The rise in new sports formats has focused attention on the best way to combine traditional media with social and digital platforms to engage with and retain audiences.
In recent years, a plethora of newly devised sports formats have launched. Formats like Sail GP, Extreme E, the Six Day Series and Roborace or major one-off events such as the Ineos 1:59 Challenge each face a singular test: how to go from zero awareness to building a huge audience in little time.
Many target a younger demographic, using social and digital platforms to encourage engagement and build up their fan base. Some also look for a broad media mix that also includes rights deals across a wide range of TV broadcasters and OTT services.
Here five panellists reveal their strategies for targeting sports fans and wider audiences to build the profile of their sports.
Tommy Zalucki, producer and director
In recent years, paywalls have restricted audiences accessing premium sports and so we’re taking the opposite approach with Extreme E – a new electric SUV off-road motorsport series – by maximising exposure and reach across digital platforms before our series launches.
And this is working. We already have over a million content views and on our way to 100,000 fans online. On the launch of the actual live programming in 2021, we aim to build on this base by offering the show across free-to-air broadcasters worldwide. We already have deals in place with Mediaset in Italy, Sony ESPN India and Fox Sports in the US.
Of course, the main problem we face will be competing in a crowded space. Our target audience of 16-34s famously has low retention rates. One way we are tackling this is to have a dedicated social media plan which drives engagement on a daily basis, and offers interaction and fan-led discussion about the series. Other ideas such as a parallel esports series and digital only shows are driven by our desire to have a rich media mix on multiple platforms rather than just a television proposition.
As this sport is so new, the format of the actual racing itself has been devised with the 21st Century sports fan in mind. We know that modern audiences prefer short sharp action as opposed to longer formats of racing. New sporting series such as RugbyX or SailGP have taken an existing sporting model and turned it on its head – bringing what could be considered a long form sport and turning it into an instant action hit.
We are aiming to follow this trend by having races of approximately 10 minutes, which not only can be watched on television, but cut up, retold and distributed in 100 different ways around the world digitally, making our racing stories highly sharable and short enough to leave consumers wanting more.
Stephen Sidlo, chief of media
Our aim with Roborace – a competition for autonomously driving, electrically powered cars – is to disrupt traditional sport broadcast in the real and virtual worlds. Think TRON, Mario Kart and Formula E mixed together, where fans can interact with the high speed action, from placing virtual objects or tokens on the track during a real race for the autonomous race cars to avoid or collect, to taking control of the race car remotely through 5G, to racing against an AI simulated Damon Hill.
Roborace’s audience is made up of fans from the world of tech, esports and motorsports, which gives us access to well established social platforms, influencers and publishers that we can utilise for distribution.
We champion an always-on, multi-platform strategy for video content which means we can constantly test what works, getting instant feedback from our fans. People want to understand autonomous driving so we give them the opportunity to see how it works, demystifying the jargon and giving them under-the-bonnet access, bought to life by strong storytelling and eye catching motion graphics.
To help us have a clear view of how our content is performing we invested in ‘best in class’ social listening and video analytics platforms, which have been a big driver of our success.
We wanted to look differently at our media strategy. Our broadcast conversations have been centred around gaming engines, gaming platforms, 5G providers and mixed reality creative houses. This is where we believe the new battleground for sports broadcast will be heading. We’ve also created and delivered some exciting and successful projects with more traditional channels such as YouTube, TikTok and Vensy, the London-based influencer agency.
The Six Day Series
James Durbin, CEO Madison Sports Group
The Six Day Series (SDS) is a professional track cycling tour boasting Olympic and World Champion riders such as Bradley Wiggins, Laura Kenny and Mark Cavendish, with events in cities around the world.
It is a highly differentiated proposition in professional cycling, combining world-class sport with dynamic entertainment that holds appeal for mass audiences as well as cyclists.
More than 50% of our in-venue audience have never been to a cycling event before, and this means we need to educate them on the nuances of track cycling.
To do this, we have invested heavily in quality graphics and data integration for both in-venue on the big screens and at-home through our broadcast.
The data displayed is simple to understand, using colours to differentiate what the data tells you about the rider (green is good, red is bad!). We also use a lot of comparable data which helps the audience understand the data compared to historical performances, providing an education to the sport.
Unlike many live events, we drive our in-venue and at-home audiences to our live data site which acts as a second screen. We have seen significant interaction on this site from our audiences in-venue and watching our digital streams.
