Atalanta Media gets creative to accelerate growth of women’s soccer
By Susan Lingeswaran
Esmeralda Negron, the co-founder and general manager of Atalanta Media Group, a new start-up dedicated to increasing the visibility of women’s soccer, has outlined ambitious plans for the company to shift the global trajectory of the women’s game by accelerating the distribution of league media rights to high-profile broadcasters.
Atalanta Media officially launched earlier this month on the back of brokering one-season deals between England's FA Women’s Soccer League and US national network NBC and international over-the-top subscription platform DAZN.
The deal with NBC marks the first time the league is being televised in the USA, with the broadcaster to screen 50 games across the 2020-21 campaign, including at least 12 on cable channel NBC Sports Network and others across its digital platforms.
DAZN, meanwhile, is broadcasting 44 WSL matches to its German and Italian audiences.
Pitch International, the UK-based sports marketing agency, holds the international distribution rights to the WSL, having already sealed deals with Nordic Entertainment Group in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, Sky Mexico and Optus Sport and Mexico.
However, under a new business concept, Atlanta Media bought the US, German and Italian rights to the league off Pitch and distributed the rights to its partner broadcasters for free.
In an interview with Sportcal, Negron (pictured), a former professional player who turned out for the US women's under-21 team with the likes of stars such as Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, claimed her focus is to accelerate the growth of women's soccer by increasing the visibility of the leagues.
She said: “We’re not a traditional agency, we’re doing more than brokering deals. We are investing in the rights, and sharing them with our premium broadcasters to ensure the game gets the visibility it needs to grow.
“What you find, understandably so, is that the leagues want investment but the challenge is that women’s club football just hasn’t built its fan base yet. We’re also taking the responsibility of marketing the game and we’ll be marketing it in a different way from the grassroots up.
“That way, we are the ones taking the risks on behalf of the broadcasters and directly helping increase the value of women’s soccer media rights, which will help the game grow overall.”
The company is backed by investment firm 777 Partners, which, as part of its investment, has not only provided Atalanta Media with financial assistance to buy up media rights to women’s soccer properties but also given the company access to its in-house marketing, human resources, accounting and legal teams.
As part of its business plan, the company has also launched a new digital platform, Ata Football, which will house full matches, highlights and other exclusive content.
As well as having the distribution rights to the WSL matches in the US, Germany and Italy, Atalanta Media picked up global clip rights to the WSL and Frauen-Bundesliga, German soccer’s top-tier women’s league, which will be available on the platform.
The platform is free to access for the time being but the company will look to monetise the service through a mix of freemium and subscription models once it has grown its rights portfolio and built out its exclusive content.
Negron said: “Our digital platform will house content whether its live or on-demand matches, highlights, clips from some of the best players or clubs in the world and we already have that going and it’s starting to get built out.
“It will incorporate mentorship and engagement opportunities, bringing fans closer to the game. We hope to grow it globally.”
To boost its content, Atalanta Media today announced a partnership with UK production company Gravity Media, which has been involved in the last two Fifa Women’s World Cups and the development of the first highlights show for the WSL on the BBC, the UK public-service broadcaster.
Under the partnership, Gravity Media will provide Atalanta Media with a 'one-stop shop' production capability through its dedicated studio, edit and distribution facilities so it can produce high quality highlights and clip content for its partners and platform.
As part of its marketing strategy, the platform will also be used to boost player profiles to a new demographic, which will help to further increase the value of the sport.
Negron said: “It will be largely marketed to fans and young girls of the game. Young girls have not had an opportunity to cultivate role models on the female side of the game and this will give them a chance to really engage with the game.
“At the same time athletes get an opportunity to market themselves to this demographic.
“Sometimes I think integrations or activations get ahead of themselves in a way because you can do player features and branded content around players but if people don’t even know who these players are and don’t get to see them play, it doesn’t drive the change that you need it to drive.
“We’ll be starting from the ground up with player features on our platform or integration of player features on our broadcast at half time so people can start to engage with who these players are.”
The business was co-founded by Negron and Hannah Brown, a former Sky Sports executive and Formula E’s chief strategy and business development officer, after the pair met while working at entertainment company Relevant Sports Group where Negron launched and directed the Women’s International Champions Cup exhibition tournament in 2018 and 2019.
Negron said: “Through my work with the women’s ICC I developed relationships with all the top clubs, like Lyon, Manchester City, Atletico and PSG and I wanted to watch them during the year.
“I’d hear about these record crowds watching games like Barcelona versus Atletico Madrid, but I couldn’t find it on television, I couldn’t even find it on the internet and with Hannah, having her background on the media side, we started to think about how we could solve this problem and we came up with this non-traditional idea in November last year.”
The pair first approached Pitch with their proposal to buy some of the international rights to the WSL and give them to a willing premium broadcaster and then met with NBC Sport’s president of programming Jon Miller and his colleague Wendy Bass, senior vice-president of rights integration, in January about the possibility of airing the league.
With both companies supportive of the initial idea, Negron and Brown went in search of investors and were linked up with 777 Partners through a mutual friend in the spring. They then immediately started the process to secure the WSL rights from Pitch.
Under its business model, Atalanta Media’s main source of revenue will be through sponsorship while the platform is being built out. It retains all the graphics and broadcast sponsorship elements throughout the match, with a commercial split with broadcast partners.
Negron explained: “This gives an opportunity for us to engage sponsors that want to get behind real change and something really tangible so I think that’s the exciting piece and then with our platform, they can engage the grassroots market as well in the US and hopefully globally at some point.
“It’s just a fundamental basic shift that needs to happen for the game to grow and it just can’t if it’s not visible or accessible in the first place.”
On future plans, Negron said the focus of the company will be to acquire more league rights for broadcast partners, while building its digital platform.
She said: “In the next three to four months, the priority for us will be to secure more leagues. We are in close discussions with a few big leagues, and broadcast partners too, which we hope to announce in the near future.
“Companies we’ve spoken to since coming up with the idea in November have been really supportive of our concept so plans have evolved quickly.
“We need to get to a point where, culturally, men’s and women’s sport is available on the same platforms and to do that, visibility is essential otherwise it won’t reach its potential for a long time.
“We are just trying to accelerate that process.”