European Athletics looking to enhance commercial appeal with new digital focus
By Euan Cunningham
European Athletics, track and field's continental governing body, is hopeful that a new focus on enhanced digital content will not only help it stay connected with the fanbase but also prove enticing to potential sponsors.
Like many federations EA has had to consider new ways of engaging with viewers and commercial partners over the past few months, as the athletics calendar has been shut down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
It has recently taken steps to reinvigorate its digital presence, including the launch last week of a short-form content series called '50 Golden Moments', and undertaking a review of its content archives.
Christian Milz, EA chief executive, said following the launch that while the process had started before the pandemic took hold, the current situation had highlighted its importance.
He told Sportcal: “We need to keep our work at the front of our fanbase’s minds, and engaging with them digitally is a perfect way of letting them know we’re still here, and that we want to remain connected even when there are no live events taking place.
“Producing interesting content without organising the big events that are normally our main focus is something we need to work on.”
The 50 Golden Moments series, which looks back at the greatest feats over the last five decades of EA competitions, is seen as just the tip of the iceberg in terms of content production, with the governing body also looking to use longer-form interviews with athletes, conducted last year, as a means of reinvigorating its YouTube channel, which it admits has been an underused asset.
Robert Faulkner, the EA’s head of communications, who has been spearheading the project, said: “Our YouTube channel needed some work, because up until this point we’ve been well below what we should be at in terms of viewing figures.”
Milz said that, on top of this, as part of the organisation's eight-year partnership with the European Broadcasting Union, the umbrella body of public-service broadcasters, “we are in discussions with them about live long-form content, as well as making use of our archives...
“The EBU partnership is a win-win for us… we’ve now created a working group with them to test new ways of coverage and distribution around the Under-18 Championships in Italy next year.”
EA’s current worldwide media rights deal with the EBU runs until the end of 2027, with the last renewal signed two years ago extending a partnership that dates back to 1981.
Milz believes the increased digital focus will bear fruit in terms of EA's appeal to sponsors.
With no live events at present and the 2020 European Athletics Championships in Paris, which were scheduled for late-August, having been cancelled, existing partners such as Spar, the international independent food retailer, and Japan-based Toyo Tires, are having to rely on exposure through other channels.
In March 2019, Spar extended its sponsorship of EA until 2027, taking its support for the organisation beyond three decades, and Milz name-checked it as a brand that the governing body would be looking to “provide value for in different ways”.
The chief executive said: “We believe sponsors are looking for new ways to engage with sports fans, and this new digital ecosystem we are building will be able to provide partners with the opportunity to reach a new, wider audience.
“We can now offer commercial partners and brands the opportunity to speak to more targeted audiences, which we can identify via our new digital strategy. We need to be very innovative, to provide the kind of content which will work for our sponsors and also for our fanbase.”
He also admitted that "if we don’t offer the right product and value for our partners, they will just go somewhere else.”
Faulkner concurred, saying: “At the moment we have to look at what else we can offer sponsors, instead of the normal broadcast visibility. Each sponsor will have a different demographic they want to focus on, in the future we’ll be able to ask our different partners who they want to connect with, and we’ll be able to offer them a much more personalised approach.”
He added the response from existing sponsors to the digital strategy had been positive, and that “not only are we going to them with ideas and projects, they’re also coming to us and offering suggestions on how both sides can keep the partnership active.”
EA is also hopeful that the approach will help it attract desirable sponsors from areas such as software and technology.
Faulkner said: “As athletics is a sport based on timings, statistics and data, the possibility to work with the technology sector more is a very interesting one.”
In assessing the importance of EA's increased digital focus, Milz said: "We see digital transformation as something that is necessary for us to keep on top of the market. Our current business model has 95 per cent of our budget coming from TV and partnerships - some organisations receive funding from public bodies, we get none. That means we need to look at collecting revenue from other sources, especially at the moment.
“We know this can’t replace the backbone of our income, which comes from our main outdoor championships, but we see it as providing a secondary business model to complement what we already have.”