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Bulletin length: 2,575 words – it’s an 8-minute read
Broadcast Disruptor of the week: New Mercedes F1 Head of Digital Penny Harrison
Viaplay and BT/Warner Bros. Discovery reshaping the UK rights scene
Picking over the NFL+ launch
FanDuel mulls over 24/7 ‘watch and wager’ network
MLB’s Manfred outlines frictionless broadcast ambition
Commonwealth Games broadcast briefing
Sky Sports’ Yath Gangakumaran on deep and meaningful rights holder relationships
LEADERS BROADCAST DISRUPTOR OF THE WEEK
Who? Penny Harrison What? Head of Digital, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team Why? For the past three years, Harrison has been one of the driving forces behind the launch and growth of W Series, the all-female motorsport championship, as Head of Digital and Social Media. She’s led the charge on promoting and raising awareness of drivers and the W Series’ wider mission to promote female involvement in motorsport in all areas. Now, she’s returning to F1 (she previously spent four years in McLaren’s social and digital team) as Head of Digital at Mercedes, where she’ll be leading on the next phase of the world champion’s already-sophisticated social and digital content output.
THE BIG PICTURE
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The pieces on the UK pay TV sports rights chessboard shifted again last week, with two significant moves. First, the UK competition authority approved the formation of the new joint venture between BT and Warner Bros. Discovery, which will see a new sports offering created later this year combining the best of BT Sport and Eurosport. A new, single brand is coming, but not immediately, and Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division will be the first chair of the new venture – the chair will rotate. Andrew Georgiou, who runs Eurosport as President and Managing Director for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe will lead the management and delivery.
Second, Viaplay, the Scandinavian media company until recently known as NENT, confirmed an agreement to acquire Premier Sports, a significant strengthening of its proposition ahead of its already-planned UK launch this autumn. Premier Sports has been broadcasting since 2009, rising out of the ashes of Setanta Sports GB. It has quietly picked up a number of secondary sports rights, notably LaLiga, Scottish cup football competition, the United Rugby Championship and, later this year, a share of games from the Rugby League World Cup, as well as a variety of US sports including Nascar, NHL and Major League Soccer. A press release announcing the agreement says Premier Sports currently has 220,000 paying subscribers – it also runs free service FreeSports. And, crucially for Viaplay, it has long-term, existing distribution agreements with Sky, Virgin and Amazon, something it had been lacking as it plots its own entry to the UK market. DAZN’s Ed Breeze has been picked as the company’s new Head of Sports, UK. He’ll join in October and report to Peter Nørrelund, Viaplay Group Chief Sports Officer.
It all makes the medium term picture in the UK’s pay TV sports media market somewhat clearer. Two major players in (Comcast-owned) Sky Sports and BT/Warner Bros. Discovery; a well-funded and not-to-be-underestimated insurgent in Viaplay looking to make a mark (and its existing relationship with the Premier League in Scandinavia should not be overlooked when the next rights cycle rolls around); Amazon Prime Video demonstrating a growing willingness to pick up key rights; and DAZN, currently looking to tie up a deal to acquire Eleven Sports, still somewhere on the sidelines but still keen to join the party. More options for rights holders with live sport to place, more (potential) outlay for consumers and more competition between a series of really serious media players.
EYES ON THIS – Watch how these three things develop to understand the future
Get your plus pass: It’s not an inventive name (for solid reasons) and it’s not, on the face of it, particularly innovative as far as streaming offerings go, but the speed at which the NFL has, with NFL+, turned an industry rumour into a fully-fleshed out offering for consumers is undeniably impressive. And when the NFL moves in any sphere, the rest of sport takes notice. Our colleague at SBJ, John Ourand, has some must-read analysis of the announcement here. In big picture terms, NFL+ now joins NFL Network, NFL RedZone, NFL Films, the NFL official website and the NFL app under the NFL Media umbrella, which was created in 2003. And, writing recently (before NFL+ was formally launched) in a Sports Illustrated op-ed that’s well worth your time, the league’s Chief Business and Media Officer Brian Rolapp hinted at a revamped overall offering before too long. ‘The change and consolidation occurring across the media landscape is creating opportunities for us to take NFL Media to its next stage of growth and provide fans with even greater coverage of their favourite sport. In the not-too-distant future, you will see a whole new NFL Media, allowing fans to access an even better NFL Network, NFL Films and NFL RedZone on your terms.’ The NFL has, of course, tied up its media rights for the next decade with the usual assortment of America’s biggest media networks and Amazon Prime Video. Whether the development of NFL+ over the few years – with, as Ourand suggests, the addition of exclusive live regular season games a possible first step – is such that it becomes a genuine point of leverage for the league in any future media rights negotiation is up for debate, but for now at least the NFL’s own media offering continues to all be additive to the traditional live game broadcast.
FanDuel’s next challenge: Reports from the United States at the weekend suggest that FanDuel may be on the verge of launching a new 24-hour sports network, as it looks to build out its content offering. The plan suggests FanDuel will rebrand TVG, the horse racing channel also owned by FanDuel’s parent company Flutter. Documents seen by Legal Sports Report show that the rebranding has been pencilled in for September, presumably to coincide with the start of the new NFL season. The TVG2 network will be rebranded FanDuel Racing, while the current TVG app will become FanDuel+. Talent is reportedly being recruited with the overall aim to create the first ‘watch and wager TV network in the US’. Intriguingly, FanDuel is also believed to be looking at acquiring the live rights to lesser-viewed sports from different markets – Chinese basketball and Korean football were specifically referenced in the report, as was pickleball – to broadcast overnight. Daytime programming will be more discussion-based. A FanDuel spokesperson told Legal Sports Report there were still “lots of moving parts” but the report, combined with the recent promotion of Mike Raffensperger to a newly-created Chief Commercial Officer role with responsibility for content and programming, all the signs point towards American consumers shortly having another new sports media network to choose from.
