Sports media was once a simple game. Programmes were made and distributed, advertising space was allotted, a smorgasbord of content was broadcasted for viewers, ad revenue was generated, and the process would repeat.

That landscape is being increasingly disrupted.

Ballpark figures

Broadband, 4, 5 and 6G, cable and satellite channels all mean that the aggregation is no longer just in terms of content, but services too.

The ‘big bang’ in UK sports media was the launch of the football Premier League, into which the then-fledgeling BSkyB invested heavily, ushering in a new business model: subscription. Viewers pay a monthly fee to watch, following the model set in the US with some NFL and NBA games.

For Richard Stainer, Head of Media and Communications, Global Sports, Media and Entertainment Practice at Odgers Berndtson, “that was a really significant moment.”

“Although money was – and is – still being made through advertising, the foundation of the business model became much broader, one in which consumers welcomed paid-for content into their homes. Now the advertising served was more relevant while at the same time not the sole source of income,” he explained.

“Now digital platforms allow people to watch any content, any time, anywhere. It’s the direct-to-consumer era.”

Getting in the game

To underline this change, in August 2018, Facebook announced that it had teamed up with La Liga to bring the Spanish football league to viewers on the Indian subcontinent – for free. Given that India is Facebook’s largest market, with 270 million users, this seems a logical, if unexpected, alliance.

Although domestic football in India may only be nascent, it signals a fundamental shift.

The three-season deal will bring football to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, The Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

On the other side of the world, Greg Santore, Head of Odgers Berndtson’s US Sports Practice, adds a further perspective: “Legalised sports betting in the US is another game changer. With the projected billions of incremental revenue on ad spend alone, it will intertwine with professional, collegiate and other sports-related businesses.”

“With the extreme urgency to get into the marketplace quickly, the developing talent pool will need to include experience with fan engagement, media and other disciplines and may come from any one of them.”

At the same time, millennial viewing habits have played heavily into the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime and start-ups such as NewTV, which hopes to raise $1 billion to fund ‘bite-sized’ chunks of content to subscribers. These content providers mean that people can segment and select; just this programme or just this series.

A clearly-articulated vision

The talent question in this fragmenting media landscape is absolutely imperative.

For Stainer, “it all starts with a clearly articulated vision. The very best talent wants to sign up to a journey, breaking new ground, leading and innovating. One of the reasons why Amazon has been so successful is because Jeff Bezos is supremely compelling – to investors, consumers and co-workers – about what he is going to make happen next.”

“The search is on,” Stainer continued, “for people who not only have really bold ideas but who are deeply talented at executing these ideas and – crucially – able to persuade the broader public to buy into them.”

“Murdoch’s original Sky Sports vision was genius, but you have got to have execution, which means – today – being really strong commercially, really digitally savvy, and really comfortable with companies that are not structured in the traditional ways.”

“It’s not easy to find all those things in one person.”

Amazon will, of course, win big, because it makes money not solely from creating content, but out of knowing its consumers really well and targeting them in ever more refined ways to sell them more goods and services.

“Facebook may also be a winner but their content strategy is not yet set. Certainly hiring people like Peter Hutton, who was the CEO at Eurosport, was a really smart move and signals intention,” according to Stainer.

Landmark media deals

In Australia, two of that country’s leading sports brands, Cricket Australia and Tennis Australia, hit the headlines earlier this year with new landmark media deals that saw both swapping free-to-air broadcasters.

Cricket’s AUD$1.2bn deal was a clear demonstration of the new landscape, where sport and media broadcasters are being forced to join forces to ensure they are delivering the best content across multiple platforms. The deal involved a shared broadcast and streaming deal between Channel Seven, Foxtel and Cricket Australia.

According to Rebecca Reed, Partner and Head of Sport, Gaming, Media and Entertainment Practice at Odgers Berndtson Australia and New Zealand: “Media and sport continue to rely upon each other, despite the fact that media broadcast deals are not as substantial as they once were.”

“In sporting organisations, the Head of Commercial role has changed significantly, with the demand now for commercially-driven leaders with media backgrounds and expertise."

“The new Chief Commercial Officer for Rugby Australia, Cameron Murray, spent more than 10 years in broadcast media and three years leading APAC media advisory across traditional and new media. It is this in-depth knowledge and understanding of the media space and how to commercialise content that made him the frontrunner for the job.”

“The AFL brought in Kylie Rogers at the beginning of 2018 for exactly the same reasons; this combination of digital, broadcast and commercial experience. The tricky thing is they still need to be able to broker partnership deals and secure sponsors for all their products, not just the elites level, so the talent pool is narrow,” Reed notes.

With the sports media landscape shifting this rapidly, the industry is bound to be thrown a few more curveballs. Part 2 of this series considers one of the most disruptive developments yet: the eSports explosion.

This article is from the latest ‘Talent and Potential’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson magazine, OBSERVE.

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Greg Santore

Greg Santore is a Partner and Head of Odgers Berndtson’s U.S. Sports Leadership Practice, where he works closely with the Education Practice’s collegiate athletics initiatives across all Divisions....

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