It may be logical to assume that Covid-19 is the sole cause of sports broadcasting disruption with the loss of or restricted fan-participation live games, but in reality, it has merely accelerated the process of change needed for sport to adapt.
With more and more content being consumed online, simply live streaming marquee events on Facebook or YouTube isn’t enough. Leagues and federations need to fundamentally shift how they engage with fans from just linear broadcast to a blended online or all online and offline model that reflects their, and their fans’, needs. It’s especially important to consider such steps now as returning to stadia on mass–with the associated ticket, and merchandising sales is not likely to return in the near future.
That’s not to say that sport should be moved wholesale online and away from linear TV. It requires a nuanced approach that enables each federation and league to develop their own system that works for them and their fans.
The International Hockey Federation (FIH), for example, has taken a dynamic approach. Alongside its existing relationships with broadcasters around the world, it launched Watch.Hockey–the digital home of hockey earlier this year. While fans worldwide can connect with the service, geo-locking in certain countries means those who have bought the rights to broadcast matches won’t lose out on revenue.
Additionally, an online pay-per-view (PPV) model can be implemented to co-exist with broadcasters so they can cater for those fans who may not have access to the broadcast or would prefer a streaming alternative. Such a setup potentially enables a more extensive global reach for every sporting body, creating three key benefits for sports.
However, moving distribution online isn’t enough. Fans are craving as real an experience as possible, even if they can’t attend in person, meaning leagues and federations need to create homes for their sports – virtual environments where they can engage with fans directly. Launching such as service, as FIH has done, delivers three key benefits for sporting bodies.
In a traditional model, sports sell their rights to media organisations for them to distribute. However, such a setup means those organisations own all of the engagement with fans, including knowing their favourite teams and surrounding interests.
Having a ‘home of sport’ – as FIH has done with its Watch.Hockey app and website – is a crucial mechanism to regain that direct contact with fans. Giving them a central point to access and share highlights, stats, and more can help leagues reconnect with their fans and even help new ones discover the sport too. It has also enabled FIH to gain control over some of its rights and focus on distributing its content in ways that can yield greater benefit by going direct to the market in a variety of models.
Distributing live sports online via a home for that sport also opens up opportunities to explore new ways of connecting fans with the game. For example, that could include enabling them to dynamically shift between camera angles on a whim or instantly bring up stats on a specific player–all of which drives greater engagement and integration with the sport. It means that, even when normal seating numbers in stadia are possible again, the engagement levels for those who can’t make it will still be there.
Sport is no longer just about selling rights for fans to watch a live event; there is vast potential for federations and leagues to identify new revenue opportunities. Many fans still want to demonstrate their affiliations, even if they can’t physically attend the events, creating prospects to develop dedicated online stores that derive revenue directly from consumers rather than via third parties.
There are also opportunities to develop business relationships with advertisers and sponsors, creating entirely new revenue streams by going direct to consumer. And for those federations that choose to, they can charge for access to the league, a game, or even just the highlights that fans specifically want to watch as the National Basketball Association (NBA) did with its quarter-by-quarter pricing option.
Harness data insights
One of the most significant benefits of having a mechanism that enables direct connection with fans is the resulting data that becomes available and the analysis that can be performed accordingly. With such insight, it’s possible to learn what content is most engaging or where and when consumers connect with the service, for example, and use that to continuously improve the platform, ensuring that it is always performing at its best.
It can also create further revenue opportunities with advertisers. By demonstrating the fanbase’s engagement and value to advertisers, federations can sell their inventory at higher premiums.
While it may be some time until sport around the world returns to pre-Covid levels, there are no technology barriers for federations and leagues to maintain and grow their fanbases and develop new revenue streams by gaining tighter control over their rights. Fans were looking for ways to watch live sport how and where they wanted long before the pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated that demand, so federations and leagues can look closely at how they are able to augment their offer, keep consumers happy and grow revenue now and in the future.
About the author: Anthony Smith-Chaigneau serves as NAGRA's senior director of product marketing.
A leading evangelist for digital and interactive television, he is recognized as a major contributor to the world’s interactive TV business, having held several senior management roles in leading digital TV companies since 1999 including Advanced Digital Broadcast, Osmosys and Alticast as well as at the DVB Consortium where he was responsible for the market implementation of DVB Specifications.
Anthony Smith-Chaigneau spent 15 Years in the Royal Air Force where he was educated in Telecommunications, Electronics and Avionics, and is a seasoned speaker and spokesperson in the pay-TV and OTT space.