The year ahead for sports will involve World Cups in cricket, rugby, netball and women’s football, an athletics championship in Doha and, just maybe, Real Madrid winning the Champions League in their own backyard.
But the tournaments themselves could be as nothing compared with the wider disruption happening in the sports media business.
For so long driven by conventional television broadcasting, now technology has gatecrashed the sports party; it is digital video which is driving the industry. That will become evident in 2019 more than ever. Here are my bets for what we will see…
Amazon scratches an itch with Twitch
Take it for granted that Google, Facebook and Apple (GAFA) will spend to snap up more sports rights around the world, with the next phase about going beyond ‘test-and-learn’ experiments.
As they do so, note that only two of the GAFA – Google’s YouTube and Facebook – currently have a viable live-streaming technology platform. Amazon now boasts live ATP tennis, US Open tennis and, from this fall, some English Premier League soccer matches in the UK. But subscribers rate the tennis coverage a lowly 1.8 stars (out of five) on the Amazon website, with complaints about stream glitches and absent features like replays.
In Twitch, the video portal that specialises in eSports, Amazon might have acquired a $930-million platform that excels in video game streams, but the platform is rock-solid, its audience is booming, is branching out of the gaming genre and – with built-in chat and broadcaster participation – has the right recipe for what online sport streaming should be in 2019. Amazon should take note.
Smart speakers re-think highlights and updates
Rights-holders and broadcasters alike are used to new platforms presenting new distribution opportunities and challenges. The latest platform, smart speakers, has now gone mainstream with 21 per cent of US adults owning one and sports scores proving to be the second most popular usage, according to Edison Research.
That represents a fantastic, three-fold distribution opportunity – scores, highlights and even video. Scores and updates will be easily implemented for tournaments or teams which already have their data wired up to search services.
But, this year, more will need to make smarter use of their audio assets, segmenting them for playback through personalised listening experiences in these devices. And the new generation of screen-based assistants will represent an important new surface on which to present short-form video – perfect for highlights over Corn Flakes, if not for a three-day cricket test.
Emotion rings true at the checkout
Nothing conjures emotion like sport. And that is a good thing for all parts of the value chain – none more so than for the brands looking to align with tournaments and participants.
In the last few months, we saw how Iceland’s “Rang Tan” campaign, John Lewis’ #EltonJohnLewis and Nike’s Colin Kaepernick affiliation invoked causes and emotions to drive sales. Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ videos might have been polarising – but they helped bring a 31-per-cent increase to online sales, post-broadcast.
Video, then, works. And now brands have the ability to create their own. So, in 2019, expect more brands to tap in to the unique moments that only sport can offer, going direct to viewers in a bid to bring them direct to their e-commerce platform.
Winners and losers from inflation and deflation
We used to think that the value of sports television rights went only inexorably up. Even if some traditional pay-TV broadcasters are reaching the limit of their wallets, new digital platforms go on pushing up the price.
But that is not the whole story. Because, simultaneous to price inflation, we are also seeing price deflation. For instance, the price for the Six Nations’ rugby tournament title sponsorship plunged when Guinness recently took over, while reduced spending power at public broadcasters is meaning that upstarts like Premier Sports and well-funded new entrants like DAZN are shaking up the business.
What does this tell us? In 2019, new opportunities are opening up at both the top and bottom of the market. Buyer economics, plus appetite for mid-tier sports, will equal a new-look environment in which more distributors get to bring more sports to more people.
Learning to love the age of the opinionated athlete
Colin Kaepernick wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. The NFL player’s refusal to stand for the US national anthem set him on a course to a lawsuit against the league – and a Nike marketing deal estimated at “millions.”
Whether it is John McEnroe’s on-court outbursts or football managers’ criticism of referees – every sport has its players that step out of bounds. What’s different today is that those players have their own platform and their own audience – often bigger than that of the tournament itself.
It is a perfect storm – fans and brands alike love their athletes with a passionate, rebellious streak. So expect to see more organisers awkwardly embrace, even attempt to create, a sense of transparency – lest they get caught on the wrong side.