The Power of Video

Episode #026: Doug Tatum, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans

Episode Information

How much value are you placing on storytelling in your video content? Do you focus on ensuring you’re telling a compelling story or are you more concerned with the length of the actual video? We’ve all heard that shorter video content is more appealing to viewers than longer form content and this has likely influenced the length of our video content. However, does the length really matter if the content is engaging? Perhaps we should focus our video strategy on creating truly compelling and engaging videos and not necessarily worry about their length. In this episode of Mobile Matters, we talk to the Executive Director of Digital Media at the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, Doug Tatum, about how he transitioned from a newspaper report to leading digital content for NFL and NBA teams, the success he’s seen with their mobile efforts, and how he’s drawing inspiration from other industries.


Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. It’s time for us to stop comparing our marketing to what our competitors are doing and looking at other industries for inspiration. There is so much we can learn from the marketing of companies that don't’ look exactly like ours.
  2. It may be true that consumers prefer shorter video content, but if you’re delivering high quality video content then they’ll watch it no matter the length.
  3. You’re going to need to deliver video content faster than ever in the coming years and now is the time to make sure your team is enabled to do so.

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Stephanie Cox: I’m Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters. Today I’m joined by Doug Tatum. Doug oversees the direction of all digital media properties and the support staff for the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, including all social media accounts and all team-related mobile platforms. Doug joined the organization in 2013 after having served 13 years for The Times-Picayune, first as Deputy and then as Lead Sports Editor. In this episode, Doug and I talk a lot about how he transitioned from a newspaper reporter to leading digital content for both an NFL and NBA team, the success he’s seen what their mobile efforts, and how he's drawing inspiration from other industries, even the airlines. And make sure you stick around until the end where I’ll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about mobile differently but implemented effectively. Welcome to the show, Doug. 

Doug, you have a really great background, first starting as a journalist and now working for the Saints and the Pelicans. Can you tell me how did you get started in content and how did you end up where you are today?

Doug Tatum: Yeah, I mean it goes all the way back to when I was in high school. I delivered newspapers throughout high school. I worked for the student newspaper and when I was making my choice of colleges, I could have gone to a couple of liberal arts schools or I ended up at Western Kentucky University because of their journalism program. And I made the decision then, that's what I wanted to do. And I was able to keep that career going for 20 years. First, at the Cincinnati Enquirer and then the Courier-Journal in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. And then for 13 years at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the last eight as sports editor. And during that period, I developed a relationship with the Senior VP of PR and Broadcasting from Saints, Greg Benson. And they had bought the year before, they bought the then-Hornets and they had a single staff running things. So, they wanted to get more serious about digital for the now Pelicans and the Saints. So, knowing my background in content, Greg asked me to come on board. 

Stephanie Cox: Well, that is a super interesting story, going all the way back to high school. So, now you're at the Saints and Pelicans. So, tell me a little bit about what you're responsible for there. 

Doug Tatum: Yeah, we cover the teams like any media outlet and the external media outlet that would cover them. So, all the games, so we're responsible for game coverage. We have more than 100 games that we practice. And then, we do a lot of branded content plays for our sponsors. So, we're a combination news organization and creative agency. And then, our primary distribution channels are our owned and operated websites and we have mobile apps for each team. And then our big advantage in our marketplace is the reach of our social media platform. So, if you combined up all our followers in the Saints and the Pelicans, we have more than 11 million. So, I describe ourselves all the time as the largest media company in Louisiana, based on social media reach. 

Stephanie Cox: If I'm hearing you correctly, you're like your own media publication for the team. So, it's really this great combination between the journalism that you've done for 13 years previously and then really taking that and combining it with what a lot of other NFL teams do from a digital perspective, but really taking it to the next level. Would you agree?

