If sports broadcasting is fast headed towards an inflection point, then footballer turned pundit Stan Collymore wants to be at the vanguard of trying to restore the independence and opinionated reporting of a bygone era.
Recapturing that equity can’t be done within the walls of traditional broadcasters, according to the former Liverpool star, who instead believes a sports network for the live-streaming generation is needed. That Collymoe feels able to build a channel which is accessible, diverse and opinionated on his own is emblematic of the tensions between broadcasters, rights owners, Facebook, et al.
Digital is making sports more accessible than ever before, and yet there’s enough anecdotal evidence to suggest fans feel it’s being recast as a promotional vehicle for advertisers. “Match of the Day is straight down the middle [in terms of opinion] but football is a very passionate and reactive sport, so when you’re watching people talk like that it doesn’t replicate what you feel as a fan and you feel short-changed. That’s what I’m hoping to rectify,” explains Collymore, on why he wants to overturn the status quo.
Bold as it may be to think he can make a difference, the ex-Talksport host has form for being in the right spot at the right time. He was one of the first famous faces on Twitter in 2010 and built his Call Collymore show on the real-time news nature of the platform when others weren’t sure of its value. This is someone who’s been using technology to give a platform to fans long before the likes of Copa90 and Joe Media.
Being an early adopter has given Collymore time to study broadcasters’ frustration at the white noise around their football coverage, giving root to the idea that his own sports network would be the antithesis to the slick, well-rehearsed but “out of touch” coverage from the BBC and Sky.
Out of touch because when TV pundits were pontificating in a studio about formations during the Euros, Collymore was, as he puts it, “there when it kicked off a quarter of a mile down the road”, in and among the trouble off the pitch. He live-streamed bleak scenes between fans and police that marred the tournament, yet also gave viewers a look at what was happening “behind the studio cameras”. Yet for all the innovation of these broadcasts, Collymore’s Marmite-style of punditry and his controversial past meant some people saw fit to mock them. He has long accepted that regardless of what he does he will never be universally loved like some of his on-screen counterparts.
Nor would he want to be. Collymore has built a brand on having an opinion when others err toward neutrality. And after studying how radio personalities Howard Stern and Alex Jones have commercialised their own ear for a soundbite, he feels the time is right to cash in on his own.
“I’ve been thinking for a few years about building something on my own because the numbers for the [Call Collymore] phone-in [on Talksport] were very big, but the issue was how to deliver it,” admits Collymore, as to why he hasn’t been able to strike out on his own sooner.
“I think if you’re looking at post-match reaction, there are more people reacting to me per minute than anybody else. I was getting half a million listeners [on Sundays between 4pm and 6pm], which is about 16% of the total Talksport listenership for just two hours of radio, and against BBC’s Five Live, which is taking commentary from the game.
“I believe my brand of punditry is strong enough, and the fact that I’m also working to keep the conversation going in the run-up to games is why I think we’ll be able to take the show’s old audience with us and then reach new listeners.”
He has chosen to broadcast to these listeners (initially at least) on an app and a mobile-optimised site. Free to use, the service will be backed by sponsors, of which three are already in place for when it launches in early November. No doubt Collymore’s distribution strategy will have been key to securing investment, with the show already sitting on a syndication deal with XS Manchester.
Rather than fiddle with what he feels works, Collymore plans to keep the award-winning Call Collymore show the same, albeit with more scope to mould it how he sees fit – particularly when it comes to commercial opportunities and how the service’s sponsors could potentially use the database behind it to target listeners based on their interests.
“I think it can grow into a big enough proposition not just for sponsors and for our own satisfaction, but also to get other broadcasters on board. In fact, we’ve spoken to a couple [of broadcasters] that are very interested in seeing how we can start to flesh out a schedule together,” he enthused.
If his talk show is to be the start of a fully fledged sports network, then Collymore knows partnerships with others could be pivotal to gathering early momentum. It’s why he has brought in marketing consultant Kate Hamer to help forge those ties, and why he’s already thinking about branching out beyond football.
“It might be weekends at first, whereby we’ll have rugby and live commentary, which we’ve already been talking about,” he reveals. “It’s more than possible to do commentaries [from the platform] but we know our limitations at the moment in terms of here is one person who was on a radio show of 10 people. We’re starting an enterprise midway through a time when [sponsors’] budgets for the year are nearly at an end. Having said that, I don’t think many start-up companies have the calibre [of partners] that we’re working with at launch.”
Part of the attraction for those early backers is the fact that Collymore is, as he puts it, a “massive early adopter of tech”. So much so that he plans to stream Call Collymore broadcasts on Periscope, using HD cameras that shift their viewpoint in response to eye movement – when a presenter in a studio starts speaking, coverage automatically moves to them, negating the need for (costly) multiple cameras. The prospect of a cost-effective TV show becomes even more apparent given that Periscope streams can be watched on Apple TVs, which could offset the fact that the sports channel has no immediate plans to own broadcast rights.
Securing those rights is something Collymore argues may not even be an option for sports broadcasters in four or five years. Instead, people will be logging into Twitter or Facebook to watch live Premier League games. “Without a doubt that’s going to happen and I think we’re seeing it already,” he says, citing Twitter’s acquisition of live-streaming rights from the NFL as proof.
“Sky only has rights to show [Premier League] games in the UK, but if it were Twitter, they could arguably say ‘there are no boundaries because we’re a global broadcaster’, so fans could watch those matches whether they were in England or Malaysia at the same time. The rules of being able to broadcast in one territory, but not the other, are going to change.”
This article was originally published in the 26 October edition of The Drum.