Forget the future of sports broadcasts, here’s how social media is impacting broadcasters and rights owners now

Social media: from ancillary option to primary distribution platform.

Exciting as it is to predict how social media will shape live TV, many are doing so at the expense of understanding how that shift is shaping both mediums now. Change is afoot, with rights holders and brands recognising there is money to be made, even if they don’t know exactly how.

That potential has led to everyone from Adidas to the Caribbean Premier League experimenting with everything from live-streaming to virtual reality. What’s driving these investments is a rights model that’s becoming far more relaxed about what content is freed up on social and a realisation that it’s reductive to think about monetisation in sport as just revenue shares or selling rights.

It’s an attitude particularly acute in the minds of tier two sponsors. Unlike the Premier League and the Olympics, which are more inclined to stick with the more lucrative traditional deals (for now), commercial bosses at the likes of the Caribbean Premier League and Formula E are willing to cut up their broadcast rights into cheaper digital slices if it means reaching more people.

Having the opportunity to get that free distribution to a targeted audience explains why the Caribbean Premier League partnered with Grabyo to live-stream 34 of its games on Facebook Live to 40 markets this year. Four years ago, when the Olympics were first live-streamed to 64 countries, the mere thought of doing the same for anything but a premier sport brand would have been scoffed at. Now, it’s a necessity for those commercial bosses who need an easier way to capitalise on how the value of different types of content is changing.

It’s a shift that’s also affecting broadcasters. Whereas before TV chiefs would’ve insisted that a rights owner refuse to offer digital rights for fear of it diluting the value of their own deal, increasingly they’re more open to the idea. Sky et al are realising that they can’t un-invent social media and so it makes more sense to allow the sports brands they invest in to become as popular as they possibly can. They are less resistant to other players owning some broadcast rights if there are some strict rules in windowing in place, explained William Field, founder of media and technology consultancy Prospero.

“Everyone is so focused on the primacy of the live crown jewels and in the past, they never had the toys to play with to work out what’s engaging and interesting,” he continued. “Now everyone realises they have to play in the same space and what we’re seeing is the structure of the rights deals being far more relaxed about the content and quantity that is made available for clips.”

A recent example of this saw the French Football Federation (FFF) broadcast 400 third division and grassroots matches on Dailymotion. Opportunities to monetise these broadcasts are basic but the governing is already fielding requests from brands that want to sponsor them. Another example saw the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) launch a digital and social content division called WTA Networks earlier this week so that tennis fans can stream content from all over the world. Brands are already circling the hub, with Microsoft, Ooyala, Greenfly and Domo among its first partners.

What the FFF and the WTA are doing acts as a microcosm for the fact that there is no one route to monetisation now and how those sports brands that are attempting to monetise social media are feeling their way to it. Part of the problem is proving return of investment; one of the reasons why brands find it difficult to put money on the table is because it’s unclear what the measurement criteria is going to be. Neither does it help that some of the social media platforms aren’t sharing as much audience data as they could be.

But commercial execs should consider the trade off between data versus reach and engagement as well as the potential monetary streams that come from that, advises Gareth Capon, chief executive of Grabyo.

François Vasseur, marketing director at the French Football Federation has weighed up that potential payoff and decided the organisation needs more data, although he did admit it had to find a “win-win model” for it and social networks in order to make it work. His reasoning being that “reach is good” but “I’m not sure we have enough data” to foster longer engagement.

Beyond the data, the bigger issue still is the huge disparity between the traditional TV deals and the digital revenue streams. A gap that has come and gone in music, where streaming is now the primary driver of the industry’s revenues. Streaming could do the same for sport, and so rather than get sucked too far into the data debate, sports marketing experts have told The Drum that it’s the fight for attention that matters. They call for greater collaboration with the likes of Facebook and YouTube, reasoning that a rights owner can’t exist as a media outlet on their own because their audience spans a multitude of devices and platforms.

Does that mean a rights holder should put all their content onto Facebook or YouTube? Probably not but they should think about what’s the right way to engage their fans and ensure what content they do share is relevant. If these points are considered by a rights holder and they resist the temptation to suck in anything and everything for the sake of a quick payday, then they could reach hundreds of millions like Real Madrid did on Facebook.

The Spanish giants generated more than 110 million video views on social after taking the decision to push content from its club TV channel to Facebook Live. With reach like that, it’s no wonder that there are some media observers who believe it won’t be long before football clubs and other sports organisations use social media to distribute more of their own content and consequently create new commercial opportunities.

Clubs like Real Madrid, Arsenal and Chelsea are experimenting with different types of content because so much footage around their matches is owned by the leagues they are part of. It’s meant that things like training clips of players and behind-the-scenes footage, which clubs would've have otherwise ignored, are fast becoming commercial assets because they have ready-made platforms capable of reaching millions at any time. Interestingly, it seems that commercial bosses aren't rushing into these deals thinking about the money, instead they’re seeing it as a way of bringing content they own closer to the live window, which consequently boosts their chances of capturing the attention of fans.

Winning that battle for mindshare is getting harder now that brands are no longer waiting for clubs and organisations to reach out to them to exploit the popularity of sport. Adidas arguably will have better access to many of the players Bayern Munich, which it sponsors, than the club’s own media team. “Brands aren’t waiting for the federations,” said YouTube’s head of news and sports partnerships Christoph Helmes at the same Sportel conference as the French Football Federation. “Brands like Adidas are defining their own rules and creating their own content”.

It’s a thought not lost on O2’schief marketing officer Nina Bibby, who is currently mapping out the next five years for the brand’s sponsorship of the Rugby Football Union. When we first partnered [in 1995] it was about raising awareness of the brand, she explained. “We’ve moved beyond that so now it’s about what kind of experiences we can give our customers and how much they engage with those through Priority so we can see that really clearly.”

Additional reporting by Tony Connelly

For more insights on the future of sports marketing read our exclusive interview with footballer turned pundit Stan Collymore here.

Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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