3 alternative topics set to shape the #sportsbiz in 2018

AR, VR and AI are difficult to avoid in the industry’s predictions for the year ahead. In this post I talk through three unsung but nevertheless key topics that can’t be ignored by sports organisations of all shapes and sizes during the year(s) ahead.

In 2018…

  1. cross-platform audience measurement approaches will become more commonplace and reveal the true nature of live sports consumption
  2. strategic intellectual property (IP) ownership and management will become even more important in the battle to build and “own” the audience
  3. new products and services from disruptive tech-driven start-ups will enable sports organisations at all levels to capture, manage and monetise new content forms

While these topics will play an increasingly significant role across the industry, the impact that each has will be most profound at one of three levels of the industry.

Big topics of 2018 blog

The arrival of cross-platform audience measurement will enable sports properties to fully understand and leverage the true value of their content…

Traditional TV audience measurement systems such as those historically provided by BARB in the UK or Nielsen in the US, which monitor in-home viewing of linear TV channels, have become outdated as media consumption has shifted to mobile and streaming has become commonplace.

Enter the next generation of audience measurement approaches such as Nielsen’s total audience measurement system which measures media consumption across platforms and which we will hear much more about in 2018.

There has been much written about declining in-home TV audiences for premium sports properties including the NFL and English Premier League. Depending on who you believe, domestic TV ratings for both properties have declined by around 10% year on year.

Fortunately for both properties, and thanks largely to competitive market dynamics and the strategic premium that both command, this has so far not translated into falling media rights fees. However, this can only be bad for those properties and, were this trend to continue longer term, is highly likely to have an impact on revenues.

In December 2017, ESPN reported the first weeks of data generated by Nielsen’s total audience measurement system and the figures make for very interesting reading. Audiences for live college football were up 16% above the regular in-home numbers, 18% up for NBA broadcasts and 13% up for NFL (Monday Night Football).

2018 take-out: ESPN was reportedly the first client to opt in to Nielsen’s out-of-home reporting service and has already sold commercial airtime based on the new metric. The audience uplifts represent fertile territory for sports properties at the premium end of the market to leverage in future rounds of rights negotiations.

IP (from video content to trademarks to patents) will become an increasingly important part of the growth strategies of the next generation of leading sports properties…

A 2017 analysis of the filed and registered trademarks conducted by the World Trademark Review revealed that Barcelona (293), Manchester United (271) and Real Madrid (217) had significantly more trademarks than any other top football clubs.

While there is no empirical evidence linking the number of registered trademarks with a clubs brand value, it is interesting to note that these same three clubs have the most valuable football club brands according to Brand Finance. By contrast, Leicester City, recent Premier League champions, had only 12.

Branding, one of the most familiar forms of IP, is probably the most important tool for sports clubs to communicate their purpose and relevance to fans and marketing partners. Juventus FC, the Premier League and F1 (amongst others) have all recently rebranded in an attempt to signal a step change in their brand purpose and capture the attention of a global audience. These brand marks and the investments made in IP ownership and protection will form the cornerstone of the growth strategies of these leading sports properties for years to come.

There are countless recent examples of top sports rights owners making major IP plays including UEFA (created the Nations League and European Qualifiers) and the IOC (established the Youth Olympics and the Olympic Channel) in an attempt to grow commercially. China is building an entire sports industry around the acquisition and creation of IP secured via strategic investments in sports organisations across Europe and North America. Esports is also a rich territory for IP ownership, a fact illustrated by the proliferation of investments by game publishers, sports agencies, media companies, brands and traditional sports properties in the creation of their own teams or events in an attempt to own and commercially benefit from the growing audience attention.

As technology continues to disrupt sport, patents are becoming an increasingly valuable form of IP. US major leagues in particular are investing in start-up companies whose value is often underpinned by their patented technologies. BAM Tech, who started life as part of MLB Advanced Media and were recently valued at USD3.75 billion, were granted a “geo location” patent as far back as 2004.

2018 take-out: Premium sports properties such as Manchester United have for many years been building their brand value based on shrewd investments in owning, protecting and leveraging their IP. Strategic investments in IP ownership and protection will be key for the next generation of ambitious sports properties to ensure they own and control the tools to compete in the attention economy.

2018 will see disruptive start-ups continue to create opportunities for organisations across the sports industry to package and leverage previously unattainable content…

The last five years have seen a slow, but gradual creep of start-ups whose disruptive products and services are facilitating an eco-system of valuable content from the bottom up. Pixellot, Mycujoo and Catapult are great examples.

  • Automated filming and production technologies have emerged from companies including Pixellot that make high quality live production more accessible for sports clubs and leagues who don’t have the benefit of sizeable production budgets.
  • Mycujoo is revolutionising long-tail football content, making it possible for sports clubs, leagues and governing bodies to live stream, manage and monetise content for which there was previously no significant demand from mainstream broadcasters.
  • Catapult sports recently launched Playertek, a player tracking system for amateur teams and athletes. Playertek allows amateurs to compare their progress and performance against, not only teammates, but also professionals.

As a result of the content that is being generated and the capabilities that are being offered by these new and disruptive companies, and combined with the continued price inflation of premium sports content, more attention and investment will turn to the non-premium end of the market in 2018 and beyond.

2018 take-out: Brands and media companies will increasingly find fertile territory in sports properties that are untouched by athlete ego’s, are commercially clean and not strangled or sanitised by over-bearing competition or commercial regulations.

About the author of this post:

David is a Chartered Marketer with more than 15 years’ experience in international sports marketing roles. You can follow David on twitter (@davidgfowler) or connect on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/davidgfowler).

Any thoughts on the big topics of 2018? If so, please add a comment or contact me via twitter or LinkedIn.

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