Sport remains the priority for Twitter: Aneesh Madani

Strategic integration with sports is working wonders for twitter and its associates. The ongoing Champions Trophy has witnessed up to 700% surge in twiterrati trends. The social media platform has more surprises in store for sports buffs. Aneesh Madani, Head, Sports Partnerships, Asia Pacific, in a candid talk with InsideSport discussed growth, strategies and future of sports on Twitter. Here are the excerpts.

INSIDE SPORT: Twitter is coming up with new strategies, tie-ups, plans and data around sports. And if we see, it has been an aggressive campaign. There are tri-partite tie-up like Nissan for cricket. How is this aggressive approach working out for you?
Aneesh Madani: I will be happy to share that. Recently Twitter has been named as the hottest sports network for 2017 by “Adweek”. And as we see our platform is live and so is sports and thus the marriage of two is surely heavenly and as a result of which sports is a priority of the company. The strategy is focussed on three pillars for our partners around the world. Whether it is federations or leagues, teams or athletes, broadcasters or commentators, our strategy is focussed on helping them and growing their audience on the platform. Working with them to innovate on Twitter. And finally, help them to monetize on the platform.

TwitterYou will see this partnership on a larger scale in the Asia-pacific region, for example, Champions Trophy. So, the way this partnership is structured with ICC is like we have really exciting pieces for fans to experience on the platform. Thanks to ICC for their forward thinking and becoming our partners. So, we actually launched this sports chat-bot, where you can directly message ICC on Twitter, watch the latest videos or check the latest standings of the tournament. In addition to this, as far as reach is concerned, the way hashtags like #AskCaptain are used during the post-match presentation ceremony, which is questions from twitter users to winning captains, is a really powerful Twitter and TV integration.

For the first time in India we have launched a ‘Twitter Amplify Program’ in association with Nissan, which allows the ICC to tweet match videos and Nissan to promote them amongst the users who are really interested in cricket. So, it is a win-win situation for everyone.

IS: We see twitter as the second screen for Champions Trophy and before that for IPL as well. How satisfied are you with the kind of results you have been getting or it is more than what you expected?
AM: We are growing really fast. For instance, if you see the IPL, we launched 30 players emojis for each of the IPL superstars and users could unlock those emojis by tweeting the hashtags of player names. Example, #MSDHONI would unlock an emoji of MS Dhoni, which fans loved to use during the course of the season. And thus it led to a 15 time increase in the tweets. And similarly, recently India-Pakistan match saw 8 time increase in the tweets. So, we are definitely seeing a really fast growth around sporting events. But there is still a long way to go. We have more exciting products to be able to bring to our partners.

twitterIS: Twitter is very much active around cricket in India. However, if we see other sports like Pro kabaddi League, that are also doing well. So, can we see twitter engaging with them also?
AM: Yeah, we actually have had a very long history of working closely with the other sports. For instance, in 2016 Rio Olympics we worked with teams and athletes to make them understand how to use twitter well and how to time their post on field and their reactions off-field. That has made a difference. Deepa Karmakar and Sakshi Malik joined twitter immediately after Olympics and now they have more than 100,000-150,000 followers. So, these numbers were not really expected for a non-cricketing athlete in the past. The power of the platform and magnitude of the performance has helped in achieving these numbers. The other thing, if we see, going far back in 2015, we launched an emoji for kabaddi related terms as well. We also partnered with ISL for #ISLmoments to share videos and other stuff. And then we live streamed the Melbourne Cup and we have almost live streamed programming of more than 800 hours around the world, with all the major leagues like NFL, NBA, MLB involved.

IS: Can we see a similar kind of live streaming in India as well?
AM: Yeah, we are working very closely with the partners to explore all sorts of opportunities. When the time is right and partners are ready, I am sure we will see live content on the platform. We did it to some extent for Champions Trophy where we see Sanjay Manjrekar and Graeme Smith live from inside the stadium. But there is much more to come. And there is an opportunity for sport fans in India as well. Someone who is a golf fan can see arround 90 minutes of live golf on twitter, every Thursday and Friday from the PGA tour, one of the most prestigious event.

IS: As we see Twitter has integrated well with cricket and it is coming to the fore now. Can we expect a surprise bid from Twitter for next season of IPL?
AM: We are constantly in conversation with you and I will surely keep you posted if something comes up. Right now, we are working closely with our partners including IPL to explore how we can continue to build this relationship. To be able to tell what we will do for IPL 2018 would not be appropriate. Every year we have innovated and we are constantly evolving. We have a track record of sharing our planning and everything. So, as soon as some efforts float, we will inform you.

IS: As we see tremendous surge in the sporting content on Twitter, there are two challenges – a) to sustain and b) to grow. How do you work on these two aspects?
AM: The core of every partnership is trust. As a result of which, we are constantly co-creating opportunities and building more partnerships to make sure we are evolving. We see at what stage our partners are and at what stage they are ready to take-off. Thus, we work in peace with our partners and at various levels.

IS: As the platform is growing in terms of reach and content what do you expect will be the sphere coverage of sports?
AM: Over the past few years, we have seen sports is the dominant form of conversation. If we think about any national sporting event which is live, you will see it trending on twitter. All the entities, players and all are there trending in that moment. In 2016, out of the top 10 moments, sports played a major role. So, the majority of growth will be in terms of sports, in the moment.

IS: Does Twitter sticking to its trademark of 140 characters feels any threat coming from social media majors like Facebook, google and other live streaming apps out in the market?
AM: Twitter is the fastest platform that comes to news with all the events happening around the world. This is possible because of the nature of the platform and the speed at which it happens. The immediate conversations start happening in the moment. If you look at the timeline it is more diverse, richer and faster than any other platform. And then it is the quality of the people we have on our platform that has made all the difference.