There’s an emerging trend among the powerhouse schools of the NCAA: digital streaming platforms dedicated to university-specific content, much of it highlighting their athletic teams. Like Netflix and Disney+, these platforms can be streamed by fans willing to pay a monthly subscription fee for original, exclusive shows that offer behind-the-scenes insights on some of their favorite teams.
The University of Arkansas’ “Hogs+” and the University of Connecticut’s “UCONN+” are two recent examples. While prominent conferences have been broadcasting their own networks for much of the last decade (ACC Network, SEC Network, etc.), the move to university-specific platforms is more likely to be felt by coaches and student-athletes. These digital networks offer athletic departments the unique opportunity to develop, broadcast, and monetize original content. Content that is much more in-depth and personal and allows everyday fans to get to know the players and coaches like never before.
This development brings promise of generating increased demand for sports that have traditionally been relegated to the “non-revenue” label (i.e., most women’s and Olympic sports). A feature recently run by the Wall Street Journal notes several examples of universities that have seen increases in live attendance at women’s basketball, soccer, and softball games after launching their own digital platforms. In the case of Arkansas’ softball program, a local car dealership signed the entire team to an endorsement deal after an interview with a prominent player, that had been produced for Hogs+, went viral.
In this new age of college sports with name-image-and-likeness (NIL) restrictions removed (thus allowing athletes to accept paid sponsorships), a university’s ability to launch its own digital platform is yet another advantage the top of the top schools will have in attracting elite recruits. It’s a safe bet that more and more universities will join in on this trend in the coming years.
What does this mean for coaches?
There are reasons for coaches to be excited about these developments; what coach wouldn’t want the potential for their teams to get more visibility and financial support? However, they should also be aware and prepared for new challenges that may come with the use of these platforms. Two in particular come to mind.
First, there’s the challenge of how this might contribute to student-athletes’ identity formation. Athletes, and particularly high-performing collegiate athletes, are already at risk for identity foreclosure, or the development of an identity that is narrowly focused on who they are as an athlete and lacks the further depth and exploration that would normally be seen with healthy identity development. As we discuss in the Coaching the Whole Athlete program, athletes with identity foreclosure are vulnerable to intense emotional turmoil when faced with challenges like injury or transitions like graduation or retirement. How does this relate to streaming platforms? On one hand, content developed for these platforms can provide another side of the student-athlete experience and help fans see the individual in their entirety, not just who they are on the field or the court. On the other hand, this additional avenue for fame and recognition may add incentive for student-athletes to lean more heavily into their sport identity and less into academics, cultivating other interests or exploring who they are outside of athletics. If this proves to be true, it will be even more important for coaches to be aware of identity foreclosure, its negative outcomes, and how to help prevent it.
The second challenge this additional recognition may bring is amplification of athletes’ extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation isn’t bad, so long as it doesn’t take away from the development of intrinsic motivation. Thirsting for the glory of winning can help an athlete succeed, but developing a deep love for the sport will take that athlete further in their sport as well as better teach them lessons about success that are transferable to life beyond sport. Intrinsic motivation is a core topic of the Coaching the Whole Athlete program and a favorite among many participants who benefit from understanding how coaches’ actions can hinder or nurture their athletes’ internal drive and self-determined behaviors. As student-athletes navigate social media, the new NIL landscape, and now opportunities for greater celebrity through content on digital platforms, these coaching skills are becoming all the more needed.
What do you think? We’d love to hear from coaches, administrators, or athletes about any experiences they may already have with the growth of streaming platforms and associated content. Or about the challenges and opportunities they anticipate from this new trend in NCAA sports.
By Madison Granger