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Bulletin length: 2,258 words – it’s an 8-minute read
Broadcast Disruptor of the week: Nike Virtual Studios’ Ron Faris
Genius move as the data giants hone in on production
Taking stock of the NFL’s potential new streaming product
The strategy behind Viaplay’s UK sports move
FIBA and Two Circles changing the approach for federations
Children’s media use examined by UK regulator
Digital Galactico Russell Stopford explains his move to Stadion
LEADERS BROADCAST DISRUPTOR OF THE WEEK
Who? Ron Faris What? VP/GM Nike Virtual Studios, Nike Why? Nike executive Faris has just started in his new role at the sportswear giant, leading its new Nike Virtual Studios division. Originally announced in January, the studios will operate at arm’s length from Nike, working on developing the company’s future Web3, metaverse and blockchain-based experiences. ‘Creative hubs’ are being built in Los Angeles and New York. The move follows Nike’s recent acquisition of the RTFTK agency. Nike has turned to Faris, who previously was Global VP of its SNKRS digital platform, NBHD lifestyle brand and S23NYC Digital Studio businesses to oversee the launch. “Now, we get to build a new division at the company that can redefine how to build authentic communities for those most passionate about our brand”, Faris wrote in a LinkedIn post confirming he’d started his new role. “Our team will pioneer new blockchain, Web3 and metaverse experiences that will shape how creators and collectors gather, share their passion, and benefit alongside Nike in both the physical and virtual worlds. And we’ll do it in a way that makes this technology more accessible to everyone, especially to those in our underserved communities.” Nike says 6.7 million people have visited its metaverse store, Nikeland, in the five months since it opened on Roblox. Overall, Nike Digital now represents 26% of the company’s total revenue.
THE BIG PICTURE
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It may not have been the partnership that garnered the most headlines over the past few weeks, but data giant Genius Sports’ expanded deal with AI streaming specialists Pixellot could just be the one with the most far-reaching implications. Genius has signed an exclusive streaming distribution partnership, granting it the rights to distribute Pixellot’s AI-powered streaming technology to over 100 competitions, leagues and events around the world.
In essence, the partnership means Genius is now able to offer leagues – especially smaller and emerging leagues – a lower cost, automated production, broadcast and clipping solution, potentially as part of an exchange for streaming and data rights.
The two companies have been working together since 2020 with rights holders including the Argentine Football Association, the Croatian Basketball Federation and the Israeli Basketball Association, with the new partnership described as a ‘a major expansion…providing leagues and federations at all levels of sport with the tools to expand their global audience, enhance performance levels and drive new revenues’.
Just like the betting operators further along the food chain, the industry’s data giants, notably the likes of Genius and Sportradar, are increasingly turning to content as a way to drive expansion, and to build and attract new business. A substantial move towards controlling and owning the production of more leagues in more sports, at all levels, seems like a smart way to continue doing just that.
EYES ON THIS – Watch how these three things develop to understand the future
Plus points: It was probably only a matter of time, but last week’s reports that the NFL is in the early stages of developing its own mobile streaming service are – thanks to the league’s lofty status in the world of sport – significant. According to reporting by The Athletic, the service has been given the working title ‘NFL Plus’ and will aggregate content produced in multiple formats, including podcasts and radio, created by teams as well as centrally by the league itself – it’s thought any service would likely take several cues from the NFL’s Game Pass international product, although it remains unclear whether live rights will be part of the service. NFL owners were reportedly briefed on the project by the league at recent meetings in Florida, including a US$5 per month price point. “The theme here is that over the next couple of years, you’re going to see the NFL get into direct-to-consumer in a much bigger way,” Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s Chief Media and Business Officer, told our colleagues at Sports Business Journal. The backdrop to any streaming product launch are the new NFL media rights deals the league struck last year with CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and Amazon, which run from 2023 until 2033, and its continuing efforts to sell a stake in its NFL Media business, which includes NFL Network, its RedZone programming and the league’s official website.
NENT to be: Regular readers will be aware of Nordic broadcaster Viaplay’s entry into several new European markets – parent company NENT has bold plan to be active in at least 16 countries by the end of 2023, with a view to having 12 million subscribers by the end of 2025. Now, Viaplay has confirmed that its proposed UK launch – likely to be later this year – will include live sports, following a model it is already adopting across the Nordic and Baltic regions, Poland and the Netherlands. In the UK, Viaplay plans to ‘develop a broad offering in the UK over time that combines live sports with premium original Nordic content and more’. The initial batch of rights include the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships between 2024 and 2028, ISU figure skating and speedskating from 2023 to 2028, various EHF Handball events between 2022 and 2030 and the Champions Hockey League until 2027/28. Through its aggressive expansions and rights acquisitions elsewhere, NENT has already proved it is willing to spend big on rights where needed; as it makes an impact across Europe, could a pan-continental bid for the Olympic Games – rights held until 2024 by Discovery – be out of the question?
