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AFL live on YouTube? It could all be part of sport’s post-coronavirus future




April 04, 2020 06:06:05

In 2016, Twitter forked out $US10 million to stream 10 weekly NFL matches on its social media network, all over the world.

Key points:

  • Even before coronavirus hit, traditional media companies struggled to keep pace with sport consumption
  • Experts say the leagues that rely on traditional media for revenue could benefit from a different approach
  • They say things like YouTube channels would be a great way to monetise content

Fans could catch the action live and free from their mobile device, via their Twitter account.

It was one of the first big signs for sports administrators, including those in Australia, that the way live sports broadcasts were valued, was starting to change.

In this case, Twitter — a global tech company — had made a significant investment in sport primarily to increase its userbase.

But as fans have flocked to consuming sport in different ways, many of the traditional ad-based media companies that have largely been funding sport, have struggled to keep pace.

This week, many of the quarterly payments scheduled to be made by those partners to Australian sport never hit the bank account, with games postponed because of coronavirus.

It has led to mass layoffs in the Australian sports industry, player pay cuts and a major rethink.

Patrick Sharry, a Fellow at the Australian Graduate School of Management at the University of New South Wales, says administrators could benefit from a different approach based on a number of trends.

“I think the sensible thing is for those leagues, as surfing has done, is to keep control of their own media,” Sharry said.

“The ease with which content can be distributed through alternative channels rather than free-to-air televisions means there are lots of opportunities.

“I can imagine an AFL YouTube-type channel would be a great way for the AFL to monetise their content, you know they get all of the ad revenue and they control what goes where and when.”

Revenue drying up quick

The revenue that has previously flowed to Australian sport from traditional ad-based media companies is drying up at an alarming rate.

Sharry is predicting there will be little respite for these companies that have helped drive the growth of Australian sport to unprecedented levels in the past 10 years.

“I think they are the victims of a number of forces,” he explained.

“We now consume our content in very different ways, and that ranges from Netflix through to things like Kayo, which allow you to watch any sport on any device at any time.

“Sport is now a global marketplace and it’s also become easier for sports to take that control of the release of their own footage.

“That makes it more difficult for those traditional media companies to sell advertising.”

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Time for the telcos?

Last year, Optus Sport — a business that makes its money by providing telecommunications services — became the exclusive home of English Premier League.

The Premier League sits alongside the NBA in the United States as one of the biggest sports leagues in the world.

Optus has continued to acquire rights for a variety of soccer leagues, such as the J-League and the service now has in excess of 800,000 subscribers.

Similar to Twitter’s deal with the NFL, Optus is focused on acquiring access to new customers to sell an array of its telecommunications services to, although it does generate some subscription revenue.

Sharry expects the rise of 5G in Australia to increase the interest from telecommunications companies in investing in live sports rights.

“We can expect to see other players entering that space,” he said.

“It will become much easier to access sporting events and entertainment on any device anywhere.”

Telstra TV is another to have taken a similar path in Australia and it currently streams NRL, AFL and netball games to customers, through a variety of partnerships.

Marne Fechner, the CEO of Netball Australia, says there has been a noticeable rise in fans consuming her sport’s product from mobile devices, thanks to the Telstra TV partnership.

“We are seeing a real change in consumer behaviour,” she said.

Fechner says Netball Australia’s revenue share broadcast deal with Telstra and Nine, which sees the league and rights holders work together in improving the product, has served her sport’s interests well.

“It sets a great example of what you can do if you think about it differently,” she said.

“It brings us closer together, it’s one team.”

Streaming ahead

No matter who’s showing live sport in the post-coronavirus world, experts suggest fans will have to get used to watching their favourite teams and leagues in many different places.

Sean Callanan, the founder of the sports business website Sports Geek, says the sporting broadcast landscape is likely to continue to fragment with sports considering broadcasting more of their own content online.

“As far as the commercialisation [of that] and pushing the advertising dollars through it, we are probably not at a point where in this market that an Australian league can make that a profitable business.”

Callanan says sport’s biggest challenge during the shutdown will be using the various channels it currently has available to it, to keep fans engaged ahead of the eventual return of competition.

“I think that is where the focus should lie,” he said.

This suggestion has not been heeded by many Australian clubs, who have stood down their production and content teams in the wake of the sporting shutdown.

“I do think there is going to be a lot of effort needed in connecting with fans that are not in the stadium in the next six months,” Callanan said.

“Sports should be looking at ways to better connect and commercialise that audience.”

Sharry believes the decisions administrators make relating to their broadcast operations moving forward can set them up for a sustainable future.

He agrees joint ventures with companies who have leading streaming and technology capabilities would be an obvious first step.

“There would be no shortage of interested parties.”










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