Doug Tatum: I mean, historically newspapers and TV stations, the national media outlets have monetized coverage of pro and college teams. And the teams and the schools themselves stayed out of it. Going back with some teams as far as 20 years ago, they decided they should get in the content business. And if somebody wanted to see ads connected to the teams, they go to property owned by the teams to see that. So now, every team, I can't think of one that doesn't treat digital media and getting eyeballs to their own properties is a very, very high priority.  

Stephanie Cox: When you first came into the team, how did you think about it just really the strategy behind what you're going to do and identifying some of the areas where you wanted to make some enhancements? 

Doug Tatum: That was hard. After being a journalist for 20 years is really stepping and at one shop for 13, switching over to a new establishment was difficult. And there are so many things to tackle. It's hard to decide what to make a priority, but really the first, the two biggest things I did in that first year was we launched a mobile app for the New Orleans Saints in July one month after I started. And we launched the mobile app in October for the Pelicans. So, we were a little behind the times on getting a mobile app into the marketplace. But those are two of the most important things I've probably done to date. It's now the Saints app is closing in on six hundred thousand downloads and we have annual unique users of about a quarter-million. And our Pelicans app is approaching 100,000 downloads. It's about 30,000 unique users each year. So getting those up and running, I thought were the two biggest priorities I had.  

Stephanie Cox: That sounds like a big challenge to come into and something that you've been able to solve. So, tell me a little bit about what you've seen since you started coming in and making those changes. 

Doug Tatum: Well, I mean specifically in mobile, the consumption of content on mobile devices has grown exponentially. Probably 80 percent of our traffic on New Orleans Saints related is done via a phone. About 75 percent on Pelicans is via a mobile device. So, that's just growing. Every year, it goes more and more and the trick we have here in the office is, we all do our jobs in the desktop environment, just because it's more efficient that way. We always have to stop and look and say, alright let's check this out on our phone.  How does it look on our phone? How does it display on our phone? Making sure that we're checking both Android and iOS operating systems because there's differences between the two. So, the dependence on mobile has just grown exponentially since 2013 when I got started. 

Stephanie Cox: How do you think about constantly evolving what you're doing and pushing it to the next level?  

Doug Tatum: Well, we're happy to steal good ideas. We actively monitor other teams. There's 32 teams in the NFL, there's 30 in the NBA. People in the office who are Major League Baseball fans, I've asked them to pay attention to what MLB to see what they're doing. And then what we've been trying to do in the last couple of years, is pivot a little bit and see what the big brands are doing. We're studying airplane apps right now. Delta, Southwest, pick an airline because pretty soon we're going to be using all mobile ticketing to get into our two buildings. So, we're going to be pivoting a little bit. Our apps primarily had been content and stat driven, access the information you need about the game and stats from the game, and access to information about the team. Pretty soon, they're also going be the primary device for entry into our buildings. So, we're trying to study the airline experience, which you basically use to get onboard the plane. And to see what lessons we can learn and the user experience and how we could modify what we're doing to make it really, really simple for fans to access your tickets and get into our games. And then once they're in, all right, then it becomes more of a stat and content-driven and maybe in-seat ordering or whatnot for your full experience. So, down the line within a year, we hope by the time, from when you leave your house or when you get home, you've been using our app nonstop. 

Stephanie Cox: I love to hear you talk about like ordering from your seat and things like that because that's really taking it to the next level. 

Doug Tatum: With the legalization of gaming coming across the line, there's a lot of talk about predictive gaming in real-time during games. That would all be app-driven. There is just so much you can do, once you get people to make the adoption and get them to take up that space on their phone. 

Stephanie Cox: As you think about fan engagement, what kind of feedback, and how do you get from your fans? 

Doug Tatum: Actually, we just had a meeting before this call about setting up a survey that we're going to be sending out to all of our people in our database, both for the Saints and the Pelicans, asking them those questions. It's about 20 different questions about each specific app. So, we can get some data there. We have mechanisms where people can report information or lodge a complaint or something or social media. But people are more likely to delete the app, rather than to complain about it. So, we're going to actively go out with the survey and then we might set up some tables at our venues and just see if we can get people to talk to us about. 

