FIBA Partners with Spalk to crowd-source sports commentary

This article first appeared on Forbes here.

Have you ever put on the TV to watch a highly anticipated sports match, only to find out that the commentator that you don’t like was calling the game? You probably felt that it ruined the broadcast, or at least made the game less enjoyable than it could have been. Did you feel like you could do a better job, or wish that you could call the game yourself?

For the U19 Basketball World Cup, sports fans got just that opportunity.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) partnered with crowd-sourced sports commentary startup Spalk to give fans the opportunity to call games in the World Cup. The international competition took place from July 1st through July 9th in Cairo, Egypt and saw Canada come away with the gold medal as they beat Italy in the championship.

Amateur and professional sportscasters interested in calling the games were able to do so by signing up for an account on Spalk and picking the games they wanted to commentate on. It didn’t take much to get started. The only equipment required was the following:

  • Laptop with google chrome
  • Stable internet connection
  • Free Spalk account
  • External microphone (optional)

As a direct result of the partnership, 200 people signed up to the platform to add their commentary to the broadcast. The additional coverage provided viewers with more customization to their sports viewing experience.

Through Spalk, viewers could flip through commentary options and choose the one that best fit them. Like commentary driven by numbers? Prefer to listen to your native language? No problem. Users could customize the broadcast based on things such as style, language and bias.

For international competitions, such as this one, culture is central to the occasion. The involvement of countries from around the world and people from different backgrounds, places increased importance on options. A one-size fits all approach to broadcasting isn’t going to be relevant to all fans. By crowd sourcing sports commentary, it brings more diverse perspectives and appeals to a greater audience—resulting in a better broadcast.

FIBA’s experiment with using Spalk to augment coverage of the U19 World Cup got this right.

An example of the power of the partnership is the coverage of Team USA’s game against Italy—which attracted over 700k viewers worldwide. Spalk had 8 commentary options for the game, ranging from professional basketball commentators to an Italian fan who signed up just before the game and did the commentary in Italian.

Although, the USA/Italy game received the most coverage, it extended through much of the tournament. Of the 56 games played, there were 93 commentaries on 30 games.

Screen shot of the Facebook Live stream of the U19 World Cup Championship game between Canada & Italy Photo provided by Spalk

Screen shot of the Facebook Live stream of the U19 World Cup Championship game between Canada & Italy

The coverage didn’t only benefit the fans who watched the games, but also the ones who commentated.

Spalk estimates that of those on the platform, around 10% are traditional professional sportscasters, 40% are sports bloggers and the remaining are amateurs interested in sports broadcasting. Calling the games gave commentators more exposure—especially for the previously unknown talent.

“Our content partners have seen increases as high as 10x in their audience size and we average somewhere around a 70% increase,” said Ben Reynolds, Co-Founder & CEO of Spalk.

For the commentators fortunate enough to be published to FIBA’s Facebook Live stream, they didn’t just gain access to a few more potential viewers but a few million more. FIBA has 3.5 million followers on Facebook. Access to a potential audience of that size presents a great opportunity for commentators to be discovered and grow their audiences.

Should FIBA partner with Spalk in the future, commentators will have more opportunities to get in front of that audience. Early results from the tournament have proven to be encouraging.

Nicolas Chapart, Head of Digital at FIBA, believes Spalk and the commentators played a key role in the success of the tournament.

“Our first collaboration with Spalk has been extremely positive so far. More than 4 million people have tuned in to watch the Group Phase games and having fans commentating the games has greatly contributed to this success,” Chapart said.

The U19 Basketball World Cup is just the beginning.

FIBA streams over one thousand games a year—most of which have no commentary, or limited commentary.

By partnering again in the future, FIBA and Spalk, can continue to bring international basketball fans a more customizable live sports experience through crowd-sourced sports commentary.