Agencies, Investment, Media Rights, Soccer, Europe

How Norway’s Erling Braut Haaland is boosting audiences for publisher VG

The Norwegian newspaper took what may have appeared a gamble on one of the country's rising soccer stars. However, looking into the strategy behind VG's media rights deal to show RB Salzburg matches, perhaps it was never as big a risk as it seemed.

by Matthew Rogerson
How Norway’s Erling Braut Haaland is boosting audiences for publisher VG

Erling Braut Haaland has undoubtedly been the breakout striker of the season in European soccer, but his emergence at the highest level has also been a big win for Norwegian newspaper VG.

The Norway international, son of former Manchester City and Leeds United midfielder Alfe Inge Haaland, has 27 goals in all competitions this term, with VG able to capitalise on that success not only through digital traffic and viewing figures but also increased content creation for social channels and brand positioning.

At the start of the 2019/20 season, VG purchased the rights to all Red Bull Salzburg games from Sportradar in order to show them via its VG+ streaming platform. It was a move originally planned to help boost viewing numbers for VG+ but it has also grown audiences and engagement on the newspaper’s social channels outside of traditional match times.

The move to buy rights from Sportradar was far from a ‘bandwagon jump’ for VG, according to its senior sports editor, Aslan Farshchian.

“We actually discussed these rights internally way back in February even though, at that stage, he was not featuring too much for RB Salzburg,” he said. “At that point, we decided to put the decision on hold until the summer to see if by that time he would be a regular starter.

“We then watched him play during pre-season and it became increasingly likely that he would soon feature a lot more prominently, even though nobody could have truly predicted he’d go on to have the kind of season he has had. Once I’d got in touch with Sportradar, we were quickly and easily able to come to an agreement – starting with the opening game against Rapid Vienna.”

While the move to acquire the rights was far from a gamble from VG – Haaland would still have been a popular choice for Norwegians regardless of his scoring form – the rate at which the 19-year-old has found the back of the net has paid off way more than the outlet could have possibly imagined.

Not only has it helped VG to ‘box clever’ in terms of what it gains for a relatively affordable set of media rights, it has also helped position VG+ as a live TV destination.

“We have been showing the entire season and bought the rights before he had scored a single league goal for the club but obviously no-one could have foreseen his form,” Farshchian added.

“It’s fantastic news to have the rights to show Norway’s most promising striker in a long time - or maybe ever. Not only are the figures good but having these rights gives us the opportunity to create clips and social content outside of live games, which has high value to us considering how popular Haaland is at the moment and the fact that his games are usually played at the same time as the Premier League or Norwegian Eliteserie, so therefore face a lot of competition.

“We acknowledge that we are not yet able to compete for the most sought-after rights globally, but being able to show the most exciting young striker in Europe is doing a lot to help enhance our reputation as a live TV destination.”

The question on everyone’s lips is what happens next for Haaland. Rumours swirl around possible moves to one of Europe’s elite or potentially a switch to Salzburg’s sister club, RB Leipzig.

Regardless of Haaland’s form or his next move, VG will likely have a decision to make on how it continues to tap into fans’ appetites to see Norway’s hottest prospect.

Asked if the plan will change, should Haaland’s form drop or he moves to a more lucrative league, Farshchian said: “Yes and no. If he is less prominent or newsworthy, then the coverage and front-page exposure may drop between and during games but we will still show each game.”

In terms of rights for other leagues and competitions, he continues: “It depends a lot on where he ends up and if those rights are available and within financial reach. Should he go to Manchester United, for example, well then it would be extremely interesting for us but also very expensive.”

Regardless of what happens next for Haaland, VG has already reaped plenty of reward from its shrewd acquisition of a set of rights that may not have global appeal but are primed to satisfy the appetites of a specific audience.

Summing up, Lutz Tigges, Sportradar’s senior director of audiovisual broadcast, concludes: “To an extent, VG have been fortunate with how well Haaland has done at Salzburg. However, the flip side to that, I feel, is that they’ve been rewarded for being shrewd and focused in their acquisition of rights.

“In a crowded media landscape, where margins are being squeezed and attention spans are getting shorter, the smarter, more audience-focused publishers are the ones who will succeed.”