way-ahead-of-its-time essay about how the walls between journalists and athletes had fallen with the advent of social media. Whereas in the past, athletes could only transmit their feelings, emotions, perspectives, agendas and points of view through the global media’s mouthpiece, the dependence of sports celebrities on the so-called “Fourth Estate” no longer existed. “And this isn’t a good thing or a bad thing,” Simmons wrote: “It is what it is, and maybe how it always should have been.”
In a 2013 report, the global consultancy Accenture wrote: “Fans are more than simply consumers. Their devotion to a team sets them apart. They’ll follow their idols through good times and bad. And they have to be treated differently to make sure that their devotion is recognized and developed into a mutually rewarding relationship that continues to deliver value for owners and fans themselves.”
Consider the modern nature of sports amid today’s media backdrop. Twitter has nearly a $30 billion market cap as newspapers and magazines continue to close in droves. Mark Zuckerberg is the 4th wealthiest person alive, and New York real-estate scion Donald Trump just Tweeted his way to the Oval Office. My, how things have changed.
In Simmons’ prophetic essay, “Now that Jocks Talk Directly to Us, the Press is Boxed Out”, the famed journalist wrote: “Today’s technology means athletes don’t need a middleman anymore. If Michael Jordan was the harbinger of lost access, LeBron James ushered in the I’m-controlling-every- interaction-I-have-with-you era.” Indeed, over a decade ago, a paradigm shift had already occurred on hardwood floors and soccer pitches everywhere.
Sports Media 3.0: The Fan360 Era
But don’t get too comfortable – the sports media landscape is about to get disrupted yet again. First, there is a massive bifurcation on social media: if you spend all day on Twitter, you won’t be abreast of all things Instagram, for instance. For fans who want to follow their favorite players, it’s a chore nowadays to do so. Second, the only ones gaining real economic benefits from social media are shareholders of social media companies.
Welcome to Fan360, the hippest thing in sports media since Twitter. Fan360 is an aggregator of an athlete’s entire social media universe – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. Plus news, stats, scores, highlights, videos, all in one.
And here’s the kicker: big-time athletes are signing up en masse to join the cause. Gianluigi Buffon? You can find him on Fan360. Widely considered as one of the most famous football legends in the world today, Buffon is signed on to promote the product and participate in its launch along with dozens of the world’s top soccer stars, including Argentine Angel Di Maria who plays at PSG.
Fan360 offers a little something for everyone: fans get rewarded for their engagement with tokens they can exchange for tickets, merchandise and special experiences (which are only available on Fan360) as well as fiat currencies; clubs will use blockchain technology to enable ticket traceability. (Who’s tired of StubHub fees? Ahem.); and brands can reach “micro” influencers, who will be modern-day brand ambassadors. Fans and athletes will find incentives every step of the way, which is crucial to stay one step ahead.
Shorter attention spans among consumers are changing the way fans engage with their favorite players and teams, according to consulting giant McKinsey: “With so many sports options across so many screens, fans of all ages—not just millennials—are watching fewer games and quitting them faster. Overall reach for sports on TV hasn’t declined; ratings have dropped because fans are watching fewer and shorter sessions.”
Athletes understand that fans interest these days is not only in the outcome of the game, but also in finding a deeper engagement with their idols. Social media in its current form is great but Fan360 gives athletes what they really want: true ownership of their brand.
As Accenture wrote in 2016: “Fans today demand a deeper analysis of the sport they are watching. Seeing the goal or point score ticking up is not enough, they want to know more – more detail, more insight. The most state-of-the-art visualization techniques are being used to bring data to life so it can be shared via the mobile app, social media and through broadcasters to enhance match day coverage. Digital innovations will continue to shape sports in a host of ways, enhancing the experience for both fans and athletes.”
Colombia team posing for a photo during the FIFA 2014 World Cup
New York Yankees legendary owner George Steinbrenner once remarked: “I am dead set against free agency. It can ruin baseball.” You’d be hard pressed to find an athlete – or an owner – who’d concur with those remarks today. Giving more power to athletes – on and off the field – is a big win for fans, players, owners, and advertisers – the Fan360 formula for modern sports-media disruption.
For his part, Maradona probably wishes he could get on the pitch one more time to test out the new environs. But he won’t have to: the Fan360 team hopes to add him to their roster later this summer.