Tapping into talent: FIS on building a new fanbase through athlete-driven content and social media interaction  

FIS, the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, launched FIS TV in August 2023 for the Park and Pipe Junior World Championships in Cardrona, New Zealand. Less than one year on and the channel is growing rapidly, with the federation tapping into athlete-created content to pull new audiences from social media to the over the top (OTT) streaming channel, as well as its rights holders’ linear content.

Benjamin Stoll, director of digital and innovation at the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, says: “We are very, very happy with the progress for FIS TV. This was a first year as a soft launch and providing this as a platform to the fans, but also to the national associations and the athletes, because one thing we see is that there’s a shift of behaviour and value, especially in the younger audiences so we need to create appealing content for new global fans.

“We want to bring videos from the snow sport world and from our competitions to as many people as possible in the most seamless way. So we are completely maximising reach here with no access walls, registration walls or paywalls at the moment. These are capabilities that we can pull up if we have to, but at the moment it’s a pure audience development play.”

“The idea is also to create this as a service so that we can reach new audiences, retain those audiences, create a relationship, and then together with the broadcasting partners promote where they can actually watch the live competitions,” continues Stoll. “And if there are dark markets where there is no live competition, then of course we want to promote FIS TV as a place where you can watch the competitions as well.”

Feeding social media

FIS TV is produced by an inhouse team with support from Infront on the content production and orchestration dimenision and Endeavour Streaming as a video experience and OTT platform provider. FIS TV is feeding into the federation’s social media channels, which in turn are bringing in new and younger audiences.

Notes Stoll: “What we’ve also implemented, and that’s why it’s so important to not only think about FIS TV as a walled garden and force people to come to FIS TV, is we have existing channels and communities on YouTube where we will also provide the respective videos.

“At the same time we have completely customised our video strategy to the different channels. So we are active on YouTube, X, Facebook, TikTok and on Instagram, and we’ve implemented a vertical video strategy where we’ve seen massive reach and engagement across all the respective channels.

Benjamin Stoll, FIS

“We’ve collected all the numbers over the different channels and each channel – each community – has growth rates in double digits. That’s something we’ve never had before, and that’s a result of our new content strategy.”

FIS has some 2.5 million followers across all discipline channels, up 37% compared to the previous season, a total reach of 506 million (+76% YoY) and 20 million interactions (+45%). It is enjoying especially strong numbers on ski jumping, having increased the reach on Instagram for ski jumping this season by almost 300% to 54.1 million and from 490,000 views to 15.6 million on YouTube. The increase in reach and interactions on the FIS ski jumping channels is the biggest growth achievement across all disciplines.

Stoll also reveals that 50% of the audience on TikTok is younger than 24 years old and per post on TikTok FIS reaches an average 140,000 video views, generating more than 24 million views this season.

Producing content in a format suitable for the different channels is an important consideration for FIS. Stoll explains: “In particular we acknowledge that we need to produce dedicated content for the dedicated channels. So, for instance, a highlight video on Instagram as an Instagram reel in 9:16, we produce completely differently compared to a highlight video with commentary on FIS TV and YouTube.

“At the same time also what we have learned – what’s important to us – is that we want to create better products in a faster way. So the faster we can produce commented highlights after our competition, the better the service is for everyone. And that is indeed something which we can offer to global fans.”

Athletes and fans

On fans, FIS is working to satisfy its existing ‘super fans’, however most of those are focused on linear broadcasts. The push on digital is more towards new and younger fans, Stoll says. “We are really after new fans, especially younger fans, global audiences, and that’s where we are really looking into which type of content we need to produce in order to attract those audiences.

“Here we are looking into partners and new series that are much more playing on entertainment, on really showcasing faces and insights and behind the scenes for the respective athletes, because what we need to acknowledge is that across most of our sports, it’s hard on TV to recognise the athletes because they are wearing helmets and goggles.”

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The athletes themselves are key to building these new audiences. He explains: “Via a lot of surveys and research, we’ve recognised across all of our sports that the relation to the sports is first and foremost through athletes.

“We are working very closely with the athletes in order to create athlete-led narratives, so doing a lot of account takeovers where the athletes are basically creating content for our channels, and then also doubling down on formats that we create in order to produce profiles, and spreading those then from FIS TV across more short-form oriented channels like a TikTok as well.”

“Living in the age of global entertainment feeds/platforms and the respective distribution, it’s absolutely a cornerstone for us to introduce the athletes and their stories and their uniqueness to global audiences in order to bring more people into our sports and create relationships,” continues Stoll. “Then hopefully [that will] drive [audiences] towards watching the sports live either on site or via our broadcasting partners. And if there are none, we are trying to offer the live streaming experience via FIS TV and our mobile app as well.”

Content creators

FIS works with content creators on generating content for FIS TV and its social media channels wherever possible, and it plans to make this content also available to rights holders in the future.

Notes Stoll: “We have four remote content coordinators that produce the content, and to a wider extent we also work on the ground [at competitions] where we capture the content via mobile phones, and out of that produce dedicated mobile-first content formats.

“Here for the first time we’ve been deeply plugging into archive content as well and we’ve seen some crazy engagement, [which has also been useful] to promote upcoming World Cups.

“We generated a reach of 19 million with 163 archive posts across all FIS disciplines. For alpine we shared 55 archive content pieces to create anticipation for various upcoming World Cup events and generated a reach of 14.4 million.”

“This was really, really great,” Stoll goes on. “Also, learning how we create products for 16:9-oriented channels like FIS TV and YouTube, and at the same time with our vertical video strategy where we are producing 9:16 as Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and for TikTok.

“Here one of the core elements is a content exchange hub that we have established in order to work together with the athletes and national associations, to really have an editorial plan and work together with the athletes on what type of content we will generate, then collaborate with the athletes, ask them for their contribution and then do compilations together with them.”

FIS TV is available on Apple TV and Android TV.

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