Live sports have ranked at the top of TV viewership ratings for decades, dominating programming timetables and filling living rooms globally with tension, cheers -occasionally tears – and always a spectacle. Yet the past five years have marked a stark transition in how sports rights are bought, sold, and consumed, shifting from traditional broadcast channels to streaming platforms.
Fans globally are now eagerly migrating to the likes of Amazon Prime, Disney+, and sports leagues’ own direct-to-consumer streaming channels to access live sports, setting new milestones in streaming viewership. Even as recently as the 2022 Qatar World Cup, England’s opening match against Iran was streamed a record 8 million times on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport – the highest streaming audience ever for the broadcaster.
This shift to streaming completely rewrites the model for monetising live sports and calls into question how content owners and broadcasters generate revenue and bill their fans. Five years ago, the only way to monetise sports content was to sell the rights to broadcasters, where it was delivered on a linear TV channel and watched by many. Now, a live sports game will be streamed to numerous streaming platforms, accessed on a whole range of devices, paused, re-wound, clipped, and shared to social media, and recorded to on-demand services. Technology challenges aside, broadcasters and content owners must now balance delivering an engaging and enticing experience for their digital fans while authentically monetising their content.
Data, data, and more data!
Ask any sports content owner, federation, or league about streaming, and there is one major commonality – the need for data and the importance of analytics. Sports leagues need access to information that gives a relative indication of age, location, estimated household income, and personal interest to capitalise on revenue and engagement opportunities. By understanding what their fans want, means they know what to expect in terms of revenue coming back to them and the level of personalisation they should offer. This access to data is one of the biggest value-adds from streaming investments for content owners.
The question is simple. Where does the content owner want to take their digital fans on their journey through their platform? The first and main consideration centres around brand activation and creating a clear ability to expand their audience’s reach. Data enables content owners and broadcasters to drive real-time interaction and personalisation within the streaming service, building a much richer and more exciting experience for the fan. The entire fan journey can be relevant and highly personal – from curating the user interface by spotlighting relevant content, building personalised camera feeds into the live stream, and delivering targeted ads during commercial breaks. They can also integrate fun and engaging tools such as quizzes, fun facts, and social media engagement.
Live sports for all
In many ways, streaming democratises how fans can access live sports. Many fans, for example, can’t afford to pay hundreds of pounds for an annual pass to their favourite league or even £10 or £20 per month for a rolling subscription. It’s particularly challenging when you consider they may also already be paying for other entertainment services, like Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime, on top of their mobile phone bill. By migrating to streaming services, fans can have short-term access at an affordable price, paying only for the games they want. The service can even portion up individual games down to key moments – for example, paying to watch the final quarter of a basketball game or extra-time/penalty shootout at the end of a high-stakes football match. Push notifications from the app can alert fans when they may wish to tune in, with payments taken automatically using in-app billing and authentication.
This level of subscription and billing enables fans to build their interest and passion for a sport beyond linear broadcast interaction and takes their engagement to the next level. It provides a much more accessible and fair way to monetise that content, transcending from a ‘catch-all’ monthly or annual subscription fee to understanding what fans want, how they want to access content, and billing them accordingly. It’s about taking fans on a journey through the sport and the streaming service. They might start with small purchases for games and highlights before moving on to a monthly pass, then a yearly pass. If the service is engaging and the content is compelling, content owners can capitalise on the passion of sports fans and build very meaningful connections with them by offering an array of rich capabilities within a modern streaming service. Today that could include ticket purchasing options to live games, merchandising options or even integrating betting and other gamification tools. And tomorrow, there is an even greater opportunity to reimagine what an interactive, data-driven, and highly personalised service might look like for the future sports fan.