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Broadcast, Digital & Media, Future Trends, Sport Business | Apr 22, 2021 | 8 min read

11 things you need to know today about the shifting sports media landscape

By James Emmett and David Cushnan

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Short form

The Super League remembered
The media strategy the ESL lacked
Televisa and Univision unite
Facebook enters the audio arena
Gen Z and bingeing
The story of Bleacher Report’s first NFT sale
SPFL and Sky renew agreement
Eddie Hearn takes on Matchroom chair
Clubhouse makes first sports hire
DraftKings appoints Chief Media Officer
Accedo launches new video solution

 

Long form

THE BIG PICTURE

Thanks for clicking and welcome to the Broadcast Disruptors Bulletin, your fortnightly briefing on what’s up, what’s down and what’s in the works as far as sports broadcasting, content creation, distribution and monetisation is concerned.

As usual, your thoughts, opinions and scurrilous industry gossip are welcomed – send it all to [email protected] and [email protected]

The plans to form a new league featuring the biggest teams in the biggest sport in the world have, as you will have seen, travelled far beyond the sports industry this week, with a generally furious reaction to the prospect of a largely hermetically-sealed league for a handful of Europe’s elite clubs. Tuesday evening’s withdrawal of the six English clubs from the project doomed it before it became anything more than a hastily-prepared website.

One of the many striking elements in the swirl of drama this week were the swift statements – far quicker than anything from the clubs involved – from many of the major football broadcasters, immediately denying involvement and distancing themselves from the project. It seems they’d read the room far more accurately than the club owners and executives involved.

BT Sport, the exclusive UK Champions League rights holder until 2024, was first out of the blocks, releasing a statement saying it ‘recognises the concerns raised by many of football’s leading voices and fans, and believes…a European Super League could have a damaging effect to the long term health of football in this country’. Sky, meanwhile, who broadcast the Champions League in the UK until it was outbid by BT in 2013, confirmed in a statement that it had not been involved in any discussions with the proposed breakaway group, while Amazon Prime did likewise. DAZN, which has acquired the bulk of Champions League games in Germany from next season, moved to deny reports over the weekend that it was in line to become the Super League’s major broadcast partner. In a statement, it said: ‘Neither DAZN nor Mr. [Len] Blavatnik [owner of DAZN’s parent company] are in any way involved or interested in entering into discussions regarding the establishment of a Super League and no conversations have taken place.’

Meanwhile, in Australia, streaming service Sports Flick, which in February was surprisingly awarded Champions League rights for the next three years, went further, announcing it was withdrawing from its agreement with Uefa, citing the uncertainty created by the proposed European Super League. However, separately Sports Flick is understood to have struggled to secure the financial guarantees required by Uefa to finalise the AUS$60 million (US$47 million) agreement. Team Marketing, Uefa’s agency, will now try to seek an alternative Australian broadcast partner and is continuing with its business elsewhere in the world as if this remarkable week never happened.


EYES ON THIS – Watch how these three things develop to understand the future

Super League of their own
Boiled down, the chaos of the last week in European football is about the clubs’ belief that they are better placed to make more money from broadcast deals than Uefa, which currently commercialises the rights to the Champions League through Team Marketing. That theory won’t now immediately be put to the test, but the belief remains. Had the plans moved forward, the breakaway clubs might have chosen to sell the rights market-by-market, via an agency or by pooling its own commercial expertise, or they might have considered selling the rights to a single global media or technology giant – although even before taking into account any politics and public sentiment the group of organisations with the capability to do that remains small. The third way would have been to build a dedicated Super League global streaming platform is possible and would circumnavigate the need to deal directly with broadcasters. The 12 clubs who signed up for the project do have existing club channels on all sorts of platforms that might have been utilised to promote and sell directly to fans on a global basis, and there are no shortage of specialist technology providers who could have supported the development of such platform. But it certainly would have been a complex solution and perhaps against the direction of travel – WWE’s recent decision to effectively disband its own streaming service in favour of a deeper partnership with an established media giant’s streaming operation, Comcast’s Peacock, might be a telling indicator as to where a forward-thinking rights holder OTT strategy is shifting. The breakaway clubs have been called many things in recent days, but ‘tech platforms’ was certainly not one of them. In their apparent haste to get in front of Uefa’s own announcement about the revised format of the Uefa Champions League, it appears there was no media strategy, let alone any rights agreement or detail in place, which seems all the more extraordinary given Real Madrid President Florentino Perez’s claim on Monday that “young people are no longer interested in football – they have other platforms on which to distract themselves.”

