The Sports Media Evolution

By Vadim Drozdovski, VP Growth, WSC Sports

It seems that every day there is a new report of sports media rights changing from one network to another, or from one OTT platform to a new owner. While the media rights landscape is in a constant state of flux, no matter who owns the rights for lucrative sports leagues and games, owners need to make sure the value of the rights work best for their bottom line and that of their viewers. So how can rights owners make sure they are making their rights work hard to deliver this value?

It begins by understanding the sports media landscape, where we are, and where it might be heading. Previously, in what we can call Sports Media 1.0, sports media business models relied on content partnered with robust distribution to draw in fans and brand monetization. The one-size-fits-all approach worked as people were drawn to their TVs to consume large events and stayed for the entirety of the game or match. Jump ahead to the rise of OTT platforms and pay-per-view opportunities, and rights holders worked to bring in subscribers with bundle-based subscriptions and monetization from ads.

But today, the availability of premium content alone is not enough to sustain a business model, as fans don’t flock to one single experience like they used to. Consumption habits are rapidly shifting to short form and highly engaging video content, as fueled by GenZ and the popularity of TikTok and YouTube Shorts, with the sharp decline of live, full-game viewership. According to media analyst firm Two Circles, the average sports fan is only watching 55% of the total sports content they consume in real-time, with that percentage set to decrease to 53% by 2024. A recent PWC survey clearly illustrates the trend of viewership transitioning from full games to “crunch-time”, episodic tune ins. What’s more, this change in consumption habits is happening while the nature of competition for audience attention is strongly intensifying. The digital ecosystem is filled with constant, unrelenting stimuli and the competition for audience attention is made out of any consumer facing digital offering – including Netflix, Fortnite, Snapchat and many others.

Introducing Sports Media 2.0.

This shift in consumption habits, coupled with the intensifying competition for attention on digital platforms is rendering the classic “buy content and wait for the audience to show up” approach obsolete. There is an understanding that the old playbook needs to be thrown out and smart strategies need to be implemented to not just attract viewers with good content, but keep them coming back for more. While the pace of innovation is accelerating and concepts like Gamification, Personalization and Communal/Social Viewing Experiences are being thrown around as silver bullets for the struggling rights holders, the simple truth is that any long term sustainable business for the sports media ecosystem needs to start by accepting and embracing the transition to digital. This means focusing on what it takes to win the digital battle: (1) Actively and continuously driving new user acquisition, (2) Bringing existing users back (re acquisition) and delivering O&O experiences that increase the time spent and engagement all while (3) Enabling scalable and flexible monetization solutions.

Planned and executed correctly, these three elements create a flywheel effect that will ensure continued long term performance and eventual dominance over competition.  The formula is a variation of: Effective digital marketing and user acquisition => more new users => more data that can be collected => More meaningful content personalization => More engaging experiences => More monetization opportunities => better ARPU => More marginal revenue to invest in every user’s acquisition.

Sports media 2.0 is very much a living and breathing concept that will continue to converge and evolve. But rights holders that prioritize the three core areas of user acquisition, content for retention and engagement and lastly monetization, will ultimately find success by making their content work to deliver value.

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