Thursday, May 12, 2011

50 years of the Wide World of Sports ...

An Ode To The Thrill Of Victory & The Agony Of Defeat

By Cory Treffiletti

From MediaPost:

I was reading an article in Sports Illustrated that reminded me that ABC's "Wide World of Sports" recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary, debuting in 1961 and leading the charge with beautiful sight, sound and motion tied to the emotion in sports. "Wide World of Sports" was revolutionary, and it became the template for how sports are covered on TV -- and eventually, the Web. I remember watching it every week as a kid, being completely engaged in whatever sport was being featured that day.

Today there are many, many websites and cable networks who owe a debt of gratitude to the "Wide World of Sports" series, from ESPN's "Outside The Lines" to sites like The High School Rudy Awards. WWOS created emotion around targeted sports where most people weren't paying attention. Now that the Web has matured we're seeing lots of great sites take that style and run with it, further highlighting smaller, niche sports.

If you visit YouTube, you'll find 4,420 videos for the Metal Mulisha, who lead the world of freestyle motocross. There are 34,600 lacrosse videos, many of which feature my beloved Syracuse Orange, all of which cater to a very targeted group of individuals. There are 24,100 videos for kite surfing; if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that outnumbers the total number of kite surfers there are in the U.S. There are even videos for "underwater basket weaving" and "hang-gliding dogs," though admittedly many of these are not very useful.

"Wide World of Sports" laid the groundwork for the increased value associated with sponsoring sports by making it less about who won and who lost, and more about the human nature of sports. That innovation in format created a more highly engaged audience for a broader array of sports, outside the standards of baseball, football, baseball and basketball. These days the UFC has eclipsed professional boxing, and motocross is catching up to NASCAR -- maybe not in terms of total dollars but definitely in terms of value for reaching a targeted audience. Sports marketing is a huge business, and the web is creating even more opportunities for marketers to reach a highly engaged, emotionally attached audience. I would hazard a guess that if Tony Hawk were 21 years old today, he would quickly become one of the most recognizable faces in the world (far more than he is today), as skateboarding has substantially benefited from ESPN's X-Games and the myriad of clips the Web offers (type in skateboarding on YouTube and prepare to be overwhelmed by more than 585,000 videos).

What's interesting is that attempts at aggregating these assets together in ad networks and publishing companies have rarely set the world on fire. You would think the advent of video online would have created a vacuum for videos with insightful, emotional, journalistic overlays for highly engaged, highly monetizable audiences! ESPN is certainly the lead player in the category of online sports, but there's definitely room for a secondary tier of sports enthusiast sites and content around their audience, isn't there?

Regardless of the why or why not of the category, the fact is all niche sports owe a solid fist-bump to the "Wide World of Sports" for blazing the trail that allows them to reach, foster and monetize an audience in some way. The fact that some skateboarders, motocross riders and kite-surfers can earn six figures every year in endorsements confirms that the legacy of WWOS will live on for many years to come.

Thanks for the memories, "Wide World of Sports"!