Considering the importance of educating our audience, particularly in new markets, we will always try to have a combination of a digital/OTT broadcaster which is more conducive to a second screen, while maintaining the traditional broadcaster to leverage their inherent audience.
For example, Eurosport take all of our events live on their linear channel, however in Germany for our Berlin event, they will also stream it live via their Facebook page and website to increase the second screen use and overall engagement. This way we get the best of their linear audience numbers and increased ability to engage with fans.
The INEOS 1:59 Challenge
Sarsfied Brolly, head of international distribution, Sunset + Vine
Eliud Kipchoge had tried to run a sub two-hour marathon with his 2017 Breaking 2 attempt with Nike in Monza.
Ineos founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe then came on board to help him with a second attempt – this time in front of a live crowd and with the input of former British Cycling performance director Sir Dave Brailsford.
They went round the world and found the course and time of year with the best conditions – in Vienna at the beginning of October.
Ineos then put out a tender for host broadcast and global distribution, which Sunset+Vine won in July.
Initially, I thought the sub two-hour marathon attempt had got a digital distribution footprint written all over it. That’s because there was to be an eight day window in October when the attempt could take place. I thought that no broadcaster – linear or satellite – would come to this live when the schedule was so uncertain.
However, Sir Jim Ratcliffe really wanted it on television as well as digital, and particularly on the BBC. He wanted as many people as possible to watch it, to spread the race message that ‘No Human is Limited.’
So we decided we would keep all our TV deals non-exclusive, alongside an exclusive YouTube deal for digital, to create a 360 degree distribution model.
My team and I then started to put some feelers out. We had until the beginning of September, with the holiday period of August in between, to see if the world’s broadcasters would be interested in taking a live feed.
In the end, we struck 49 deals with broadcasters around the world, plus ORF who were our domestic partners in Austria. They included the BBC, America’s NBC, Australia’s Network 7, Italy’s Mediaset, TVE in Spain and the Olympic Channel worldwide. It meant we were looking at a global reach of about 500 million households.
Fortunately the race went ahead on the day as planned. To date, the broadcast has been aired 10,275 times by 1,111 TV channels in 296 territories around the world. 800,000 people streamed it live on YouTube.
It was also covered on the front and back pages of the papers, from the UK to Kenya and beyond. There have also been 12,582 online media articles to date with a cumulative potential reach of 2.9 billion.
150 individual social pages and communities were contacted ahead of the challenge with an audience of 27.3 million. Across wider social, 2,600 videos were uploaded between the 11-13 October, amassing 86.2m views across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
This full 360 degree distribution model really represents how we now work as a company, distributing across all platforms from TV, news, digital to social media.
Tim Godfrey, chief marketing officer
SailGP takes place in some of the most iconic harbours around the globe and culminates with a $1m winner-takes-all match race. Rival national teams battle it out in identical supercharged F50 flying catamarans at speeds exceeding 50 knots (nearly 60 mph/100 kph).
The sport can be quite complex so one of the first things we ensure is that we don’t assume any knowledge of SailGP. This is the first step in enticing new fans. We combine this with an ‘always on’ digital presence, creating engaging content across multiple platforms.
One way we achieve this is through short-form content, explainers and infographics. All our content is tailored to the platform and localised in key markets. We have distinct storytelling pillars around our athletes, the technology, sustainability and our Inspire youth program.
Creating conversations and igniting debate online is a key way we look to engage fans. Ensuring we have day-to-day community management helps create a two-way conversation between us and the fans. Awareness and exposure is key, but conversion and engagement is imperative to build and retain our audiences.
Our distribution strategy has been around a combination of pay TV, digital platforms like DAZN and Facebook and free-to-air highlights deals alongside complementary in-depth coverage across our owned channels (i.e. our app) and social media platforms.
Key broadcasters include Canal+ in France, Fox in Asia and Australia, Sky NZ, and DAZN in Japan.
Part of the strategy has been to create several long-term and meaningful partnerships with platforms and broadcasters who want to help build, promote and provide a long-term vision for SailGP. We are not interested in broadcasters who see us as filler content.
Our SailGP app creates a rich experience beyond just the racing and helps bring to life the sport, as well as educate fans, through data, stats, onboard cameras and alternative commentary.
This article appeared in Broadcast Sport Spring 2020 issue. Words by Tim Dams