Facing the future: Next-gen sports media

This week we celebrated the official launch of MTM Sport, our new dedicated sports division, by hosting a panel discussion at Google’s London offices with a select group of sport experts:

  • Ben Napier, Strategic Partner Lead, Broadcast & Sport, Google
  • Caroline Oakes, eSports woman of the year, ESL Turtle Entertainment
  • David Mahoney, Chief Strategy Officer, ECB
  • Gregory Morris, Senior Brand Manager, F1
  • Pete Burns, Commercial Director (EMEA), Deltatre

The session focussed on how new technology and modern consumer behaviours are changing the face of sports broadcasting. It was chaired by Ross Taylor, Head of Sport and Jon Watts, Managing Partner at MTM, in front of an audience of over 130 senior media executives.

Ross set the scene of how we are living in a period of significant change within the industry: a more global focus from brands, the rise of challenger sports, innovations from traditional sports and the changing face of content distribution to audiences. The following questions were then put to the panel:

  • How is the world of sports, sports media and sports rights changing?
  • What are the prospects for new digital players and where are the OTT opportunities?
  • How are sports organisations approaching international opportunities?
  • How will eSports develop during the next few years and what can other sports learn from this?
  • How will VR, AR and 5G enhance the fan experience and which will be most influential in the long term?

Here are some of the themes that emerged from the discussion and questions from the audience.

Technology is changing the world of sports

A dramatic shift in technology is playing a key role in changing the world of sports and sports media. Barriers to content consumption have been lowered and there are numerous ways sports content is distributed. There is also greater personalisation due to the availability of user and event data. However, fans and viewers are now expecting much more for their viewing experience.

“The commoditisation of tech has lowered the barriers of content production and content consumption”

There was consensus that it’s hard to say what will happen to the future of sports rights, as this has always been an unpredictable area, and is becoming even more so with digital players entering the market.

Digital players have a growing appetite for sports rights

There was also consensus across the panel that digital players are testing the waters and have a growing appetite for sports rights. Indeed, this was confirmed only two days after our event, when it was announced that Amazon has bought one of the remaining Premier League packages, and is set to show 20 live matches from the 2019/2020 season.

Our panellists highlighted that there is clearly a demand for OTT offerings amongst consumers, as the desire for a personalised and engaging experience increases. More specifically, for second and third-tier sports that struggle to sell rights, OTT is an area in which they can grow.

Formula 1, in the post-Ecclestone era, decided to revolutionise by developing their own direct-to-consumer OTT product in certain markets. The panellists agreed that such products give fans what they are looking for: greater personalisation.

“People want more personalisation for their product. There clearly is a demand for something in this area”

Sports organisations are taking advantage of international opportunities

The panellists believed that to increase their global outreach, sports organisations are increasingly likely to hold matches / tournaments abroad and have greater diversity across teams. The Women’s Super League was seen as an excellent example, as the increase in overseas players in major domestic leagues is driving global interest in the game.

The future of eSports continues to looks bright

eSports may currently be male dominated, but stereotypes are fading and more female gamers are taking a step into the world. Viewing eSports on Facebook and YouTube is also becoming mainstream and the more it is encountered, the more people will naturally engage with it. While brand involvement was historically driven by endemic digital brands, the likes of Vodafone, Sky, Gillette and McDonalds have now entered into partnerships with eSports. A great example of mainstream advertisers engaging with eSports fans was the Mercedes-Benz ‘Grow Up’ campaign, aimed at 18-34 year old gamers, for ESL One.

“More people who play games are learning that eSports is a thing. They’re getting into the habit of watching other people play games. As it is promoted more and becomes mainstream, the more people will engage with it”

eSports provides opportunities for greater fan engagement

Community engagement was stressed as an integral element to eSport’s popularity, with constant fan interaction throughout games – something not as prevalent in more traditional sports.

Although it was highlighted that eSports may be a potential threat in terms of advertising, sponsorship and athlete popularity, overall, our panellists did not see eSports as a threat to established sports, but rather as an opportunity. FIFA’s video games were described as a ‘gateway drug’ in the U.S. to the Premier League and it was discussed that it could be used to promote other sports in a similar manner.

“The theory is if you get people participating in a sport it has a halo effect. An eSport version of a sport would therefore be an important way to promote the game itself”

AR & VR are set to enhance the fan experience

Our panellists noted AR as one of the most exciting opportunities to engage fans with sports events, taking the content that’s produced around these events to the next level. Unlike VR, which is restricted to those with suitable headsets, the addressable market for AR is huge as it would ultimately be every smartphone.

From an eSport perspective, VR was championed as a way to achieve a fully immersive game-viewing experience.

In summary, the world of sport, and sports media, continues to develop at a fast pace. As the fans and the market continue to develop through technological advances and changing audience behaviours, sports organisations will need high-quality strategic advice more than ever before.

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MTM Sport helps leading rights holders, media companies and brands grow and develop their businesses in fast-moving, digitally-driven markets. If you’d like to know more please contact: mtmsport@mtmlondon.com

About Timothy Scarsbrook

Timothy Scarsbrook recently joined the research team at MTM fresh from university, where he found his passion in research and all things geography. In his spare time, he enjoys going to the latest art exhibitions and wandering around museums.