Stephanie Cox: When you think about your apps in general, obviously with ticketing and things like that are coming down the road, which is really exciting. But in the current state when there is a lot of content delivery, have you noticed any trends with the types of content that people interact with more on the app than maybe they do on the website?

Doug Tatum: Our stat features are more popular on the app than what we have on the websites. But everything else, video consumption, photo consumption, article consumption is pretty similar. The difference is for our mobile web and our desktop, we're using social media to drive people to that content on the app. It's primarily push notification and then just hopefully if people have adopted checking in and opening up and seeing what we have as part of their daily behavior. A lot of what we've been trying to do is modify people's daily habits to make sure they're including if they're a fan of the Saints, that they're either going to one of our mobile or desktop platforms or checking in on our app to get their fix in the Saints news. Same thing for the Pelicans.

Stephanie Cox: One of the things I love about your background is having been a journalist, you've had exposure to content in a different way. Now, in your current role, how is content changed over the course of your career and what do you think is the biggest catalyst for you?  

Doug Tatum: So, as an old newspaper guy at the end of my career, we were starting to play around with video. We created a couple of shows, but nothing in that. And now, my life revolves around video. It's all video-driven. And we made the switch to a couple of years ago, for most of our video content to go native on the social platforms. So, the video has been for our end has been the biggest in this change. When I started, we didn't have any videographers and now we're bound to build out a department of four. And all of our social people are required to have some minimal video skills, as well. I think the biggest thing is the move from written content to video content. It's just so important with all of our partners.

Stephanie Cox: Are you seeing any trends between the length of video that people like to watch, is that specific on devices? Because I think that's a question I know I think about a lot as a marketer and as a content creator is, you know how long she makes these videos that I'm creating? Is the video on social, should that be a different length then maybe the video on a Web site? What insights do you have to share from that?

Doug Tatum: In general, we're trying to get tighter and shorter with everything we do. Completion rate is hard to get people to go to the end of your video. I was just back from an NFL meeting where we shared information that on videos of longer than five minutes, I think, on Facebook, the average watch time was 12 seconds. Which means, people are just scrolling and glancing at it, they're not really watching it. So, I think it's more about each platform, you need to have a plan and maybe your long-form videos are more for YouTube and website and app play. And your shorter ones that just need to, I like to use the term disrupt the timeline and try to get people to stop scrolling to pay attention. Those are probably more appropriate for Facebook, Twitter. And, of course, you limit the length of your video on Instagram. But, if I can add to that is to create great content and people are going to watch it. So, the Budweiser branded content play with Dwayne Wade on his retirement. I don't know if you watched it but it was over four minutes and everybody watched until the end. It was just the execution was so high. It's really about the quality of the content. You can make something long but, boy, it better be good. 

Stephanie Cox: And just to add to that I think it's, you can make something long, it better be good. But you also got to be known as a brand for making that good content.

Doug Tatum: I think one of the interesting things from our perspective, that was a branded content play by Budweiser. But you didn't see them mentioned until the end. So, if these big brands get more and more comfortable with more minimal messaging in it, I think you can see better content you create. 

Stephanie Cox: So, when you're thinking about measurement for success in your content initiatives. How do you think about what metrics you're going to attract and if something was successful versus if it wasn't?

Doug Tatum: The number one thing we try to look at is engagement. So, what's the engagement rate we've got the different platforms? I, of course, also pay attention just to the raw view numbers. And then, when we do deep reviews in the content, what was the time watched? And we are seeing, we just last year started to go more and more aggressively to YouTube to really build out that platform. And the watch times on YouTube were amazing, just amazing. So it depends on the platform, it depends on the piece of content. But, broadly, we look at engagement. So, last night was schedule release night in the NFL. So, all 32 teams release their schedule at 7:00 Central Time. And everybody comes up with a fun video, as a way to introduce the schedule plus some other content. And one of the things we looked at, our video was good. It probably wasn't the best out there, but we get a ranking of all 32 teams in terms of engagement and we were the number one team on Facebook. So, I was like wow, all right I'll take that. 

