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OTT Sports In Europe: What Comes Next?

Live sports broadcast traditionally has been one of the strongholds of linear TV and also provided the biggest share of top league soccer clubs income. For decades, a few rights holders have dominated the European market, broadcasting via satellite or cable TV.

This special bond in sports media delayed the change that video delivery over the internet, directly to the customer, is bringing to the rest of the media world in the form of the streaming services like Netflix and such.

However sports media is also changing. The benefits seem obvious as sports fans gain the power over the program, with access to live-streams, replays, live statistics, exclusive content and most importantly, the main promise of OTT delivery: anywhere, anytime viewing.

Big sports right holders started to use OTT delivery as a complement to linear broadcast delivery. But as technology became available with lower barriers of entry, numerous other organizations also got a chance to launch their own services including clubs, federations, and sports media ventures. The way to access sporting events as now become quite diverse.

Of course with the lack of live sporting events amid Covid-19, most of these services have had to work hard to reinvent themselves and come up with creative ways to keep some attention up. For now we’ll just assume that the sports world will rebound at the end of this, with fans being super eager for sports after months without, the big trends that are outlined here will only strengthen. 

In this article we will take a look at how European providers and leagues are delivering games over OTT and the types of services that are now available.

We’ll also look at how divergent fan bases split European sports media into two segments: European-based sports properties that attract a global audience and sports media ventures (both local and global) that serve European audiences. The former is primarily the top European soccer leagues. The latter is far numerous.

Clubs Own Services

By 2020 practically all major European top soccer clubs had developed their own media services, including OTT services, like Manchester United’s MUTV SVOD platform.

Additional growth is expected to be fueled by increased viewership of the top European soccer leagues from China and North America— no wonder the top clubs have been working towards building up a heavy presence in these massive markets. 

Club Deals With Platforms

Turner Sports’ B/R Live streaming platform delivers exclusive content from top Premier League clubs’ own media services—Arsenal TV, of Liverpool Football Club’s LFCTV and the Tottenham Spurs TV— to US audiences. This is an excellent way for European soccer clubs to build a bigger fan base in the U.S. too.

Federation’s own services

Spain’s La Liga now has 8% of its revenue coming from OTT services, but it expects dynamic growth in the area, with 20% of revenue coming from OTT predicted by 2022. Next season, the Bundesliga, Germany’s top league, is launching an OTT platform for live matches in markets where it does not receive an adequate rights bid and the UK’s Premier League is also reported to be working on its own OTT service, starting with the 2022 rights cycle. 

The Big, General Entertainment Streaming Platforms

An additional major delivery vehicle for the English Premier League might be top streaming service Amazon Prime Video. Having spent £90m on a three-year rights package to Premier League soccer matches, Amazon’s Prime Video became the first of its kind to show live soccer in the UK.

And what does the Premier League (PL) bring to a general entertainment, top tier SVOD service?

After streaming its first round of PL games, Amazon claimed that the two-day period saw the most new sign-ups since the company launched the Prime subscription service in 2017. Amazon also acquired NFL, Premier League and tennis rights, a pretty certain sign that they see sports as high value in their content offering. 

An interesting phenomenon is how streaming companies work on creating incremental sports media value besides game coverage content in the form of sports documentaries.

Amazon runs the series All Or Nothing, an all-areas access, behind-the-scenes soccer documentary, giving viewers an insight into what goes on in a team over the course of a season. All Or Nothing covered among others two top European soccer clubs Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund.

Other sports documentaries have been created by Prime Video around Real Madrid (featuring both soccer and basketball players), and Liverpool FC’s Steven Gerrard. 

Probably the most special bond between an OTT service and a top soccer club is Rakuten TV and FC Barcelona. The Barcelona based VOD service is one of the largest in Europe and the market leader in Spain. Rakuten is also the main global partner of FC Barcelona, which is the base of a relationship that results in high quality sports documentary content about one of the most popular soccer brands, FC Barcelona. Rakuten TV also seems to be quite bullish on further sports documentary content.

Netflix previously stated they will not invest in sports, however they seem to be engaged in the sports documentary genre. Their joint production with ESPN, Michael Jordan – The Last Dance, following the rise of the 1990’s Chicago Bulls, one of the most notable dynasties in sports history, has attracted a lot of attention, coming at a time when there are no live sports on TV.

Netflix has also covered a number of other sports stories, including Formula 1, Movistar (Spanish cycling team) and the curious case of English soccer club Sunderland through the 2017-18 season as they try to bounce back after relegation from the Premier League.

Pure Sports Platforms

There are also specialized premium streaming brands centered around sports, like UK-based DAZN, the company that beat ESPN to become the highest earning sports app globally in early 2019.

The company is not new to sports at all though—they used to be known as Perform Group, a successful sports venture—before starting the live premium sports SVOD service, concentrating on world class properties, such as Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Champions League, NBA, NFL, etc. The platform is currently available in 9 major markets, (including 5 in Europe) and is reported to be launching an English-language service focused on boxing in more than 200 countries and territories.

Eleven Sports is another UK based pure play sports service with numerous interests across Europe, including linear and OTT services. The tennis focused Tennis Channel is launching in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with plans for other worldwide markets to be sold directly to customers. Discovery’s Eurosport Player is going to be the official home of the postponed 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

UEFA also launched its UEFA.TV streaming service. The platform will give soccer fans from around the world instant access to highlights and clips from UEFA’s Euro Cup tournament, the first of its kind to be taking place across multiple countries.

Platforms For Long Tail Content

When Portuguese club Boavista were relegated to the third tier of Portuguese football, fans did not want to stay without game coverage. The idea for an OTT service focusing on football’s “long tail” was born and MyCujoo is now covering millions of hours of football played each year that don’t get coverage from traditional broadcasters or streaming services, including lower tier, women’s and junior games.

The Big Social Platforms

The big social platforms are also getting involved in live sports content, though with less visible strategic considerations. Sports content is sporadically available on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Dailymotion, Snap and even Amazon owned Twitch, which is involved in traditional sports, despite being one of the top platforms for gaming and esports. 

OTT providers have not yet driven up the TV rights bidding process for the big European leagues as some had anticipated. Traditional TV broadcasters still remain a major provider of live sports for fans. OTT services will no doubt play a major role in the future delivery of sports, but they will not eliminate traditional distributors any time soon. 

Services competing for the attention of sports fans are now abundant and a further increase in their number can be expected as barriers of entry are driven even lower.

The challenges for these emerging services are numerous though, including marketing and distribution. Distribution partnerships will be crucial, where partners like telcos can bring significant revenues to OTT services, without the costs of having to acquire those customers in their own right. This model has been clearly visible in the general entertainment OTT world, and can be expected to develop further in sports media too.

Gergo is a digital video expert with deep EMEA and CEE insight. He held key roles at HBO, Disney and Sony Pictures before founding and running his own video company, Special Effects Media. He will be writing about the European market for TV[R]EV on a regular basis.