Merging markets
The US$4.8 billion merger between Mexico’s biggest broadcaster Televisa and Univision, confirmed last week, is a significant moment for the Hispanic content market. The two organisations are planning to pool media, content and production assets, as well as launching a Spanish-language streaming service in a bid to become ‘the definitive global leader in Spanish-language media’. Those assets include Televisa’s four free-to-air channels and 27 pay channels and Univision’s 67 TV channels and 58 radio stations, notably its TUDN sports network. Univision Chief Executive Wade Davis is taking charge of the new company, but at around 45%, Televisa will have the largest stake in the business. Although rival Telemundo has a contract in place for US Hispanic language coverage of the 2026 Fifa World Cup, where Mexico will stage games along with the United States and Canada, sport is likely to form a powerful element of the merged company’s output. LigaMX, where a group of American investors have just bought into Club Necaxa, is currently broadcast on Univision in the United States. Within Mexico, the combined Televisa and Univision would appear well-placed to play a key role in any future centralisation of LigaMX commercial rights.

Audio gold
Facebook’s plans, announced this week, to develop a Live Audio Rooms product, similar to Clubhouse and Twitter’s Spaces, won’t come as a surprise to anyone tracking the explosive growth of audio, but they remain noteworthy. The audio rooms are planned as another tool with which Facebook can service communities. It has also confirmed monetisation plans, allowing creators to be rewarded in its Stars digital currency. That perhaps reflects a gentle change of emphasis, from big businesses to individuals, as Mark Zuckerberg elaborated on in an interview with The Verge this week: “A big part of the creative economy is that it’s enabling individuals, and shifting power from some traditional institutions to individuals to exercise their own creativity. And I think that’s a positive trend in the world. It’s really empowering for a lot of people, and allows a lot of new stuff to be created.” There are also plans to focus on both long and short-form audio products, expanding its relationship with Spotify on the former and launching Soundbites, a short-form, filter-heavy feature. And as Facebook went public with its audio play, Apple confirmed it is launching a subscription service within its podcast app. Content creators will pay Apple US$19.99 per year to take subscriptions, with Apple taking 30% of any revenue for the first year of each subscriber and 15% thereafter.


THE NUMBERS

Verizon’s recently-released ‘Look Forward’ report charts American attitudes and habits a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, using a combination of surveys and Verizon network data. Its section on streaming habits shows US adults are split on how they prefer to consume content. 28% said they prefer to ‘binge watch’ shows, while another 28% saying they prefer watching shows on a more spaced out basis as new episodes are released. However, 47% of the Gen Z group said they prefer bingeing.

 

 

Source : Verizon ‘Look Forward’ report, March 2021


PRODUCTION NOTES

In the Mixed Zone with… Tyler Stewart, VP of Brand and Experience at Bleacher Report, who led the organisation’s recent first NFT sale, during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, generating US$815,000 in the process.

How did the project come about?
As we looked to try and capitalize on the moment in the NFT space, in the crypto world, with the excitement around NBA Top Shot we wanted to see how we could apply it to Bleacher Report. We capitalise on the moments that matter within sports and culture, All-Star weekend being one of those mega moments. When the league announced it would happen, we needed to mobilise quickly on what we were going to do to support that moment.

That manifested itself in the Open Run, a 2×2 basketball game that we created with some of the most notable rappers – 2 Chainz, Quavo, Lil Baby and Jack Harlow. We had them face off 2×2 for some cash and for charity. That was the genesis of our concept. We’ll throw content, production opportunities like that very so often and when we do we typically have ancillary content and marketing efforts – that could be merchandise or ecommerce sales, a collaborative journey, we create physical goods to sell to our audience. As Open Run came about we wanted to sell a product. Originally we were going to sell a physical basketball with the artists that I mentioned but because of the constraints of Covid and timing constraints, we wanted to see if we could capitalize on the NFT trend taking place. It took us a matter of hours to figure out if we could. Fortunately for me and the Bleacher Report team, Turner Sports and WarnerMedia had done some work in the space – we’d actually built a blockchain-based game, called Blocklete Games, where you can play golf and grow your avatar. We had been working with Dapper Labs, too, so we had a little bit of infrastructure set up, which was awesome.

What was the most difficult element?
The biggest hurdles that we faced – and anyone is going to face – are the legal ramifications, the financial implications and for an organisation the size of us just to agree to do something like this. We knew we had some roadblocks but we wanted to do it as an NFT, agreed we could – within a matter of days we had all the pieces pulled together from marketing, promo, programming, PR, legal, most importantly, and then the talent, the collaborators, and we were able to put this in place and launch it the day of the Open Run experience, the day before the All-Star game.

How successful was it?
To be completely frank, we didn’t know exactly what to expect. This world was a little new to all of us and we weren’t selling NBA highlights of LeBron James for US$208,000 – and we were like ‘if that’s the ceiling right now, where’s the floor and where can we fit?’ By way of context, we sold two versions of our NFTs, a much more limited gold edition – only ten per rapper – and then a silver edition, which was a flat price and a flat quantity of 150 of each. We sold the silver edition at 12 noon on that Saturday and the auctions didn’t start until 5pm, which provided a bit of a runway as to what was happening into the crescendo of the auctions. We didn’t know how they were going to sell. We thought we had put some solid promotion in place. Come 12 pm, the silver edition purchases started to come and with blockchain everything is tracked, so you can follow along every sale and re-sale. When the auction started, we set a minimum price for those [the gold editions] and all 40 hit that minimum pretty early.