Stephanie Cox: Well, one of the things I love about last night specifically, with the schedule release. I think this is the first year that I noticed that every team was or at least every team I saw, was doing a fun video about the schedule release. 

Doug Tatum: So, I think for a while it was just the teams, we all compete amongst ourselves to see who could come up with the best content for the release. And it just seemed like this year, more of the national media paid more attention to it and shared specific videos. There were a number of Game of Thrones videos. There were a number of gamer-related videos. We leaned into our culture and did something just focused on iconic images from the French Quarter. As we, again, we just like to lean into our fan base and what makes New Orleans special. That's being the most amazing city in the United States. So, that's the approach that we took. The great thing is all of these teams are investing in digital. All of them realize the importance. So, staff sizes are growing. The quality of that staff is growing, getting better. The equipment people are using and really, the sophistication of their thinking, as well.  

Stephanie Cox: We talked a lot about some of the great things that you've done and the improvements that you've seen. Has there been anything that you've tried that you were like, I really thought this would work and it did not go as planned or it wasn't as impactful as you hoped?

Doug Tatum: My first year, we launched a game on the Pelicans app called Quest for the Coast, presented by Chevron. Chevron is really big into coastal restoration, that's an important issue for our franchise, The Pelicans. It was like a continuous running game featuring our team mascot. And it was one of the first, to me that was where games released on the team app. And I just thought, because you know I'll look around and you just see people playing games on their phone all the time. And I just thought the connection between the brand and gaming would really be a home run. And it wasn't. 

Stephanie Cox: I think we've all been there where you do something and you're so confident this is gonna work and it doesn't. And you're like, do I know what I'm doing?  

Doug Tatum: The hardest thing was the developer we went with normally would develop a standalone app for the game. And the fact that we integrated it within a team app, whose primary purpose is not gaming, proved to be difficult. So, I think that was maybe a little bit of our downfall. 

Stephanie Cox: I think that's super helpful to think about because it does go to the point around this idea that if you're an app and you're known for providing stats and content about the teams, does your audience want a game in that app or would they rather have a game that's more standalone? When you think about just mobile, in general across not just apps, but the web and even social. How do you think about mobile with fans that are, even at home on game day, in the stadium on game day, pre-season all those things? Where does mobile play in your overall strategy? 

Doug Tatum: We think about is that is the device. People are going to have with them from the moment they pull out of the driveway to head to one of our stadiums until they pull back in. So, on game day specifically, we create content to reach them and what impacts them on their journey. So, a couple of years ago, we started doing traffic updates. We're not a TV station or a radio station, but we wanted people to have the smoothest journey to and from our venue. So, we decided to start during traffic updates via our mobile apps with push notifications. 

Stephanie Cox: Tell me a little bit about the future of content, mobile, digital. If you have a crystal ball and we're all thinking about the next five years, what do you see happening?

Doug Tatum: I think the quality of the content is going to continue to get better and better. Where movies used to be where the great content video content was, now streaming services have all of the best content. I can't tell you the last time I went to a movie theater, probably over two years. I think the next pivot is, it's going to be even more focused on your phone, probably a little shorter. But the quality from all of the different content providers that are out there, I'm convinced is going to get better and better. Video cameras are going to get cheaper and the editing software, people will get more in-depth with. And, I mean, our goal is every single day to get just a little bit better. And I don't think our shop is that different from anybody else's. And we want to, our goal is to be able to produce network broadcasts, streaming service quality content, if we can, on a daily basis. That's hard to achieve right now, but everybody is really, really focused on getting better and better. You've got Apple entering the content game now. Disney getting serious on the streaming services. ESPN+. It's never been a better time to be a content creator because there are so many people hungry for that content. And the primary viewing mechanism five years from now is going to be on a mobile device. 

