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New FanWord Stories AI service: 'Give your athletes a voice and your staff a break'

Eric Prisbellby:Eric Prisbell08/23/23


What if someone showed you how to do your job in 20% of the time? What would that mean in terms of how you could scale your service, save man-hours and maximize efficiency?

That is the general selling point for the announcement that FanWord, a storytelling and brand development company for the NIL industry, will make on Wednesday about its new AI-powered service for the space. In short, its goal is to make it easier than ever for schools, collectives, and other organizations in the NIL space to create authentic feature stories about athletes to build and illuminate their personal brands. 

Christopher Aumueller, FanWord’s CEO and founder, told On3 this is among the first AI-powered solutions in the NIL Era.

“Give your athlete a voice and your staff a break,” Aumueller said of the service’s slogan.

With 50 overall partners, about half are partners for the company’s FanWord Stories offering, including Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kent State, SMU, Oakland and Liberty. With its traditional full-service FanWord Stories service – the company’s first-ever offering in November 2018 – the company manages the entire process, from creating athlete-focused content to publishing and promoting it. 

Humans do all the reporting and writing. It’s much like how traditional journalistic stories – like the one you’re reading – are crafted, where a reporter interviews a subject (or subjects), transcribes the interview, writes the story and then sees it undergo an editing process before publication. 

But now FanWord is introducing what it considers a significant upgrade in that process, a self-serve version: FanWord Stories AI. Important note: This is not a replacement for the company’s entirely human-driven full-service but rather an alternative or supplemental one. It will still provide full-service FanWord Stories to partners who prefer that offering.

What is FanWord’s plan with AI offering?

The AI-powered aim: Give more athletes a voice to tell their stories. To do that, AI helps streamline and significantly cut down the time it takes for athletic department staff to create content. In fact, early testing showed that the AI service enabled staff to reduce time on task by more than 80%. FanWord says athletics department staff can now create these stories themselves in a fraction of the time.

FanWord stresses that the AI service is not meant to replace human involvement – a common concern about AI across sectors. Rather, it is used in concert with human oversight to maximize efficiency.

“SIDs (sports information directors) in particular are so overworked and they work horrendous hours,” Aumueller said. “Everyone would love to do more stories, but they just don’t have the time or the resources. So we pitched it to them as a tool that empowers their staff to get more of a break to simplify their lives. And if you can tell 50 stories now, instead of maybe 20 a year where you highlight an athlete, you make (athletes) feel empowered. You make them feel more valued because you’re giving them a voice to tell their stories.”

Increasingly over the past year, AI has encroached on virtually every sector of society, provoking a mix of intrigue, skepticism and concern over unintended consequences. What it may unlock in the writing process could be profound. That’s as long as there are quality control measures and human oversight in place.

‘They read through it and they’re like, ‘Wow”

FanWord Stories AI utilizes Large Language Models (LLM), the same tech that powers OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. These LLMs use deep learning algorithms that can recognize, summarize, translate, predict and generate content using very large datasets.

FanWord, which has been engaged in discussions with a wide swath of schools across all levels, will announce a handful of beta-testing partners soon. Schools, conferences and collectives can purchase the product. 

FanWord envisions the tool being especially valuable for smaller schools with understaffed departments. The price point depends on the number of stories; FanWord said it is affordable for schools at all levels.

Broadly, concern among writers about using AI as an assistant or lead driver in the reporting and writing process is that it would lead to content devoid of voice, proper context or laden with errors. Some Gannett newspapers are running AI-generated high school football game stories this season.

As FanWord has been demonstrating the AI-generated writing process for campus administrators, once one clicks “generate draft” a 700- to 800-word story is crafted in fewer than 10-20 seconds. 

“They read through it and they’re like, ‘Wow,'” Aumueller said. “It’s a really positive response – just that emotional response.”

As FanWord has been testing the technology internally, a staff member recently relayed that a process that usually takes him upwards of four hours has been whittled down dramatically. Now, after 15 minutes, he felt he was 95% complete, pending some human editing and polishing. 

AI can get you ‘80% there in 10% of the time’

Here’s how FanWord AI’s process works: You enter details about the subject: name, email, etc. There can still be the same human interaction during the interview process with the athlete, with an interview conducted by phone, Zoom or in person.

A staff member can then upload an audio file from the interview with the athlete. FanWord is not trying to replace human interaction. Athletic department staff can also create interview questions that athletes can open through a secure link and record their responses into.

The audio file will then be automatically transcribed. Staff can edit, condense and review responses. They then select a voice. 

The technology allows the selection of multiple voices and writing styles, including the first-person narrative the company is known for. 

They also provide some guidance on the story’s contours, essentially laying out what it should be about. For instance, what is the athlete’s motivation behind her NIL strategy? What was the turning point in their college career? Who were the biggest influences on their athletic development?

“For example, ‘I’m interviewing Livvy Dunne, a gymnast for LSU, she’s a rock star with NIL. I want to write a story about her experiences with NIL. The story should focus on X, Y and Z,'” Aumueller said. “You just type in a paragraph, click ‘create.’ It will generate a draft for you, anywhere between 700 to 1,200 words.”

The AI tool then can write any number of drafts. Staff can edit the draft of choice. And the athlete can then review the drafts before the content goes live.

“We often think of AI as something that can get you like 80% there,” Aumueller said. “In 10% of the time, you can get 80% there, which is fantastic. But I think the real magic happens if you learn how to utilize it yourself either to make yourself more valuable or to streamline your processes. This is designed to streamline the entire process.”