Amazon, Facebook and other subscription-based, direct to consumer sports media platforms are changing the sports media game and scoring big points. Other disrupters such as Dazn and Eleven Sports are also looking strong. But esports is a total game-changer.

Disruptive delivery

Dazn describes itself as “the world’s first truly dedicated live sports streaming service” and is currently available in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Canada and Japan. Eleven Sports – “a multinational group of sports television channels” – has its HQ in the UK and currently serves Italy, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Taiwan and the USA.

Owners of the rights to major sporting events, such as IMG, the international events and talent management company based in New York City, will own, create and provide content themselves,  having acquired the streaming provider NeuLion.

The agile consumer will also be a winner because they will be able to find any content, on any device, in any territory.

One of the disrupters-in-chief in this new world is Martin Anayi, formerly a commercial lawyer with IMG. He is now the CEO of Guinness Pro14 rugby, a not-for-profit organisation that features rugby union league teams in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and South Africa. “We brought in some really great commercial talent from RTE in Ireland, and a new finance director from Diageo. The total team now is 15 people. When I joined three years ago, it was just three people,” says Anayi.

Talent transformations

The rapidity with which technology is changing has profound implications for the kind of talent that will be needed in the future.

Increasingly, the content you view will be determined to an extent by an AI-informed app on your mobile device. This will know what you have enjoyed watching, and then anticipate what you might like to view. To do this will need the skills of designers, coders and psychologists. At a higher level, it will also require the expertise of media-savvy talent of all descriptions.

“For us, in the talent space, ultimately the most valuable executives are increasingly those people who can help make that really big breakthrough with innovative thinking in sports rights, or in original content, whether they are creating, acquiring or producing,” says Richard Stainer, Head of Media and Communications, Global Sports, Media and Entertainment Practice at Odgers Berndtson.

Adapt or die

For Mark Waller, Executive Vice President NFL Events and International, the impact is clear. “I think the key characteristic for both leaders and sports organisations in this current market is the willingness to embrace ambiguity and recognise that the way the landscape is evolving, nobody can predict what the next five years from now will look like. So embracing, and to some extent creating, ambiguity is important.”

Walker continued, “For example, we made the decision to develop the OTT platform and go with two providers: one for Europe and one for the rest of world. That has created a massive opportunity to learn and, at the same time, create ambiguity in our pathway. It goes back to the leadership skill of wanting to innovate and be eager to create the ambiguity with that sort of innovation.”

For Euan Frizzell, Global Sports Practice Principal with Odgers Berndtson, “the knock-on effect on the type of talent required in the industry is profound.”

“For sports organisations, the objectives haven’t changed: grow the sport, the audience and the engagement even though the motivations may vary from driving revenues, health and sporting success.”

“Technology has been disrupting and enabling sports organisations for decades and, in particular, in helping what were once regional, domestic or national sports globalise. The interesting question is what role will domestic sports serve in a globalised product? Cricket and golf are examples of sports that have introduced new formats, driven by the need to make them more entertaining spectacles for the next generation of viewers.”

“The impact on the sort of executive talent required to thrive in this evolving and global ecosystem cannot be understated.”

“We will see more global talent from different sectors and backgrounds enter the sports and sports media industry, and more leaders who are prepared to see ambiguity in a positive way in order to gain that vital competitive advantage.”

The esports explosion

Who would have imagined that sitting in an audience of 30,000 whooping spectators, watching individual video gamers or teams take on others could generate so much interest and money?

“People have been watching other people play video games for the past 20 years. But it’s only started to become really popular now, with the rise of technology,” says Caroline Lacey, esports and video gaming consultant with Odgers Berndtson.

The global audience for esports will this year exceed $380 million in value, according to market data analysts Newzoo. Total revenues generated will be more than $905 million.

Newzoo expects an annual esports viewing audience of 550 million people in three years’ time. Total yearly revenues will hit $1.65 billion, with 70% being generated by sponsorship and advertising.

Whole new game

“Esports is becoming the new entertainment medium,” says Philip Wride, of Cheesecake Digital, a specialist esports agency. “Our generation has grown up with technology. Brands like Coke, Mountain Dew and Red Bull are involving themselves in esports because they see the opportunities of targeting a specific demographic,” he adds.

Even the International Olympic Committee is considering the creation of a working group to explore how to get into esports.

“We are seeing a lot of people from conventional sports moving in, people who have skill at building partnerships and handling media rights. They need help to understand how to get their brand in front of an audience that has grown up using ad blockers.” says Caroline Lacey.

The transformation of sports media and the dawn of the esports era will continue to impact the talent question for the industry. Just how this will play out, remains to be seen.

Without a doubt, recruiters and talent managers will have to keep their eye on the ball.

Read about the dramatic disruption of sports media in part one of this Insight article.

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

Register to download your free copy

Euan Frizzell

Euan Frizzell is a Principal with Odgers Berndtson providing executive search solutions to a wide range of sports organisations. Based in London, Euan specialises in C-suite corporate sport appoint...

Caroline Lacey

Based in London, Caroline sits within the global gaming practice, handling senior executive and non-executive director positions for international gaming businesses. Her focus is on developing net...

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