News Corp sells BallBall to Dugout but retains involvement
Dugout, the digital media platform backed by top European soccer clubs, has bought BallBall, the digital video soccer service in southeast Asia, from News Corp, although the media giant will remain involved by becoming a partner and shareholder in Dugout’s new southeast Asian business.
BallBall launched in 2013 as a service in Indonesia and Vietnam, offering highlights clips from various top soccer leagues, including the Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and Serie A, plus match previews and post-game features.
The service now becomes part of the new Singapore-based Dugout SE Asia entity, which will hold rights to distribute BallBall content in Asian markets.
Dugout, which has the backing of 77 clubs from various leagues, becomes the major shareholder of Dugout SE Asia but News Corp will also have a stake in the business, and Simon Greenberg, News Corp’s global head of rights, assumes a place on the board of the new company.
Dugout is to showcase the platform’s aggregation of content in Vietnam and Indonesia through a BallBall section on its own platform, but with plans to expand into other countries in the region. Dugout is to feed more content into BallBall, particularly behind-the-scenes content supplied by the company’s clubs and players to support the audience-driving highlights content.
The acquisition and “strategic alliance” with News Corp was announced today to coincide with the first day of the Sportel Asia trade fair in Singapore.
Speaking to Sportcal in Singapore, Greenberg said: “When we first started talking about it, it was such an obvious deal to do. Everyone has to approach the digital world with an open mind these days because things are moving so quickly. The competitive boundaries are constantly shifting and this made complete sense.
“Being a business reliant on rights is a good thing but the cycle of rights is such that sometimes you’re going to end up with not so much content in one territory but, here, we don’t need to worry about that because we can roll out across the region quickly.”
Matthew Baxter, president at Dugout and former chief media officer at Liverpool, explained: “As we create the Southeast Asia entity, it helps us deliver better and deeper content alongside the rights already there in terms of the highlights packages. For us, it automatically gives us a massive footprint across the region, particularly Indonesia and Vietnam but it’s also about the whole region.
“It gives the 77 clubs the opportunity to open a window in the region that obviously they haven’t had.”
Elliot Richardson, Dugout’s founder and chairman, said today: “We are delighted to have agreed the purchase of BallBall, which has been hugely successful in bringing great football content from the world’s best leagues to fans in southeast Asia. We’re now looking forward to complementing that platform with Dugout’s unique ingredient: embedded partnerships and access to the best players and clubs in the world.
“Our aim with Dugout was to make it the digital football destination of choice by aligning clubs/players with brands and fans. We have already created over 15,000 hours of exclusive video content with our partners, and with access to incredible archive and new content themes, this will unlock more stories for fans to view of the clubs and players they love.”
Along with clip rights to four of Europe’s ‘big five’ soccer leagues, BallBall also offers highlights from the likes of the top-tier leagues in Denmark, Russia and Ukraine.
The MP & Silva agency has been providing technical services for BallBall, working with Simplestream, a provider of live streaming and live-to-video-on-demand services, to develop the platform, and this agreement will remain in place following Dugout’s purchase.
Different forms of content Asked about the potential for longer-form or even live content on the back of the tie-up with Dugout, Greenberg noted: “Are we going to be bidding for live streaming rights? As we sit here today, maybe not, but you can never say never. And also, with the clubs that Dugout has, what opportunity is there to utilise some of their rights that they have, as Dugout is effectively an extension of their own digital platforms?
“We are certainly going to be looking at different forms of content that people wouldn’t expect us to look at.”
Dugout has created long-form documentary content with the likes of Marseille, and is currently putting together a programme with Serie A side Napoli.
Baxter said: “We are creating long-form content. We don’t feel you can be generic in the content you make. If you look at the distribution networks that are available then you’ve got to be short and pithy through long form because people digest content in different ways. Storytelling can be in different lengths, so for us, working with Simon and his team, we’ve got to address different lengths.”
One obvious subject for new specialised content on BallBall would be Radja Nainggolan, the Roma midfielder of Indonesian descent, a player whose popularity both Baxter and Greenberg feel has not yet been properly maximised by a digital platform.
Dugout, which launched in November 2016 and generates revenue from ad-supported and branded content, partnered with North America’s MLS at the end of last year in a bid to develop its global reach, creating a dedicated MLS page on Dugout to give fans access to highlight videos, skill vignettes and player features.
Dugout has gathered over 67 million unique users and 912 million video views to date, and commands “a social footprint of 2.1 billion” with “over 12,500 videos posted on the platform by clubs, players and brands.” During the 2017-18 season, BallBall said that it generated 800 million video views for its short-form league content, a 966-per-cent increase between 2015 and 2017.
Expanding on the rationale behind the deal with Dugout, Greenberg stated: “The whole view of clips and digital content is rapidly changing. In the next few months we’re going to see a lot of different propositions from rights-holders coming to market, such as what the AFC might be doing around digital content. That throws up a whole new set of opportunities.
“It’s impossible to say now how this will evolve, other than [to say] this is a coming together of two companies that are at the heart of and understand the value of premium content. Together we can create a digital platform to exploit that premium content in the right way and recognise the value of that.”
He continued: “It’s a rapidly changing media environment…News Corp has to approach things differently to how it once did before. The only people we will work with are those who value premium content and understand its intrinsic value that can be maximised. Some platforms don’t understand that concept but Dugout clearly does because of its shareholders and its type of content.”
BallBall, which is also distributed through various third-party websites, is in talks to acquire rights in other territories.
Greenberg also highlighted the benefits of tapping into Dugout’s shareholder base, particularly the clubs, and stressed that the content it brings to BallBall is both complementary and not rights-restricted.