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CrossFit Games Breaks Facebook Record by Putting Fans in Charge


In late-March, the CrossFit Games gave fans on Facebook a chance to choose what final workout to put athletes through at a qualifier tournament in Iceland. The result: the Games shattered its streaming record on Facebook, pulling in more than one million viewers and more than 300,000 comments.

For the first time ever, Dave Castro, the director of the CrossFit Games, gave viewers an option to vote on three potential options for Open Workout 18.5, the final discipline of a five-workout series that determines which athletes move forward to Regionals.

From a studio in Reykjavík at 3 p.m. local time, Castro announced the three options on the CrossFit Games Facebook page and immediately opened up voting. Two hours later, with thousands of comments pouring in and streaming numbers surging through the roof, Castro announced the results of the community vote: Open Workout 18.5 would be 11.6, a seven-minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of thrusters and chest-to-bar pull-ups.

“Our community has always been what we pride ourselves on and this was giving them a shot to feel ownership of the event, to take a small amount of control and let them leave their fingerprint on the event,” says Justin Bergh, the general manager of the CrossFit Games.

The engagement numbers were significant. The broadcast generated 316,395 comments while live, up from an average of just 5,361 live comments during the previous four Open workout announcements. More than 38% of viewers who watched at least one minute of Open Workout 18.5 left a comment while the broadcast was live. And viewers who left a comment tended to stay on the feed for longer, an average of 12.5 times longer. More than one million people tuned into the broadcast overall, two-times the 493,887 average of the previous four Open workout broadcasts.  

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The CrossFit Games announced a streaming partnership with Facebook a year ago. Since then, the CrossFit Games have leveraged Facebook to reach a record number of fans. Now, the companies are eyeing new technologies to enhance the experience for fans further, including virtual reality and 360-video.

“I really like the idea of a more virtual experience,” says Bergh. “We’re unique in the way we cover our sport. It allows unique access to athletes and highlights, and it will enable us to create a unique VR experience for fans.”

While still in its early stages, the CrossFit Games might eventually use VR to bring fans behind the scenes, into warm-up areas, and in the center of the action during top heats.

“Imagine going behind-the-scenes at Game 7 (of the NBA Finals) and seeing LeBron James,” said Bergh. “Our fans can have that with Mat Fraser and Tia-Clair Toomey (the fittest man and woman on Earth) and have the same type of unrestricted access to view what’s going on.”

The CrossFit Games take advantage of the real-time nature of Facebook by asking athletes fan questions during competitions and gauging fan reactions based on emojis and comments. With virtual reality, Bergh says, they can engage users further by bringing them more intimately into the action.  

This weekend will cap off Regionals, with overall winners qualifying for the Games in August. Facebook Watch has livestreamed every minute of the action, which by the end of this weekend will have included 81 Regional livestreams (nine per host city) in total.

SportTechie Takeaway

Professional sports leagues have been experimenting with ways to bring fans closer to the action with virtual reality. While streaming and VR technologies can enhance the fan experience across a spectrum of sports, they’re especially useful when fans are spread throughout the world.

CrossFit isn’t a city-based team sport, and therefore can benefit from streaming and VR technologies that provide a unique experience to fans who might never be able to attend a championship in person. The NBA, which has the biggest global fan base of the four major pro sporting leagues in the U.S., has been similarly experimenting with virtual reality to engage fans abroad.



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