It’s Time Sports Teams Started Winning on OTT

Why aren’t teams even playing the game when it comes to their own direct-to-consumer streaming service?


Open up your video streaming platform of choice and attempt to install your favorite sports team’s channel or app.  Chances are it does not exist, and if it does be prepared for an underwhelming offering that, in most cases, resembles something of a glorified YouTube channel.  Why have virtually no teams in any of the major sports leagues gone further than simply planting their flag on OTT? Since the birth of streaming, complex content rights, competing interests and technological barriers have served as goalies, blocking individual sports teams from taking a shot at OTT on their own.  However, for the same reasons that direct-to-consumer offerings on OTT is the soup de jour in the entertainment world ­– with the highly anticipated debuts of Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and more on the horizon ­­– sports teams have the same opportunity to reap the upside from a full-hearted attempt to win at OTT.


Leveraging their built-in fan base to drive viewership, every sports organization can develop into their own vertical ESPN, producing team-specific content year-round. This is a model already successful for regional sports networks that are often partially owned by teams, and in the same way that the rest of Cable is migrating to OTT, so too will these channels.  For professional sports teams, a fully realized streaming service would allow for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with fans and serve as a major boon for new revenue. From the supplemental income generated by subscriptions, advertisements, and sponsorships, to a completely new medium to communicate directly with fans, OTT represents a transformative opportunity for franchises. Of course, there is the ever-present 800-pound gorilla in the room when considering a streaming service for a single team – content rights.


Keeping up with the LeBrons?


It is no secret that the most precious commodity in sports is live coverage of games. As such, deals for exclusive distribution range in the millions to billions of dollars and are often managed by entire leagues rather than individual teams.  Even when considering that live in-game video is unlikely to find its way to a team specific streaming service any time soon, that still leaves 22 hours on game days and an entire offseason that can be filled with team-related content. With unlimited access to players and venues, cable sports networks have already proven that there are huge audiences for pre/post-game coverage, behind the scenes series, and a whole host of reality show concepts for individual teams can expand on.  Be it content styled like HBO Hard Knocks or focused on life off the playing field, generating intriguing series at scale with limited budget is achievable; what Yankee fan wouldn’t want to watch Cooking on The Road with C.C. Sabathia, or Lakers Fan wouldn’t tune in for LeBron and his family’s own version of Keeping up with the Kardashians? Many players would be eager to boost their exposure by participating, in turn nurturing their relationship with fans. The closer fans feel to players, the more jerseys and other merchandise they buy and the more games they attend­ – benefiting both team and athlete. There is also the value of the data to be gathered, not only limited to user demographics, but also metrics illuminating which players are most popular and generating revenue, helping to better assess their off-field value come contract negotiations.


F.A.A.S: Fandom-as-a Service…


A direct to consumer streaming service also offers teams with a bevy of intriguing business models to explore that could revolutionize the way value is extracted from fans.  The obvious path being a basic SVOD model generating reoccurring revenue or an AVOD/ hybrid model, leaning on the value of team’s localized ad inventory that would also provide them with a home to launch marketing campaigns directly targeted at passionate fans.  However, there are also more creative options such as potentially bundling season ticket packages with the streaming service as a value add. Or, imagine flipping that on its head, with the first F.A.A.S, Fandom-as-a-Service subscription service. A monthly membership fee for fans focused around the streaming service that would also include tickets, events and someday even live games.  If done correctly, the extra value a team could extract from a streaming service could be considerable, turning into one of their most valuable assets; allowing a team to own every part of their fans’ experience.


Even the far less aggressive approach of simply putting content from a regional sports network on OTT would prove extremely fruitful, which begs the question, why have virtually no teams done any of this? Sixteen years ago it took the entire might of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams to develop what today is known as Bamtech in order to enable the distribution of their games on OTT. Since then, other leagues have followed suit spending millions of dollars developing software to do the same. Today, the tech landscape is vastly different with a wide range of firms offering everything from white-labeled discount cookiecutter OTT apps to bespoken end-to-end solutions for launching multi-function streaming services. Even ad monetization has become simplified for those working with the right partners who offer the tech to optimize CPM’s and fill programmatically.  Without the need to develop the technology or ad-sales departments themselves, the only thing keeping sports teams from winning on OTT today is their resistance to change. 


It is the same daunting prospect of cannibalizing proven distribution avenues that delayed networks from fully embracing OTT that is still holding back sports teams.  The pervasive notion that OTT can’t match the value of cable, or will hurt its cable counterpart’s performance, has dissipated in the entertainment industry and will soon in sports as well. For the teams that are early movers, the benefits will far outweigh the costs and help usher in the long-overdue transition of team-specific streaming services to OTT.


Click here to learn how Unreel works with partners including the Adventure Sports Network to distribute and monetize content on OTT via branded apps.

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