The growing number of consumers using smart phones and tablet computers to augment the TV viewing experience has created a new activation platform for properties and sponsors: the second screen.

Pro sports leagues, teams and other types of properties are increasingly using custom games, Twitter feeds and other digital platforms to engage consumers as they watch live televised events.  

That content includes up-to-the-minute statistics, exclusive content and interactive games based on on-field action.

The NHL in April rolled out Molson Canadian NHL PrePlay, a predicative online game. Fans that played the game while watching the Stanley Cup finals could win points by correctly predicting the outcome of on-the-ice action before it actually happened. Questions ranged from who would win a face-off to the team that would win the game. Fans accessed the game through Apple devices.

The league created NHL PrePlay to enhance the TV viewing experience by bringing fans closer to the sport.

“Unlike five years ago, no one is passively watching TV. We are using the second screen as a tool to deepen engagement,” said Kyle McMann, the NHL’s vice president of partnership marketing.

While fan engagement is the primary driver behind NHL PrePlay, the online app provides another valuable benefit: A new consumer touchpoint for Molson Canadian. Molson Coors Canada and MillerCoors, LLC last year inked a seven-year, nine-figure deal with the NHL, the largest in the league’s history.

“Molson Canadian is all about creating social engagement. Molson Canadian NHL PrePlay demonstrates the power of a brand to facilitate fun, social interactions around hockey,” said McMann.

Others also see value in the second screen.

“Sports rightsholders should consider the second screen as a means to creatively drive value for sponsors by amplifying their message and connecting them to social activity unfolding around a TV broadcast,” said Steve Cobb, founding partner of Active8Social, a social media agency that specializes in fan engagement and activation platforms for sports brands.

“There is an expectation for enhanced viewing content. The second screen is a trend that is here to stay,” said Tom Richardson, president and founder of Convergence Sports & Media, a media and marketing consultancy.

In a nutshell, properties can use the second screen to accomplish the following:

  • Prompt broadcast tune-ins
  • Sustain TV viewership
  • Engage fans
  • Amplify sponsor messaging
  • Access new sponsorship inventory

The popularity of the second screen is expected to grow as more consumers use mobile devices to gain a deeper connection with televised events. Eighty-eight percent of tablet owners and 86 percent of smartphone owners used their device while watching TV at least once during a 30-day period in late 2011, according to a recent Nielsen Co. report.

Forty-five percent of tablet owners used the device while watching TV on a daily basis, while 26 percent reported simultaneous TV and tablet use several times a day. Smartphone owners showed similar dual usage of watching TV with their phones, with 41 percent saying they use their phone at least once a day while tuned in.  

The Many Forms Of The Second Screen
Second-screen content can reside on a myriad of platforms ranging from custom game apps to Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

For example, Anheuser-Busch InBev in May supported its UEFA sponsorship with a multi-faceted social media platform around the FA Cup, while NASCAR in June kicked off an integrated partnership with Twitter.

Below, IEG SR highlights two increasingly popular second-screen platforms.

Custom apps. Rightsholders can choose from a growing number of app developers that offer products ranging from custom games to online platforms. Players include Shazam Entertainment, Pre Play Sports and Zeebox.

The NHL worked with Pre Play to develop Molson Canadian NHL PrePlay. The upstart created a similar game for Subway around the 2012 Super Bowl.

The NHL and Molson Coors worked closely with Pre Play to ensure the Molson Canadian brand was integrated into the game in an authentic, relevant manner, said McMann. The background of the game features the brand and the iconic image of the Canadian Rockies.

“It was more than ‘’Here is banner ad space where we can drop in Molson Canadian.’ The product is designed to live as one entity.”

The product was a success, with the average user session clocking in just shy of 25 minutes, said McMann. The league plans to expand the game to the Android platform for the 2012-2013 season, he added.

Some app developers position their products as an ambush marketing platform. For example, Kwarter is pitching its FanCake online game to both sponsors and non-sponsors. The company develops real-time predictive sports games despite a formal relationship with teams.

“A company may not have rights to the big screen, but maybe they can do something on the second screen,” said Carlos Diaz, Kwarter co-founder and CEO.

A partnership with FanCake makes sense for smaller companies that might not have the budget for a full-fledged team sponsorship, he said. 

Twitter. The micro-blogging site is aligning with sports leagues and TV networks to access content around live sporting events.

That includes Twitter’s new partnership with NASCAR, around which it is offering curated content through Twitter.com/#NASCAR.

Like the NHL and NHL PrePlay, NASCAR aligned with Twitter to enhance the fan experience.

The two organizations kicked off the program at the June 10 Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway. The track added a hashtag to the name of the race: The Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR. The dedicated Twitter site contains curated content ranging from driver tweets to sponsor promotional mentions.

NASCAR activated the tie with several on-site promotions. Those included a Tweet Hunt and Tweet Your Seat contest, the latter of which dangled the opportunity to wave the green flag at the start of the race.

Twitter also is striking deals with media partners. The company earlier this year announced a strategic partnership with ESPN, around which the two organizations are offering bundled advertising packages around major sports events. The two companies will promote the content across Twitter, the ESPN network, ABC and ESPN digital assets.

“Working together, ESPN and Twitter are giving marketers a clear and powerful way to link on-air and online social conversations around sports,” said Joel Lunenfeld, Twitter's vice president of global brand strategy, in a statement.

Twitter and ESPN kicked off the partnership with a promotion during the NBA Finals. The #GameFace promo encouraged fans to tweet photos of their best game face, with NBA Tonight analysts revealing the best photos at the end of each game. ESPN displayed the images in a photo gallery on ESPN.com/NBA.

The two companies plan to run similar promotions around the Super Bowl, NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and other major sports events.

Omid Ashtari, head of sports & entertainment, manages Twitter partnerships.