Can Sports Teams Use Animation in Content Plans to Stop Thumbs?

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Photo Credit: 2Tall Animation

Greg Walter sees animation catching on in a big way with professional sports organizations — and soon.

Walter has a vested interest in the prognostication coming true because he’s the founder of 2Tall Animation, a studio that’s created vibrant drawn work for organizations such as MLS and Bleacher Report.

As a career animator, most of his work had been with children’s programming and corporate explainers, but 2Tall started six years ago as a way to pursue more celebratory and expressive work, with a target on sports.

“Sports is an area where a couple of things are happening,” Walter said. “There is a great need for content, especially quick, snackable content to throw out there for fans that want to hang on to every word and see something different.

“People are coming around to the idea there are a lot of different things you can do to branch off the fact sports is a fun thing and also a myth-making vehicle.”

The myth-making of athletes and memorable moments makes animation an easy idea to help bring them to larger-than-life  context, Walter said.

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He has watched as overseas soccer leagues, specifically mentioning the Premier League, utilize animation in content and has wondered why U.S. leagues aren’t as adventurous. Walter hopes animators can help teams become less stagnant and formula following, believing animations can draw more fan engagement than photos and highlight videos.

“There aren’t a whole lot of teams that use their own social media to do interesting things artistically,” he said. “There is a tremendous opportunity.”

Walter is extremely happy with the animation usage of Bleacher Report, but hopes animation can stretch further than the media side.

2Tall has done work for several MLS teams and the league itself, which he said sometimes has more room to experiment with new and innovative ideas like the use of animation in digital content.

Among the pieces for the MLS included a Halloween piece with players dressed up. MLS Vice President of Content Greg Lalas said it’s important to be in the moment, whether that means thinking quickly on the fly or thinking ahead to a moment that is known to happen to provide a unique conversation piece, like Halloween.

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Sparking a conversation by being different is all about what MLS wanted to do with the animations it has done with 2Tall.

“On social, you want to stop thumbs, if you will,” Lalas said. “Most people’s feeds are filled with photos and videos and GIFs. Illustrations stand out. It’s not super unique, but it represents the kind of perspective we constantly push ourselves to experiment with.”

Lalas said it was 2Tall’s ability to capture the definitive characteristics of players — be it physical, personality or even a nickname — and transition them to ink.

Animations can be done in quick “snackable” content or full-length series. One hurdle for teams has been cost, as Walter said he believes most people are shocked at the price. He is, however, working hard at finding a way to make the prices work out and make sense for organizations by packaging content and building content so even teams with smaller budgets can make it work.

“Return on investment is all about clicks, engagements and building the brand,” he said. “If I have an example of doing something interesting and not just because it’s fun and shows a return on fan base engagement and its affinity to players, they can take notice in the currency of creative content.”

Working with an illustrator like 2Tall can be a hearty endeavor, but the differentiation the content can offer helps propel those at MLS to keep coming back. Lalas said there’s another big illustration to hit in a few weeks.

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“Illustration and animation is a really good way to mix things up,” he said. “It takes time to plan and produce a big one like the Halloween illustration, or the #MLSisBack illustrations we’ve commissioned from Elliot Gerard for several years now.

“Despite the big effort, we believe they’re worth it because they stop thumbs and they can give a little something to fans across the league.”

To get animation into a more mainstream accepted form of content and to make a leap from a digital media organization and into more established organizations, it will take a few more experimenters like MLS.

“I’m hoping there are some adventurous teams, maybe they’re doing it and I don’t know, but that we can convince to try to do some different things and it can take off,” Walter said. “If you do it with the right amount of care, you can surprise fans a little bit in an interesting way.

“Surprising people is very important when they’re used to this glut of consumable content. People can appreciate it if it’s a little bit different, as long as it’s in sync with their vision for their team.”