Snapchat has forged its first partnership with a European broadcaster around football, pairing with BT Sport to create exclusive content during the Champions League final.
The coverage - which will appear in BT's 'Our Stories' section on the social platform - will comprise on-pitch and behind-the-scenes clips from the final this weekend (3 June) when Real Madrid will defend their title against Series A champions Juventus. To allow Snapchatters to experience the match from different perspectives, footage snapped by fans and teams, as well as players taking part in the fixture will also feature heavily.
As part of the collaboration, interactive AR Lenses will be also be made available globally to allow all football fans around the world to show their support for their favorite team. The platform created similar Lenses for clubs around Europe last year.
Official Uefa Champions League sponsor Adidas will be running vertical video ads between the Our Story coverage. Adidas is no stranger to Snap, having experimented with the platform over the last year. Barry Moore, brand director fo Adidas North Europe described Snapchat as providing an "amazing platform" for the brand's creators to "do what they do best."
Snapchat had already been working on content around the tournament, having produced Our Stories coverage for the semi-finals between AS Monaco and Juventus, and Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.
For BT, the deal will deliver much needed help to maximise the value of its hugely expensive rights agreement, significantly inflated by Uefa and competition from Sky.
BT paid £897m for the exclusive rights to the tournament from the 2015/16 season until the 2017/18 season. That fee rose by 30% when BT announced it had renewed its exclusive agreement with the governing body for a further three years at a cost of £1.82bn.
The inaugural season of BT’s exclusive coverage saw average viewing figures for the group stages peak at just 200,000, a fraction of the 4.4 million average which ITV’s broadcasts generated when it shared the rights with Sky.
And so, the pressure to maximise value from the property in light of the increase in fee goes beyond just meeting the changing viewing habits of sports fans though.
Partnering with Snapchat is a continuation of its attempts to compensate for the free-to-air exodus and meet audience on the platforms they are using. Last year, it tested livestreaming the Champions League final on YouTube for free in the hopes of reaching an additional 1.8 million viewers on top of the 4.3 million watching through BT Sport.
The pay-off in offering its expensive rights property for free was the data that YouTube promised to give it on every single viewer that streamed the game which it could then use to target with ads offering subscription packages. Mike Norrish, the digital executive producer at BT Sport, said last year that this bank of data was only way to make streaming sports on social sites commercially viable.
This year, the broadcaster upped the ante with a plan to stream the final on YouTube in 360-degrees for the first time ever.
Discussing the implications of the Snap partnership Havas Sport and Entertainment Cake’s managing director Jim Dowling, said: “Something interesting happens to sports coverage when it’s filtered through the Snapchat lens. It takes the sport beyond the boundaries imposed by the traditional sports rights deals that have defined how sport is consumed.”
While Snapchat won’t be showing the game in its entirety, the company’s eagerness to work with its commercial partners will undoubtedly have helped sway BT Sport in its decision to side with it.
Snapchat’s sport strategy is a key to its growth and as Nigel Currie, sponsorship and PR consultant at NC Partnership, points out “the social media honeymoon period is over”.
“As with all new forms of communication over the years, it takes time for major sponsors and rights holders to work out and establish what can actually work for them and ultimately improve their proposition. This is a great example of an initiative which utilises their assets, and delivers new and original content enabling social media work for them.”
While Snapchat has remained tight-lipped on any future deals are in the pipeline with BT Sports, its move to team up with the broadcaster for one of the most significant sporting events of year may be a warning flare to its rivals.
Social platforms have become increasingly interested in planting themselves firmly at the heart of major sporting events. From Twitter and Amazon’s race to secure both the rights to the NFL’s Thursday night games and exclusive content, through to Facebook’s slow creep into the real-time sports arena - it’s a shift that is gathering momentum.
But while the big boys of social have focused on live deals, Snapchat has been offering organisers and media partners an alternative way to reach eyeballs via short, snackable bursts. This pairing with BT follows from the success of its NBC Rio Olympics collaboration and a multiyear Wimbledon partnership which have similarly promised inside access mixed with user-generated and premium content.
Much has been said of the app's desire to prove itself as the 'new tv', what this deal shows is where it can help traditional broadcasters to amplify TV events.
Alex Smith, head of social and digital planning at Maxus, said: “It is still early days, which makes this an incredibly exciting time. The content on the various social platforms is still very different, as they grow their offerings and as audiences go wherever they feel best meets their requirements. The space is very diverse and there is a huge amount of space for innovation and disruption.”
By Tony Connelly and Rebecca Stewart.