Sports fans are now calling the shots

Many in the sports industry are focusing on what will happen to live sports rights, as the new internet giants start to compete with traditional TV players. But another change has been taking place in sports media in the last couple of years that is just as profound.  A new generation of sports fans is demanding – and creating – new content experiences that go beyond the live event.

Engagement on social platforms is an increasingly important part of the sports fan’s experience

While the internet giants and TV players are preparing to battle over live sports rights, fans are already consuming both live and non-live content across a host of new digital sites and social media platforms. A new generation of fan-based sports sites, such as Copa90 and the Player’s Tribune, are attracting millions of younger users who value the mix of footage, user-generated content and the ability to interact with their favourite players and teams. Today’s sports fans are ‘always-on’, watching and sharing clips on Snapchat, consuming fan-generated content, and live tweeting during matches.

It’s no longer enough just to consume; audiences want to feel as though they are a part of the action too – wherever they may be. Services such as Snapchat, Instagram stories, Facebook Live and Periscope are enabling consumers to live-stream their experiences and reactions like never before. Sports clubs are beginning to show Instagram stories in stadiums, and some media companies will soon broadcast these digital stories as part of their sports coverage.

Fan-led content experiences are not just about social platforms, either. Virtual reality also threatens to change the way fans experience live sports. Some sports leagues have already begun broadcasting matches in VR: The MLB and NBA have both announced they would broadcast one VR game per week this year, in partnerships with Intel and NextVR. BT Sport also broadcast the 2017 UEFA Champions League final in VR, via YouTube. Fans viewing games in VR may soon have the ability to choose their own viewpoints from which to view the action. Technology from Intel could allow fans to view highlights and live sports from any virtual camera location within a stadium, providing an immersive and customised viewing experience.

What do these developments mean for sports media companies and, crucially, fan engagement?

In an increasingly competitive multi-platform market, with fans wanting to be in control, media companies will need to work hard to maintain their share of time and wallet. The bar has been, and continues to be, raised. Fans expect the latest innovations, demand better access to the stars and insist on more informed tactical insight. If this isn’t forthcoming, they know they can get it elsewhere – or even produce it themselves!

Fans accustomed to a constant stream of new, engaging content on mobile-first social media sites expect a state-of-the-art digital experience and a presence on multiple platforms, which are challenging expectations to meet. It’s no longer enough to acquire top-tier sports rights; media companies need to deliver engaging experiences across all devices. Moreover, they need to deliver this before, during and after the event: fan consumption of sport-related videos increases by 75% the day before a live match.

We are seeing a response from the traditional market leaders, however. Consider the Sky Sports channel portfolio redevelopment in the UK, with new price points and themed offerings focused on specific sports – such as football, golf and cricket. Consumers now have more control over the sports they choose to watch and pay for, instead of them being bundled in with other packages.  Other rights holders are looking to take advantage of the growing range of distribution options: a range of niche-sports OTT services have launched, such as FloSports – super-serving fans and going head-to-head against giants such as ESPN.

The rewards for success are increasing – but so are the stakes, and with so much competition for eyeballs, it’s more challenging than ever for sports media companies to meet fans’ needs.

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If you are interested in talking more about the future of sports media, please do get in touch, or join us at SportsCast in London in December.

About Ross Taylor

Ross Taylor has recently returned to MTM to head up our new sport division, MTM Sport. He re-joins us from the BBC, where he was Head of Audiences for BBC Sport and Radio 5 live. Ross has extensive experience across the sports sector, working with leading broadcasters, rights holders and sports brands. He is also a long suffering Evertonian. Let’s not mention this season.