Sponsors and advertisers only had to think about two audiences in the not very distant past: those in the stadium and those watching on the one TV channel that broadcast the game. Sports were very domestic, so they didn’t have to make plans for one channel per country or one satellite per region. Nope. One nationally broadcast network. Aside from a few commercial blocks set aside for local ads, sponsors and advertisers made broadly relevant ads for a single broadcast audience; and slightly more targeted messages for the in-stadium audience.
Ahhh, good times. Easy times.
Streaming services introduced broad new audiences
The first wave of streaming gave every sports event a potentially international audience. Like with satellite TV, foreign fans could now see what the domestic fans had been seeing.
American fans watching the Premier League or Serie A got an introduction to English and Italian consumer culture and advertising. But those additional eyeballs did nothing for the sponsors, advertisers or broadcasters: no matter how much they might have liked their holiday commercials, Premier League fans in America were not about to do their Christmas shopping at Marks & Spencer.
Country- and region-based streaming rights brought the commercial value chain back into alignment. While this created new responsibilities and opportunities for sponsors and broadcasters, it was still the familiar model. Fans in each country still had one place to watch the game, so sponsors and advertisers simply needed a series of country- or region-specific activations and ads to go along.
As streaming technology evolved, the advertising opportunities became more segmented, nearly down to the level of the individual. Even so, the branching occurred far down the chain. For a given league’s season, sponsors and rights holders knew what and where the fans would be watching it.
Now, though, the stream is branching at all points in the chain, and on a weekly or even game-by-game basis.
Partial rights packages create new variations
DAZN and Amazon Prime are two of the major streaming players who are buying partial rights packages.
DAZN had Italy’s exclusive rights to stream three Serie A matches every week from 2018-2021. They expanded to seven weekly matches this past March, while having non-exclusive rights to the remaining three matches of the week. Contrast this to Serie A rights in the US. CBS Sports took over from ESPN at the start of this season. CBS Sports is following the same model as NBC Sports’s Premier League coverage, spreading the games across the Paramount+ app and the linear CBS Sports Network.
Amazon picked up the right to carry a handful of NFL, New York Yankees and Premier League games over the last few years. Just about everyone saw this as them testing the waters for a frontal assault on the sports streaming rights market. However, they may be taking a more circumspect approach, or are simply amassing more forces.
Streaming platforms breaking out of their categories
Amazon is negotiating with Embassy Row, producer of “Men in Blazers” and “Good Morning Football,” to produce in-house sports studio shows. Front Office Sports also reports that Amazon may acquire a minority stake in NFL Media, which would complement their rights to Thursday Night Football as well as the studio productions.
Even at smaller scales than Amazon and the NFL, the lines between streaming service, content creator and viewing platform are going away.
fuboTV started as a sports streaming service aggregator, like cable but for over-the-top. Even the user experience of scrolling through fuboTV’s guide is like having cable, not least because you’ll see many of the same channels.
But now fuboTV is buying sports streaming rights themselves. fuboTV will stream the Professional Fighters League’s PFL Challenger Series. Sports fans looking for something to watch will be able to open the fuboTV app and decide whether they want to watch something on NBC Sports Network or the ACC Network via fuboTV, or watch something “natively” on the platform.
And that’s what sponsors, advertisers and rights holders have to consider.
Is there a difference between the fan who watches a game on NBC Sports’ Peacock app or CBS’s Paramount+ app and the fan who watches a game on NBC Sports Network or CBS Sports Network via fuboTV? How do you leverage the behaviors of a fan who goes directly to the broadcaster’s app versus one who likes to browse through an aggregator?
What about the NFL fan who shows a preference for CBS’s in-game coverage, NBC’s NFL podcast and Amazon’s studio show? How does a league-wide sponsor or his favorite team’s primary advertiser reach him most effectively, and know that they are doing so?
Shifting categories will impact relationships
Behind the scenes, sponsors will have to manage their relationships with entities that do a bit of everything. We already talked about fuboTV making the shift from aggregator to rights lessee, but we left it until now to mention that they are also about to launch their own sports book. How could that affect the relationship between a team sponsor, the sports book that partners with the team’s over-the-top streaming service and the streaming aggregator that owns their own sports book?
These developments affect every part of a sponsor’s or advertiser’s operations. They have to ensure their measurement and assessment processes keep pace with their messaging to ensure they are achieving their goals, and have the flexibility internally and in their contracts to take advantage of – or simply keep up with – the changing landscape.