Friday, May 04, 2007

Ultimate DVDs - Lessons from Fighting and Football

Hey Folks,

Have you seen the latest Ulti Village DVDs for the Worlds. I watched some of the mixed division where some of my friends participated. That's the only reason I watched, and Peyton was only on the screen for a matter of seconds.

Previously, I've made comments that I don't enjoy watching Ultimate, and my conclusion was that the sport is just boring for the average spectator. People have argued that maybe it's dependent on the knowledge of the rules and game, a few rules need to be changed, or the athletes aren't as good as they should be among other arguments. I've thought about the problem more and I'm convinced there is a vital idea to make spectator Ultimate work from a broadcast point of view.

Pictured Above: A low release flick from Dave Shimoda off a mark by Shane Creamer (photo courtesy of Jaleel taken by Marc Hodges).

Before I go into this topic more, I'm not saying what Ulti Village does is bad. It's actually a huge benefit to the sport having people dedicated to covering Ultimate. I'm just thinking about a better product.

The current state-of-the-art in Ultimate film is coverage of all the divisions in round robin form and through the bracket, and the DVD usually includes a highlight section where all the layouts and big grabs are viewed in a montage with some music. This format makes sense. Maximize coverage of a tournament so you can sell DVDs to each person who went to the tournament. Every other purchase is bonus. It's a good business model, but it can be boring for non-participators.

What other options are there? If you watch any sport on a major cable or sports channel then try this. Sit back, grab the controller, and mute the television. The game being played just isn't as enjoyable as it was with the sound. Why? I would argue the story is not as rich as it is with sound. The two types of sounds that tell the story are the fans reactions and the commentators.

The story is what it is all about, and the better the story the better the product. The only difference between a movie and a sporting event is in the first the story is set and the other is more open and anything can happen. As an aside, the funny thing is people are willing to watch a number of sporting events hoping for those truly great stories to happen. This isn't a time-effective approach, but we seem to believe it is worth it.

Think about watching a fight. If you turn on the television and a fight is on it can be interesting if you're versed in fighting techniques. Otherwise, you need a story. In comes the fighting promoter, and UFC has been the one of the most successful story tellers of recent.

There basic model to sell a pay-per-view event (copied from boxing) is to dedicate an hour to telling the stories about the fighters - UFC countdown. How did they get to this point? What are they doing to get ready? And then they make more of the story by getting each fighter to talk about the other fighter. Then during the event the colour commentator adds to this story. Note that UFC's success is also do to a quality product and effective use of cable productions.

Another company that understands the importance of the story is NFL Films. This company makes films based on NFL seasons, and these films are some of the best sports documentaries based on quality of footage, inside analysis, and strong voice over.

Cable sports look for commentators who can tell a good story during the game. As a youngster, I remember Bill Costas and the stories that were told before a playoff game between the Bulls and their opponents. CBC's Ron MacLean does the same thing for Hockey Night in Canada. In both cases the preamble would make the game more exciting. These were the people who were telling me what other things are happening in the meta-game (not just the actual play by play, but the relationships and troubles that the participants are experiencing).

Even Texas Hold'em has made it's huge move to the mainstream through good storytelling. The secret to their success came when they figured out that they needed to film everybody at the table and had to do two runs of commentating to find the stories.

The playoff structure with seven game series is all about a story. Call them TV miniseries where the story lasts for multiple days, and your friends add to the story with discusiion on the event. The city itself becomes part of the story participating with flags, pub nights, and more.

So, maybe Ultimate is fine as a spectator sport, and I know it's great as a participant sport. We might just need a story to get me interested in what's happening on the television. Where's that golden voice or voices that will sell the product.