Courtside feats: Quietly but effectively, FIBA, the international governing body for basketball, has been building a reputation as the most innovative and forward-thinking of federations, when it comes to content creation, distribution and media. And that despite operating largely in the shadow of the NBA, widely recognised as the most cutting-edge of cutting-edge rights holders. A year on from its partnership with Twitch, a deal which notably saw it make official FIBA footage available to Twitch creators to allow them to produce content in a truly authentic way, the organisation has announced it is teaming up with Two Circles to form a direct-to-consumer ‘strategic venture’. At the heart of the partnership will be a new brand, Courtside 1891, which will aggregate scores, streams and schedules from basketball leagues around the world, making good on FIBA’s mandate to promote and grow the sport in all corners of the world. In a typically colourful Two Circles press release announcing the news, the agency said it will represent a ‘bold and innovative departure from the typical digital offerings of sports federations’. As strategic ventures go, this one will be worth watching.
In its latest report, Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, has revealed that YouTube is the online platform used most widely by children aged 3-17, with 89% saying they use it. Although only half of children currently use TikTok, that platform is more popular for posting content. The wide-ranging report also said a majority of children under 13 had their own profile on at least one social media app, despite a general age limit of 13. 33% of parents of 5-7 year olds and 60% of parents of 8-11 year olds said their child had a profile. The report draws on Ofcom’s Children’s and Parents’ Media Literacy Tracker and is supported by other Ofcom research.
Media use by age: a snapshot
Source: Ofcom – Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2022
In the Mixed Zone with… Russell Stopford, CEO, Stadion
Russell Stopford, former digital lead at Paris Saint-Germain, FC Barcelona and Manchester City, has today been confirmed as the CEO of digital sports agency Stadion. Stopford will lead the strategic growth of the agency, which counts several leading football clubs, as well as Team GB, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) and the Australian Olympic Committee, amongst its clients. Stopford joins us on the latest edition of the Leaders Sport Business Podcast, out later today, to discuss Stadion, his new role there and several other matters of moment in the sports broadcasting and content creation space.
On the NFL’s reported direct-to-consumer platform: “When you look at what they’re trying to do it’s being innovative around those out-of-market rights, plus the challenge of dealing with a global rights proposition when you’ve got all those complication it’s not easy, but my reading is if anyone can do it, they’re the people that can. The challenge is basically the equivalent of building an Apple+ or a Netflix or a DAZN, so this requires a lot of investment, requires you to get the proposition and the pricing right, the marketing; everything you do for a direct-to-consumer launch is very different from selling B2B rights. Lots of people have tried it. People have been talking about it ten years ago and even before, and no one has done it yet as far as I can see. I think it’s been possible to do it for a while but over the last two years with digital acceleration through Covid, and also the emergence of Web3, it’s really made it clear that brands and rights holders need to invest in infrastructure themselves and not rely on partnership models to do that.”
On the potential of the Spotify-Barcelona partnership: “What an amazing deal. I think it’s the dream of two brands coming together. When I was at FC Barcelona, we did a deal with another music provider, Deezer, and a lot of clubs were looking at those deals. From a Chief Digital Officer’s point of view, you want to be working with these brands, you want to be leveraging the power that they have with the audience and bring that together. There’s a lot of rights that have been taken; the wonderful thing about digital is there’s almost an infinite amount of rights you can create. As we move into a more digital future, there’s more and more that can be done and Spotify will obviously have the ability and want to do stuff that’s core to their proposition.”
On the NFT/metaverse/Web3 space: “We’re at such an early stage – it’s what happened when Web1 and Web2 came along. In 2007 we were looking at the emergence of social – 15 years ago; I think it eventually became this very well understood social publishing model that really benefits rights holders and content producers, but also massively benefits big tech. One of the big issues is how much the big tech players will play a part. Decentralisation is the key to the metaverse and Web3, so you would assume that at an individual level or a club level that means a democratization of the potential to make great experiences that are relevant to clubs and fans. However, you look at [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse and it’s absolutely compelling, probably a bit scary from our perspective at this stage when we’re talking about the disappearance of the real world to some extent. It’s such early stages. If clubs have tried to do things and not hit expectations, that’s normal, that’s what happens in digital innovation; you have to take risks, try some things, innovate and see how it plays out. There have been huge successes in the NFT space, with what Dapper Labs has been doing, Sorare, DAZN Moments has just been launched – there’s so much activity and we’re all learning from each other at the moment. It’s that super exciting moment of innovation.”
On his new role at Stadion: “I’ve known Lee Cook, the founder, since we worked at Manchester City. When we were there we had several really interesting innovation projects and some of them were really challenging. We were standing side by side, trying to get some of this stuff done and you develop a real trust and bond over the 11 years we’ve known each other and worked together. When he asked me to join Stadion, it felt a little like going back to my roots – before I worked in football, I had my own production companies and digital media companies. It feels like I can go in, plug my experiences in and help the business grow. It’s a business I love. What’s exciting is to come in and offer my skills and what I’ve learnt to a bunch of clients – the ability to work with one club is great but the ability to work with a number of clubs and really effect change is really exciting.”
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