Beyond premier sports – learning lessons from the challengers

Looking back at the SportsCast event in London, where MTM chaired, it’s worth reflecting on why sport continues to be such a critical part of the media business.

  • For pay-TV giants, sport remains the best way of attracting and retaining audiences – especially young males – around live scheduled content
  • For new content aggregators – from telcos to internet giants to aggressive new start-ups – it’s a great way to build new audiences, and a sandbox for testing new products and business models
  • For many fans, sport is a passion. As Bill Shankly famously observed of football, it’s not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that.

For MTM, all of the above make it a fascinating and dynamic area, which is why we are creating MTM Sport as a dedicated division focusing on the space. We are helping our clients understand what fans want, and how they can harness the many technology innovations that sport – like the Trojan horse – brings to the media industry.

Much of the discussion and focus at SportsCast will be, rightly, on the way that the market for big TV sports – such as football, F1, rugby, cricket and boxing – is evolving, with new entrants threatening to crank up rights valuations even higher. But while the biggest players fight over these rights, what are the options for the smaller players – both those acquiring and selling more niche sports?

Many new types of sports content are gaining traction with younger audiences who are accessing that content across multiple devices and platforms. These challenger sports brands, and the trends they represent, may not threaten the current hierarchy in the near-term, but all offer lessons for the more traditional sports brands, especially in terms of fan engagement.

Among the innovations and trends in the wider sports space, we note with interest the following:

  • Formula E is integrating fan feedback into the action itself, through innovations such as the Fanboost, where the most popular driver can ‘earn’ extra power during a race. It is also noteworthy that a number of major auto brands and sponsors are now investing in this new franchise
  • E-sports are creating deep fan engagement. They have been on the radar for some time, but while some question whether watching others play video games is technically sport, what is not in dispute is the extraordinary levels of fan engagement services such as Twitch can deliver from precisely those audiences who are abandoning traditional TV
  • New types of combat sport – from UFC to MMA to WWE – have all managed to attract younger audiences who in previous generations would have likely followed boxing (a traditional TV staple), through an innovative and engaging product
  • US sports have rarely been more than niche offerings in Europe, but there are signs that they may be gaining traction in the UK at least, thanks in part to TV exposure (the NFL now has a weekly show on the BBC) and the growing popularity of live games played in London
  • Women’s sports are finding an audience. Amid all the industry focus on what young men want to watch, a trend in recent years has been the success of women’s team sports – football and cricket in particular – in finding an audience both for live and televised games.

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If you’d like to talk about anything sport related, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – and keep up to date with MTM Sport!

About Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas joined MTM as a Strategy Associate Director. In the last 25 years he has worked in a variety of roles in the media and entertainment industry, including a film journalist. He covered the Cannes Film Festival several times but insists it wasn’t as much fun as people think.