Back in August, Juventus F.C. introduced an in-house OTT platform entitled Juventus TV. The service – which costs +/- $4.00/mo. and replaced the club’s official television channel – offers fans exclusive access to interviews, press conferences, and BTS footage, but does not include live game action.
Then in February, La Liga North America – a JV between the Spanish fútbol league and Relevant Sports Group – announced it would spend $10 million over the next 3 years to build out an in-house media business. The Spanish soccer league is determined to grow its popularity in the U.S. (already its largest market outside Spain), with its current domestic broadcast rights deal (see: beIN Sports) expiring in 2 years.
ONE Championship, with the launch of ONE Studios, is the latest pro sports team/league to introduce a media arm (or an owned outlet) tasked with the development of original content. The Singapore-based MMA promotion is using “the power of media and magic of storytelling” to get fans around the world emotionally invested in their fighters (so they’ll buy their fight cards).
Howie Long-Short: The concept of teams/leagues controlling their own I.P. and dictating their own message is not a new one – NFL Films was founded back in 1962 and teams have had content creators on staff for years – but the trend of teams/leagues forming formal media divisions destined to be profitable businesses has only developed over the last couple of years. TeamWorks Media co-founder and CEO Jay Sharman explained that “prior tothe introduction of OTT streaming, programming availability was limited; there were a finite number of hours an operator had to work with on television.The explosion of companies trying to build ‘networks’ that need low cost shoulder programming has given these team/league founded media properties a reason to exist.”
Technological advancements, which have drastically lowered the costs associated with shooting, editing and storing video, are another key driver of the trend. Start-up costs used to be prohibitive – cameras alone would cost $60,000+ – but Sharman says, “creators can now put out professional quality content for less than $5,000.”
It’s wise for teams/leagues to build out in-house media divisions in this rapidly evolving media landscape. As Sharman noted, “they all have owned platforms and the content they’re capable of creating [because of the unique access] is highly desirable to media rights holders and distributors alike.” Failing to serve up targeted content to the existing fan base – and to potential fans – is also a potentially critical mistake; “you need to satiate your core audience to keep them engaged and ingratiate yourself to a new audience if you’re going to grow. Teams and leagues are betting that if they launch content arms “there will be more opportunities to reach new viewers and to turn those individuals into paying customers.”
Teams/leagues believe that shoulder programming helps to “engage fans at a deeper, more meaningful level and to convey the context needed to develop an emotional connection to a team or player”, but Juventus has managed to turn the content it’s generating into a revenue stream. Sharman believes the Juventus TV model is one more teams (think: NFL, no local rights issues) will follow as more video is consumed digitally. The challenge though for teams will be to “create programming that remains authentic. If all of the drama has been removed, fans won’t want to watch it and the clubs will have trouble selling it.”
Fan Marino: La Liga North America and ONE Championship are taking very different approaches (and using different distribution platforms) to developing fans in this market. La Liga’s domestic media strategy is focused on the production and distribution of short-form daily video content and fan events, while ONE Championship is determined to focus on feature films and TV shows (for distribution on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and Facebook). Neither is “right”, but they’re going to reach different demographics and teams/leagues need to have a different strategy for each of them. Sharman professed “it’s like the old marketing bullseye. You have the inner core die-hard fan with an insatiable appetite for programming, your semi core fan who will watch when the sport is in season and the casual fan who will watch during the playoffs or for a human-interest story.”
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