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What’s next for the live sports experience?

By Paul O’Donovan, Director of Market Development – Direct to Consumer, MediaKind

This summer, we are entering a full sporting calendar which includes two tennis ‘Grand Slams,’ Euro 2020, the Olympic Games, golf majors, rugby union’s Lions tour, cricket’s inaugural ‘Hundred tournament’ and the Tour de France. And really, I’ve only scratched the surface! In the longer term, it’s clear the industry is at a fascinating juncture. How will fans consume content in the future? How will we engage with our favorite teams and players? How will we curate and personalize the experience for the viewer?

This past year has offered a unique opportunity to experiment with a whole range of immersive streaming formats and see how they play out on screen. Viewers have also become accustomed to OTT content – as my colleague Sarah Amar demonstrated recently when she found herself live streaming Roland Garros within two clicks! As an industry, we have learned how to scale, save time, and support events in highly effective ways. From live streaming to remote production, we have accelerated several developments in this space, with broadcasters, content owners, and pay-TV service providers learning huge amounts about their fans and audiences – and what they want from their future viewing experience. Now it’s time to put some of those lessons into practice.

The value of curated sports experiences

When we talk about curated sports experiences, we first need to clarify the purpose of the second screen. It’s not simply a replica of the experience on the first screen – the second screen provides access to an entirely new perspective. Fans want to access a sport, event, or league in ways they haven’t seen before. The other main value of the second screen lies in personalized interaction. It’s a window into a world that includes friends, family, and like-minded fans.

Next, the curated sports experience means providing fans with total control over their viewing experience, providing them with opportunities to choose what they interact and engage with. This means providing a richer understanding and viewpoint of the sport itself, whether that’s a unique camera angle, access to data and stats, or tailoring a synchronized stream with a group of people watching together, both in the same living room or remotely. For the content provider, it’s about deepening the relationship with casual fans, super fans, or anyone in between.

There are many opportunities for sports leagues or operators to deliver this level of access and personalization – and monetize it. As MediaKind’s 2021 Sports D2C Forecast reported, some rights-holders, such as the NBA, have experimented and explored new pricing strategies for their content, including paying by the quarter. Sports leagues, federations, and content owners no longer regard the streaming and OTT worlds as simply a way to gain initial access to a select group of fans or acquaint new fans to niche sports; they are now considering it a primary delivery method too.

Lessons from the eSports world

Over the past 18 months, particularly during spring 2020, when many live sporting events were unable to occur, the eSports industry helped highlight new ways for the traditional sports world to consider delivering its content. eSports was born from the streaming world, and the stay-at-home restrictions have helped to further de-linearize traditional viewing habits. The interactive nature of gaming, alongside the natural use of real-time media and social networks, has helped present exciting ways to develop new forms of content and drive engagement between fans, event organizers, and gamers themselves.

We’re now starting to see the video and sports entertainment worlds begin to merge.  eSports competitions are attracting record-breaking audiences, with eye-watering prize funds to match. Of course, pure gaming brands such as ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Fortnite’ have their own universe and audience directly from the gaming world. However, sports leagues and federations could fuse traditional live sports action with eSports events and create opportunities to capitalize on these two unique experiences.

Of course, many of the existing social media platforms concentrate on giving exposure, awareness, and deepening fan connections with the eSports world rather than primarily driving revenue. But there are secondary considerations to factor. Take Formula One, for example. Even if the viewership for a virtual race is relatively low, the production costs associated with it are a lot lower than a physical racing event. This presents a business case that could help increase the presence between virtual and physical race events and help establish greater reach and engagement between audiences.

The move towards gamification

That level of curation and personalization in live sports is still at a comparatively formative stage. But movements are happening. A MediaKind blog post recently referenced the impact of Twitch, which is delivering some fascinating applications at this time. Just last month, Twitch announced that it would be working alongside NBCUniversal to create original programming for a new NBC Olympics Twitch channel, including exclusive highlights, athlete interviews, gamified pre-Olympic activations, and themed gaming competitions.

Moving forward, I think there is real power in combining the Twitch effect with curated and personalized second-screen experiences. It’s not just about the live video or sharing people’s reactions; it’s about creating niche, engrossed audiences who want to interact with one another and will respond to real-time data and on-screen content. The key, of course, is to build a solid marriage between the video data and the technology stack in the background to ensure that the content and the data are delivered in sync – something my colleague Chris Wilson referred to in a previous blog.

Once this is achieved, there is an opportunity to build lots of microtransaction propositions, extending to sports betting. Based on MediaKind’s 2021 Sports D2C Forecast findings, we found that none of the 40 sports rights-holders we analyzed had integrated betting capabilities within their D2C service. Nevertheless, we’re now seeing many major sports bodies in the US developing services to enable fans to place bets during live content streaming. We expect to see the popularity of sports betting services enter the European markets as well, where it is already culturally established. This isn’t an exclusive opportunity for the DTC space and for federations that want to go directly to fans. It’s also an opportunity for aggregators of that content and for purchasers of sports rights, who are looking for new methods to experiment and develop fresh monetization models.

MediaKind Interview with SVG’s Brandon Costa

My colleague Chris Wilson, Portfolio Director, Sports, recently discussed the challenges of live sports delivery with Brandon Costa as part of SVG’s SportsTech OnDemand series, which you can watch below!