New blow for Bruin and Deltatre after NFL Game Pass fake reviews fiasco
By Callum Murray
NFL Game Pass Europe, the digital subscription OTT service featuring all live NFL games that was built and powered by Deltatre, the international sports media services company, was forced to post a Twitter apology at the weekend for what it described as “a severe outage due to a technical issue.”
The statement continued: “We have not delivered to our customers the expected standard of service for Game Pass. We will be amending our refund policy and announcing next steps in compensating our NFL fans by 5.00 pm UK time (12 noon ET) on Tuesday, October 10.”
The development represents the latest in a series of embarrassments for Deltatre and its owner Bruin Sports Capital, the sports investment company run by former IMG chief George Pyne, since Bruin and WPP, the international advertising group that holds a stake in Bruin, were appointed by the NFL in June to promote Game Pass in Europe.
The appointment represented Bruin’s largest piece of business since acquiring Deltatre almost a year earlier, in a deal worth in the region of €145 million ($161 million at the time).
The partners said in June that Deltatre “will now power NFL Game Pass across a combined 61 European countries and territories. This includes the development of a new, state-of-the-art product which will feature a rich user experience optimised for cross-platform viewing. Deltatre will also manage end-to-end technology delivery, streaming, user-facing applications, back-end support, payments and customer service.”
However, last week, it emerged that, urged by a senior marketing executive, Deltatre employees (plus their “relatives, family, friends”), had been posting fake positive reviews for Game Pass on Apple and Google stores in a bid to counter negative feedback to alleged glitches in the service.
The email from the executive, seen by the UK’s Independent newspaper, concluded: “The goal for you to place at least 3 ratings each. We are 500 in the company, if we manage to have three 5-star votes (so 1500 overall) we will make an impact!”
Deltatre admitted and apologised for the fake reviews, in a statement which read: “Deltatre apologises for the posting of positive reviews of its Game Pass Europe App. We have taken swift action to remove the limited number of these reviews. We have also taken measures to improve our internal processes and increased oversight to ensure this does not happen again. NFL Game Pass Europe is an important service to NFL fans outside the US and we are committed to delivering the best possible service to them.”
However, it is reported that the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is investigating the case, having told The Independent: “Fake reviews can mislead people and damage businesses playing by the rules. That’s why the CMA is leading the way internationally to help stop misleading online practices, so far resulting in 16 enforcement cases worldwide.
“Whether it’s about providing clearer guidelines or taking enforcement action against businesses that flout the law, the CMA will continue to work with international partners to achieve better outcomes for people across the globe.”
The fake reviews included the likes of: “New app works great! Lots of features;” “Great to see a fantastic UX on this app with super navigation;” “Simple flow… Easy to navigate;” “Wonderful app!;” “Love it. Video quality is great and streaming is smooth.”
The technical problems, and the fake reviews, are all the more embarrassing for those concerned because NFL Europe had publicly set great store by the launch of the new app, promising users that there would be an “all new NFL Game Pass platform, exclusive to European fans and brought to you by a new service provider.” That service provider is Deltatre.
In June, Giampiero Rinaudo, Deltatre’s chief executive, told Sportcal that it would develop a “complete OTT platform” that would be available in 61 territories in Europe on a range of devices, including mobile devices, connected TVs, tablets and desktop computers.
Innovations, he said, would include a new user interface, new navigation and new branding, plus an improved video player, with ability to rewind a live game and viewing flexibility, including the ability to watch four separate live games simultaneously via a split screen.
In theory, the service allows users to watch live games across five devices. Multiple games can be watched at once, while the NFL RedZone, the channel which features live action cut-ins as teams approach the opposition's end zone, is also available.
Also included is the NFL Network, the NFL’s dedicated channel, and various NFL documentary series and archive content.
However, users have taken to Google and Apple review forums to complain about the functionality of the new service, including that they have been unable to stream matches, its main raison d’etre.
As recently as last month, Alistair Kirkwood, managing director of NFL UK, told Sportcal in an exclusive interview that the revamped Game Pass is as important a milestone as any of the regular-season matches the league has held in London over the last decade.
Game Pass has been operational across Europe in recent years, but Kirkwood conceded that it had long been considered an afterthought by league executives.
He said: “We’re a league pretty good at putting live events on, events that excite people around the world, and we’re relentlessly wanting to improve. We started the Game Pass as a digital product a few years back. It was about satisfying a relatively small number of people, and was, in truth, a side bit of the business, not core.
“But over the years consumption trends and technology have changed, while attention spans have shortened. We are at stage now where our fans are more cultured and aware, and to an extent demanding.”
Kirkwood said the decision to team up with Bruin and WPP was made to “move this OTT opportunity forward,” adding: “We’d been seeing growth in the [Game Pass] subscriber base, despite our lack of proficiency in the area.”
He continued: “In the next five years, this will be seen as a major part of our business.”
Bruin told Sportcal in June that the deal for it to promote Game Pass represented a “long-term” appointment, but would not specify the length.
Bruin’s appointment continued its association with the NFL. In March 2015, it acquired NFL On Location, the NFL’s hospitality business, re-christening it On Location Experiences. On Location in turn last year acquired Anthony Travel, the agency specialising in packages for amateur and collegiate sports events.
Speaking earlier this year in an exclusive interview with Sportcal Insight, which you can read here , Pyne said: “In the next couple of weeks there will be interesting activity regarding Deltatre in USA; and also in Asia and Europe. I’m very bullish on the company. They’re people that understand sport and technology. They understand both, not one or the other. They really offer value to both federations and broadcasters and their DNA is the love of sport. They started out in linear TV and moved to digital; but they still do things in linear. They understand sports media through all channels of distribution.”
Last month, Bruin and WPP established OverTier, a new, London-based company, to support the Game Pass initiative, with Sam Jones named as chief executive. Jones most recently served as group managing director and main board member of media giant Bauer, responsible for building the digital operation across hundreds of brands.
Other OTT and live streaming solutions performed by Deltatre include: the redesign and relaunch of Tennis TV, ATP Media’s direct-to-consumer live streaming service which streams more than 2,000 ATP World Tour matches a year; the BT Sport app which makes all Uefa Champions League and Europa League matches available on iOS and Android, as well as via the BT Sport desktop player; and FINAtv, which offers live and on-demand competition coverage, as well as exclusive interviews, features, analysis and commentary, of the disciplines of the world governing body for aquatics.Sportcal