Commissioner corner: Rob Manfred, in his eighth year as Commissioner of Major League Baseball, gave a fascinating and wide-ranging interview to the Los Angeles Times recently, in which he, amongst many other things, elaborated on how he’s thinking about the future of the sports media rights market – and where it sits in his order of priorities. “If there is one thing I could wish for, more than anything else,” Manfred said, “it would be the ability to give our fans that frictionless experience of being able to watch what they want to watch, where they want to watch. There is no project that we are spending more time on in the central office.” Pressed for more, Manfred added: “There is a lot of wood to chop. It’s going to involve fundamental reordering of the control rights in this industry. It is going to involve conversations with our partners in the broadcast space, including RSNs (regional sports networks) and distributors. It’s a massive undertaking, which is the bad news. I think the good news is, there is a realisation in the industry that, in order for this business to be all it can be, we need to undertake an effort to get as close to the model you are talking about as possible.” Manfred was then asked whether it would be a five or ten year project. His answer: “It will not be a ten. It’s going to happen sooner than that.” The league’s longest current broadcast deals run until 2028.
The Commonwealth Games begin today in Birmingham,with over 5,000 athletes representing 72 nations competing at venues across the city – and beyond. There are scheduled to be 280 medal events across 20 sports – athletics, badminton, boxing, basketball, beach volleyball, cricket,cycling, gymnastics, hockey, judo, lawn bowls, netball, para powerlifting, rugby sevens, squash, swimming, table tennis, triathlon, weightlifting and wrestling.Sunset+Vineare the host broadcaster for a third successive games, providing live coverage, a 24/7 games highlights channel, a multi-channel service, plus highlights shows and additional content. David Tippett is the project director, supported by a team including long-time BBC Sport executive Dave Gordon as Head of Broadcast. The BBC and Australia’s Seven Network are the two broadcasters providing the most extensive coverage of the Games.
22 separate outside broadcasts
22 feeds required at peak
1,500 hours live coverage provided
3,300 total hours produced
1,500 broadcast production crew
In the Mixed Zone with…Yath Gangakumaran, Commerical Director, Sky Sports
You have partnerships throughout the sports ecosystem – how do you think about shared strategy with sports properties you’re investing in?
I think a lot of it is down to the relationships you have with your rights partners. Historically, relationships have been a bit more transactional. We’re definitely trying to change that at Sky Sports and you’ve seen some of the deals we’ve announced like the England cricket deal, but also the relationship with the Premier League over the last 30 years, F1 for over a decade. We’re now someone who provides more than just a cheque, as it were. They realise the coverage we provide is great and I think rights holders now realise that it’s through the screens – TV, mobile etc. – where fans are really consuming their content, and that comes through Sky Sports. It’s really important for the rights holder and the broadcast partner to be close. We have meetings with our rights partners in advance of big events to say ‘here’s what we’re looking to do and why, here’s how we’ll measure it, what are you doing and can we align?’ If you take The Open, recently, we had the leadership team from The Open come in and tell us what they wanted to achieve for the 150th Open, we did the same thing, then we aligned on our marketing plans and made sure that whenever we were doing something the other was aware of it – so we could repost an Instagram post if it made sense to, but also on the ground it very much felt like one event that was taking place and Sky Sports and the R&A were seamless partners.
In a changing media market, these media rights partnerships feel like they’re becoming deeper, more collaborative and more complicated – is that the reality?
I wouldn’t call it more complicated, but there are certainly more departments that get involved. The ECB deal is a great example of how rights holders and broadcasters can become true strategic partners. If you think of the three things that rights holders look for– revenue, reach and if they’re a governing body that has any sort of remit around participation, grassroots participation. With the England cricket deal you see England cricket’s key commercial partner paying a lot of money – tick on the revenue side; providing incredible viewer reach – I think viewer hours has gone up 73% in this latest deal, tick; and also supporting on grassroots participation, which is very important to the ECB, tick. That’s all based on us sitting down and realising we have the same shared objectives in many ways. We both want to grow England cricket. The Hundred, for example, was a really close collaboration between Sky and the ECB – I’m not sure many people are aware of that. We have Sky Labs, our innovation hub, and we spent weeks with the ECB, and people outside the cricket world actually, getting together at Sky to try and mould what The Hundred should look like – and we had an extra couple of years thanks to Covid. That led to a really successful tournament, great viewing figures and crucially brought in different audiences – and that was the ultimate objective for us, how can we diversify our audience, get more women, more families, more people from different ethnicities, younger people, interested in cricket. The numbers speak for themselves there. It’s all based on a shared strategy of we need to grow the game, because growing the game is good for them and good for us, in terms of viewership and subscriptions.
How much more challenging is to measure and track these more collaborative, multi-faceted, rights partnerships?
I think actually the closer you work with your partner, the easier it is from a data standpoint because we’re often sharing data. Often, there’s been this thing where if you’re a rights holder you want to be showing great growth from a viewership standpoint so you can ask for more money in the next deal; if you’re a broadcaster you want to show you’re supporting the growth of a sport, but there’s a part of you thinking ‘well, if I show high viewing figures, they’re going to ask for a lot more money’. Putting together a longer-term partnership based on shared objectives really helps. Because we have such a strong relationship with the ECB, we share a lot of data so, for example, of the half a million people who bought tickets to The Hundred we know what percentage are from different ethnicities, we know 30% of the ticket-buyers are female. The data collection is, I wouldn’t say easier, but I don’t think you have to fish around as hard as you would otherwise.
The full interview with Yath Gangakumaran on Sky Sports, media rights and strategic planning will be available in the coming weeks via the Leaders Sport Business Podcast feed.
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