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Capitals’ newest skill? Amazon’s Alexa

Capitals’ newest skill? Amazon’s Alexa

By Ian Thomas, Staff Writer

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The Washington Capitals will become the first professional sports team to release its own Alexa skill, providing fans with a customized experience through Amazon’s voice-controlled smart speakers.

Alexa, the digital personal assistant featured on Amazon’s Echo devices, comes with basic ways to retrieve sports information, but is limited to providing results, next scheduled game and standings.

Users have two ways to receive more information. One is via flash briefings, which allows Alexa to read back to you a recorded update from a specific source. ESPN, Fox Sports Radio and others have flash briefings that will read back the latest sports news. The more in-depth option is with an Alexa skill, perhaps best compared to a third-party app on a smartphone. By downloading a skill, Alexa will then be able to respond to other, more specific programmed commands.

Capitals fans will be able access news and stats updates and audio content through Alexa.
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James Heuser, director of digital media for the Capitals, said that while he had his own Alexa-enabled device and was curious about the opportunity for sports with the technology, he was unsure how many Capitals fans had the device. Amazon does not publish sales figures, but it was estimated in May that it had sold more than 10 million Alexa-enabled devices since launching in 2014.

The Capitals ran some informal polls of listeners of its TuneIn Radio channel — also available on the device — and found a bit of a footprint. In May, marketing firm The Outcast Agency released data that suggested the Capitals were the fourth-most-asked-about NHL team on the Amazon devices, with Alexander Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie both in the top 10 among NHL players.

Working with Washington, D.C.-based Interactive Strategy Labs, with whom the team also developed a Facebook Messenger bot, Heuser and Capitals staff will launch the skill this week, ahead of the team’s first game Oct. 5.

The skill, which will be called “Capitals,” will respond to basic commands such as “Alexa, ask Capitals when is the next game,” or “Alexa, ask Capitals how many goals does Ovechkin have,” and will have the latest news from the Capitals’ website.

It also will have a daily update from radio play-by-play announcer John Walton, who will provide a recap on the previous night’s game, the one ahead or a storyline around the team based upon when it’s recorded. It also will become a hub for some of the other audio content the Capitals digital team captures, such as interviews, and will allow direct access to the Capitals’ radio stream.

Heuser said it will be programmed with a few fun features as well. By telling it that the Capitals just scored, the device will play the team’s goal horn and light up. If you tell it to “unleash the fury,” it will play an audio clip from the movie “Road Trip” that is often featured during Capitals games.

“We view it as an extension of the team information and content that we put out on social and digital media,” Heuser said. “A lot of our video projects are pushed out on social channels, but we still see a lot of engagement with our podcasts and other audio content that we do. The projected potential audience for voice-activated products is huge, so we see a lot of opportunity to be one of the first to try it.”

According to Heuser, the Capitals will be the first sports team to launch its own skill. The Golden State Warriors are the only other North American pro team with its own flash briefing, he said, while Premier League clubs Arsenal and Swansea have flash briefing listings in the Alexa Store. Many other teams have unofficial flash briefings listed as well.

When the skill launches, there won’t be sponsored content on it, but Heuser said there is the ability to have “presented by” taglines akin to podcasts, or to have flash briefings that are sponsored by a team partner. However, because of how Amazon tracks and shares information about Alexa usage, the Capitals will only know how many people downloaded the skill, not how many actively use it or how often it is used.


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