The way the platform we used, OpenSea, works is the auctions don’t end until there hasn’t been a bid for 10 minutes, so if the auction was due to end at 5.30pm and someone bid at 5.29pm it gets extended by ten minutes. We were looking at the screen until about 2am on Sunday morning as people were just going back and forth out-bidding each other, which was really exciting. We were able to sell out all 40 of the items – the highest at the time went for 38 ethereum, which in dollars was round US$70,000. Aggregated with the other gold and silver items, within 24 hours we were able to generate US$815,000 in sales – around 530 ethereum, because everything of course took place in cryptocurrency. However, the price of ethereum has continued to rise so that initial sales of US$815,000 has already grown to about US$1.1 million, because it’s just sitting there. Needless to say it was a very exciting – and a proven successful – test. Some of the underlying technology is here to stay.

As an organisation, what have you learnt?
Quite a bit. We’ve had quite a lot of conversations, internally and externally, since it happened. Everyone is excited, every partner or brand wants to get involved in some shape or form, or is at least thinking about how they would go about it. The biggest thing we’ve learnt is there is absolutely a market for this – there is a world where there is an appetite for digital collectibles, digital art and a marketplace for it. I do think, though, as well the whole market is not going to exist in the way that it does. There is a little bit of a bubble, I fully and wholeheartedly agree – there’s a lot of junk out there and eventually the junk will be brushed away. But the underlying efforts for what an NFT provides – currently as a collectible and as something that may appreciate in value, as well as the applications going forward – show the marketplace is ripe and there is room for innovation and growth.

We don’t want to just make an NFT to make an NFT. That’s not what we did. There’s a level of authenticity that brands and fans can see right through. So if you want to make an NFT just to sell it you might be able to do that now, but in the future you may not be able to. We look at it as merchandising and collectibles and what that looks like from a ticketing standpoint, for leagues and teams – all that is really exciting. We look at it from a B2B standpoint – what can we do to partner with brands, leagues and teams to create moments for the fans. And we also look at it – and this is a little further off but potentially the most exciting – in terms of the virtual world, like metaverse. How do you build a whole ecosystem and economy around that? You see the funding that Epic Games is getting, you see movies like Ready Player One, the news around intelligent NFTs, which can actually interact around you and each other. We’ll approach it in those ways.

Tyler Stewart was speaking on last week’s Leaders Broadcast Disrupted community call. If you’d like to find out more about the calls, get in touch.

 


RIGHTS WATCH

Rights Watch
SPFL and Sky sign new agreement
Scottish Premiership clubs will have the ability to broadcast all 228 matches to season ticket holders, after the SPFL reached a new deal with Sky Sports. Clubs will be able to sell ‘season passes’ of their home games, broadcast through online club channels, to season ticket holders as well as the right to sell any home game not selected for broadcast by Sky on a pay-per-view basis. The deal has been struck now to provide certainty for fans while discussions about re-opening stadiums are ongoing. Sky has the rights to broadcast up to 48 live Scottish Premiership games per season, as part of its existing SPFL deal.


JOBS BOARD

Eddie Hearn becomes Matchroom Chair
Eddie Hearn has become Chairman of Matchroom Sport, succeeding his father Barry Hearn who will become President of the Matchroom group of companies and retain an advisory role. The long-planned transition will also see Steve Dawson take over as Chairman of World Snooker, Matthew Porter as Chairman of Matchroom Multi Sport and Katie Hearn become CEO of Matchroom Media.

Clubhouse appoints Head of Sports Partnerships
Former Wasserman executive Sean Brown has been appointed as Clubhouse’s Head of Sports Partnerships, as the invite-only audio platform expands its team. Announcing the news on LinkedIn, Brown said he was “grateful to create with such a dynamic global group”.

DraftKings hires first Chief Media Officer
Ben Angiolet, formerly SVP and Chief Business Officer at Verizon Communications, has joined DraftKings in the newly-created role of Chief Media Officer. He will be tasked with ‘overseeing and optimising’ the real-rime fantasy game company’s content creation and media strategy. DraftKings has been expanding its content output to reflect the new sports betting landscape in the United States, through partnerships with Turner Sports and ESPN, its recent acquisition of Vegas Sports Information Network and the launch of services including DK Live and DK Nation. It has also recently invested in John Skipper’s new production house Meadowlark.


DISTRIBUTION

Accedo presses play on new solution
Accedo has launched its new ‘out-of-the-box’ sports video solution, Accedo Play – Sports. The new service allows sports organisations to launch, manage and monetise video delivery. Accedo says the solution will also allow the organisations to monetise across core revenue streams including ticketing, merchandising, sponsorship and direct video. “Many sports organisations are already producing video content to distribute through YouTube, and other social channels,” said Michael Lanz, Accedo’s CEO. “We believe that revenue potential and fan engagement will be significantly improved by a branded experience powered by Accedo Play – Sports. The new solution offers great possibilities for sports organizations to aggregate their content, create new revenue streams and engage their audience – from the casual viewer to the diehard fan.”


 

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