The pace of change in the sports media landscape will only increase as we enter a new decade. That’s going to throw up some major challenges but it’s also exciting.
Sports providers will need to be nimble, innovative and laser focused on what fans really want in order to succeed.
Here are some of the key issues we’re thinking about at Eleven Sports as we enter the 2020s:
5G and a new generation of young fans will see live streaming continue to flourish in many markets. That said, linear isn’t going anywhere and will remain the dominant force in many countries and many sports for the foreseeable future. The key for sports providers will be to tailor our offering to the consumption habits of fans, wherever they are. Whether it’s linear, OTT, a particular social channel or a media publisher’s platform – we need to make sure we’re there, to make our content available to fans in the most accessible way possible.
As consumers, most of us will reach saturation point at 4 or 5 subscriptions… so the current proliferation of offerings is unlikely to be sustainable
2019 has seen a host of new players join the sports OTT landscape. Competition is good. It drives innovation and pushes everyone to create the best service possible. But it has its limits. As consumers, most of us will reach saturation point at 4 or 5 subscriptions – and that includes our Netflix and Spotify accounts – so the current proliferation of offerings is unlikely to be sustainable. I think we will see content consolidated in the hands of a smaller number of providers over the next few years, with those who can demonstrate the most compelling offering to fans rewarded. With our platform neutral approach, Eleven will work with whichever players emerge as winners.
International premium rights like Uefa Champions League, Premier League, LaLiga, F1 and NBA will continue to be key to the majority of sports fans and they remain a big part of our future plans. The brand power of individual athletes is also not going away. We have seen that in Portugal, where we broadcast every minute of Christiano Ronaldo’s club football to dedicated CR7 fans.
At Eleven we also believe that there is space in the market for less mainstream rights to flourish. Where there are dedicated local fans, we want to be there to service them – whether that’s with Serie C matches in Italy or local baseball in Taiwan and Japan. Emerging technology that allows live sport to be broadcast in high quality with stripped back production (look at the NFL’s Summer League’s smartphone broadcast in 2019) will help those focused on long-tail rights to succeed.
Piracy is an existential problem sports providers and the wider industry need to tackle urgently. We’re getting to the point where there is no such thing as exclusive rights because everything can be found in real time while its happening, online for free. We need to work together as an industry – and with local governments especially – to hold illegal streamers to account. The Premier League and LaLiga have helped to show the way on this in 2019. For now, the most powerful thing we can do as rights holders is ensure we offer fans a product that blows illegal competitors out of the water in terms of quality and user experience.
Creating a community
More and more young fans will expect to be able to actively engage in their favourite sporting moments. They want access to a social community hub, where they can communicate directly with fellow fans, their favourite players and content creators. Eleven recently introduced a tool called Watch Together, which allows fans to share the emotions of a matchday alongside their friends and Eleven VIPs (former players, commentators, influencers). The engagement we have seen from those using the tool has shown that fostering a sense of community for subscribers needs to be a continued focus for us in future.
We need to listen to our customers, really understand our data, and create an offering that is as relevant, personalised and entertaining as possible
The emergence of new technologies and platforms will provide ever more opportunities to enhance fans’ viewing experience. The NBA’s disruptive approach to content creation is a great example of a rights owner leaning into the viewing behaviours of younger fans and disrupting the status quo (though they need to take care not to damage the business of their broadcast clients). What’s key is that innovations have fans at the front and centre. We need to listen to our customers, really understand our data, and create an offering that is as relevant, personalised and entertaining as possible. Not just window dressing for sports industry awards season.
The pace of change means it’s impossible to know exactly where we will be at the end of 2020, let alone 2030. But we believe that if you always have fans at the front and centre of your approach; if you can be flexible, localised and at the forefront of meaningful change; you will have a great chance to offer customers the best possible sporting experience in the years to come.