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IRONMAN Group Goes Virtual; Facebook Watch at Center of Strategy

25/03/2020

IRONMAN Group Goes Virtual; Facebook Watch at Center of Strategy By Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 3:23 pm

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For Matthieu Van Veen, The IRONMAN Group, chief revenue officer, and his team the challenge was simple: how can they use social media platforms to give IRONMAN triathlon fans a chance to get closer than ever to the sport they love. As a mass-participation sport IRONMAN found its core fans and athletes were underserved by the traditional media market where live coverage of a 10-hour event was simply not an option.

Enter Facebook Watch and its ability to give IRONMAN a platform that engages its community in a whole new way and also provides a great outlet for coverage of complete IRONMAN events.

Matthieu Van Veen of the IRONMAN Group says Facebook Watch allows triathletes and fans to consume more content than ever.

We have 280,000 competitors and a big community that was starved for content, says Van Veen. That helped lead us to the initial conversation with Facebook as it is a platform that brings people together.

But now, with the world in a health crisis, IRONMAN has needed to postpone and even cancel some of its upcoming events and the team at IRONMAN has decided to go virtual, with a virtual racing series set to debut on Facebook Watch on April 4.

(l-to-r) Matthieu Van Veen of IRONMAN Group, Devi Mahadevia of Facebook, and Ken Kerschbaumer of SVG discussed how IRONMAN Group makes the most of Facebook Watch at Sportel Americas.

We believe that under extraordinary circumstances such as these, athletes should be able to maintain the structure and continuity that training and competition provides, says Andrew Messick, President & CEO for The IRONMAN Group. The IRONMAN Virtual Club is an innovative digital platform that enables our athletes to continue training with purpose, remain connected to our community and provides an opportunity to compete through the IRONMAN VR Series.

Athletes will compete in traditional age-group categories and for select virtual races. They will also have the opportunity to earn qualifying slots to the 2020 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, set to be held in Taupo, New Zealand, in November of this year.

The format and distances may vary each race weekend. The IRONMAN Virtual Club platform will utilize connected devices and be compatible with most wearable technology and app trackers.

Devi Mahadevia of Facebook says the IRONMAN community is a natural fit for Facebook Watch.

Devi Mahadevia, Facebook, director of emerging and digital sports partnerships, says that there are more than 40,000 fitness-related groups on Facebook and that the communities on Facebook are built by the athletes.

When you marry those groups with the right content the magic happens, she says. When the groups share content, they become the marketing channel and drive where the content goes.

The IRONMAN season consists of full-distance triathlon events and the IRONMAN production team uses seven cameras (four on motorbikes, two located at the transition areas, and then a drone) and a bonded-cellular backpack to send the signals back to Boulder, CO, where the announcers are located.

What interested us in Facebook as the ability to be non-traditional and engage people when they are watching the content, says Van Veen. With a 10-hour window how do you keep people watching? And how could we make things like polls or the ability to ask a question seamless to the user?

While the races are going on the IRONMAN team gets to see viewers from around the globe join as they wake up. The good morning from the U.S.! or Good morning from Japan! messages hit the chat board and the engagement climbs. More than a million people watch over an hour of IRONMAN content in one sitting a year, so the engagement is there. And then the questions start coming into the announce team.

They ask questions that really matter about things like nutrition strategy and our announcers can react to the questions which means greater engagement, says Van Veen.

Adds Mahadevia: The question tool brings viewers into the broadcast and they get more involved. IRONMAN has gotten 5,000 responses from the audience using these tools.

The platform also lets IRONMAN know more about what the viewers are doing while they are watching the races. Triathletes not competing in the competition on Facebook Watch will tune in during their own marathon or triathlon training sessions and even the sponsors can get involved during the broadcasts.

Our sponsors can be broadcasters as we give them the ability to put the content into their Facebook page so that people can watch it in other groups, says Van Veen. The more the better.

During the races the IRONMAN team also created edited clips for things like first out of the water and tagging partners on a minute-to-minute basis. And the athletes also respond to the chat trends. Heather Jackson, a U.S. triathlete, once held a banana in her hand while riding for miles and the chat feed lit up with viewers cracking jokes and wondering what was going on. The production crew responded by creating Banana split times and at the next race Jackson herself embraced it with complete banana racing kit and bike.

It shows the power of being relevant to this community, adds Van Veen.

In the past two years more than five million people have watched at least one minute of IRONMAN content on Facebook Watch. Much of that is due to the groups, where authentic social relationships are the glue, and also by sponsors and even the tourism boards for locations where the races are held.

The tourism boards can showcase their destinations and it is a meaningful platform to promote destination events, says Van Veen. They aren't just targeting eyeballs but our community which helps decide th
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