Stephanie Cox: It's just an interesting dynamic that we're going to see and I'm curious to see what the future holds.

Doug Tatum: I think the quality of the content is gonna be super, super compelling. It's not just going to be big production outfits that are going to be able to produce high-quality shows or one-off videos. It's not just going to be some agency that would charge your brand a million dollars to create something. That brand is going to have their own content team that eventually is going to get good enough to match that level. 

Stephanie Cox: My conversation with Doug was full of really great nuggets of information that I think all of us can take advantage of in our business. What really struck me was how forward-thinking he is and the emphasis his team is placing on content being consumed on a mobile device. Like he said, mobile is everything they think about and that's an approach I wish more companies would start doing. So many times I talk to marketers who still treat mobile as a second-class citizen to desktop rather than realizing we live in a mobile-first world and it's time to make that evident and everything that we do Now, let's get to my favorite part of the show where we take the education and apply it to your business.

There are so many great insights from my conversation with Doug that can really help transform how you think about mobile marketing. Let's dive into my top three takeaways. First, how many times did you go and look at your direct competitors to get a sense of what they're doing from a marketing perspective? Chances are it's been a ton. Trust me, I've done it and I'm not saying it's not valuable to keep an eye on what they're doing and really have a good pulse on it, but it is a huge mistake to only pay attention to them. Instead, you need to be looking at different industries for inspiration. Take what Doug said as an example. They’re looking at the airline industry to see how mobile ticketing works for them. Is the airline industry really anything like the NFL? Well, not really unless you look at the fact that they both sell tickets, but there's a lot that Doug and team can still learn from the airline industry from examining how their user experience is for ticketing as a starting point. And I know it's in our nature to want to look at similar organizations to ours because they have a similar target audience buying process, price point, etc. But isn't there a ton that we can learn from really any industry? And at the end of the day aren’t we all just selling the people, not companies...people. It doesn't matter if you’re B2C, B2B, B2B to C, you're still having people purchase your product or service. Yet sometimes we seem to forget that and we don't look at other areas that also happen to sell to people for inspiration and that's a huge missed opportunity. 

Next, I know there are a ton of reports out there that show consumers prefer shorter video content. I cannot tell you how many times I told my team the exact same thing. Let's try making a video in 90 seconds or less or be better if it was only 60 seconds or maybe even shorter depending on the content channel. And I get it, there's truth to all that research and there's a ton of supporting data about it, that people really do want more concise content. But I think on the flip side, we still need to recognize that everyone will watch longer content as long as it's compelling and I think that's a key point that we sometimes overlook when we start thinking about video content length, instead of focusing on hitting a certain run time, why aren’t we focusing on telling a story and telling a story that our users are going to find highly engaging and then letting that story on video be as long as it needs to be? Why do we keep pushing ourselves to stay within some sort of arbitrary length if the content will drive them to watch it longer if it's good quality content? 

Finally, I think most of you would agree that video is going to continue to play a major role in a digital strategy of almost every single organization for the years to come and it's likely going to be even bigger than it is today. And that means you have to be constantly getting better at producing high-quality video content. We live in a 24/7 world where people expect information at their fingertips and so they aren’t going to wait months for you to create and release a video like we used to. Instead, you’re going to be able to enable your team to get to a point where they can produce high-quality video content on an almost daily basis and this might mean that you actually need to start requiring more people on your team to have video skills.

Now, here’s my mobile marketing challenge for the week. Take a second and think of a completely different industry than yours. Got it? Okay, I want you to spend an hour this week diving into what brands in that industry are doing from a marketing perspective. What can you learn from them? What ideas can you steal and make work for your brand? How can you be inspired by what they're doing and uses it to propel your brand forward? Take an this. I promise you you’re going to find it helpful. 

I'm Stephanie Cox and you've been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. Until then be sure to visit and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders, best practices, and all things mobile.

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