Broadcasting in football : the state of play
Since the first televised match was aired in the UK in the late 1930s, football’s relationship with broadcasting has evolved to become symbiotic. Television coverage has been the primary driver of revenue growth during the last 20 years for clubs and associations, as football has become ever more global and digital.
Expert insight: “Develop a direct conversation with your fans”
Arnaud Simon has spent 25 years helping sports organisations and broadcasters to navigate the ever-changing content landscape. He oversaw the transition from traditional to digital broadcasting during his time at Eurosport, and now works at the forefront of new streaming opportunities with a range of sporting rights holders. His insight provides a valuable look at the trends, risks and opportunities to be considered by football stakeholders going forward.
Having experienced the evolution of sport broadcasting during your career, what do you think are the key trends that are driving the changes and new opportunities in football?
“With most of the changes we have seen over the last decades, the key driver is the consumer and their changing habits and desires. You have to cater for how people want to consume content, and give them a great experience. We are more and more selective because we are so bombarded with content, we hardly even find time to watch our favourite team, let alone other matches. If you look at what happened in music with Spotify, or in fiction with Netflix: success is offering flexibility and personal experiences, and people want to pay for exactly what they want to watch. The same is now happening in football. It’s important to change the way you make your offer to your fans, and to develop a direct conversation with them.”
Rights holders and broadcasters across football are now balancing their traditional partnerships with new opportunities to build these links with their fans. What are the key considerations for such decisions, and how would you advise organisations to approach this?
“There is still a lot of value in working with traditional broadcasters, as they bring huge experience and credibility, but they are no longer the only destination, and a rights holder cannot depend fully on them. It’s important to have a good balance, and to ensure there is premium content for your fans to watch, as well as free material available to attract new ones. For decades, the business was built on live and TV. But suddenly, we are entering a new era where TV is part of the mix, but is only a part. You have to go digital, fully digital, and to use social networks effectively. These are all new ways to grab fans to your digital destination, and ultimately to your club or league.”
“Also, be cautious and considerate in your approach with your viewers. Talk first to the heart before talking to the wallet, especially with sports fans. A lot of industries would die to transform their consumers into fans. The lucky thing about the football industry is they already have fans, but don’t talk to them too much as ‘consumers’. There is so much passion behind their relationship with their team or sport, and this has to be considered and nurtured”
With the rise of on-demand viewing, and the increasing popularity of the ”behind the scenes” documentaries, this is clearly about more than just live matches. How can clubs and leagues start telling their stories better, outside of 90-minute match coverage?
“TV is still super important, but it is not enough anymore. If you only rely on live, it won’t be sufficient to grab new fans. On demand TV, applications and esports all contribute to the competition, and to live viewing going down, across all sports. It’s not because people are less interested in sport, but because they have less time, and you have to consider this. Good storytelling is important, to create that emotional connection with people who are not your traditional fans, but could be interested in the wider story. Storytelling is not an option anymore, it’s an obligation. It doesn’t always have to be super high production, but it could be simple action from behind the scenes, and this should be a key part of the mix.”
Finally, how do you think the disruption of COVID-19 has affected sports broadcasting?
“Sports organisations have always been built on live coverage, and many clubs and leagues continued to focus solely on this. With COVID, and the sporting shut down, this need to evolve and offer more suddenly became far more urgent. I don’t think COVID has revealed new trends or changed things dramatically, but it has just accelerated the process that was already underway. It’s about building a more direct conversation with your fans, and to provide ways for them to engage and interact with your content regularly.”