Reversing the broadcasting norm? Women’s football on OTT

We’ve reached that time of the year where companies’ quarterly reports are released, what a joy. One company whose accounts make an interesting read these days is Netflix. As mentioned in the Business Insider, Netflix added more than double of its subscribers’ growth target, adding over 15M paid subscribers with revenues for Q1 hitting over $5.8 billion.

Despite all of these positive indicators, there are two matters that keep the Netflix directors on their toes. What will the numbers look like once people will start to spend less time at home? On the contrary, how will production work carry on under new circumstances if lockdown measures continue in different countries?

Those matters are not only of concern to Netflix. The whole football industry is in turmoil, unsure when matches will resume, and once they do, how will they be broadcasted? UEFA urges leagues to complete the season. Failure to do so is estimated at a loss of £762M in broadcasting revenue for the Premier League according to Swiss Ramble.

In the busy football calendar which occupies the majority of broadcasting times on live TV, women’s football, despite its recent growth, is still elbowing its way to secure more prime time broadcasting slots. Could the current market conditions be the catalyst for women’s football OTT monetization age?

Lessons from the NWSL and FA WSL

In mid-March 2020, the NWSL announced a new landmark broadcasting deal across CBS, CBS Sports Network, CBS All Access and Twitch for the next three seasons starting from 2020. CBS All Access is a live and on-demand online streaming platform. Under the new deal, 71 NWSL matches will be available on the platform.

As for Twitch, the online gaming streaming platform which in recent times began to show live sports broadcasts, will air for free 24 matches and also holds the international rights of the league. A day after this announcement the league also announced that the season is on hold due to the pandemic. The NWSL demonstrates one way of going OTT but elsewhere in England, The FA took matters into their own hands.

Under the current broadcasting rights agreement, the FA WSL is shown mainly on BT Sports and some rights are granted to the BBC. This agreement does not involve revenue for the FA but saves costs on production as reported in The Telegraph. While domestically the league is not monetising its broadcasts, although intends to do so from 2021/22 season, it secured a six-figure deal to broadcast the league overseas in central America and Scandinavia for the next three years as of 2019/20.

On the same day of the first overseas deal announcement, The FA made even a bigger announcement, the launch of The FA Player. The FA Player is an exclusive live streaming platform dedicated to women’s football accessible worldwide. Fans expressed their excitement online and from a business standpoint questions were asked as to what impact making it free can have.

Challenges ahead

Perhaps in year one, it made sense given the uncertainty around viewing numbers. Once those are available the FA could consider different pricing structures by territory. The challenge lies in convincing fans to pay one day for a service given to them for free from day one.

Another challenge that women’s football decision makers and stakeholders face is whether more coverage will impact negatively on attendances. In the case of the WSL where stadiums are not easily accessible this is a considerable threat and a deciding factor for fans as to what to spend their money on.

There’s a counter argument to the above though. No broadcaster and competition would like to showcase empty stadiums. More coverage should encourage the clubs to invest in the fan experience and actually having the funds to do so.

Creativity in delivery

In a recent report by FIFPRO, Raising Our Game, a women’s football report which provides insights into the current state of the women’s game. In terms of broadcasting and the lack of thereof calls for creative approaches in broadcasting more women’s games and competitions. 

During this season of the Premier League we saw the first matches broadcasted on Amazon Prime. In its current state, women’s football rights present a low-cost high return potential from live sports rights.

We mentioned creativity earlier, here at Sidelines Media, we have a few suggestions in terms of the rights structure. Let’s say a broadcaster commits a certain fixed amount for a competition’s rights and also includes an ambitious incentive and clauses package such as:

  • 100% virtual attendance– the home team hits a number of online viewers per match equivalent to its stadium capacity at any given moment up until half time than it is eligible for a payment bonus.
  • Subscription via club promotion– an online platform would be able to track the subscription purchase journey of its users. Any user who subscribes to the platform via direct club promotion the club receives a percentage of that fee.
  • Shared advertising sales platform– Clubs can choose or the league to set out guidelines for when advertising is allowed during a broadcast. A portion of advertising time can be guaranteed to league and club sponsors whereas the rest can be sold via commercial teams of the stakeholders involved
  • In-game purchases– directly purchase merchandise during a broadcast, sync with food delivery apps
  • Microtransactions- 2nd half viewing only, matchday centre pass where the viewer can only watch live key moments from matches that are played at the same time. Independent of subscription.

A fixed amount split equally is crucial for collective growth throughout a league and down a country’s football pyramid. Nonetheless, the suggested above can help individual clubs in determining their value and ability to generate revenue. 

In an uncertain sports, broadcasting and production future OTT platforms who hesitated to dive into live sports rights now have an opportunity to be part of a real change. Remote production is already active in some competitions , would that entice Netflix and others to gain new content as well as new tech? If women’s football proves its value via OTT could it eventually reverse the broadcasting norm and force the more traditional broadcaster to finally value its rights?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.