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Shopping Around: How to survive without a big pay TV cheque 🏈

The record breaking NFL-Amazon Thanksgiving deal could be primer for a more wholesale media rights strategy shift towards e-commerce for sports properties of all sizes.

The Giants-Cowboys Thanksgiving game had a reported 42 million viewers, making it the most-watched NFL regular season game in history.

Among those celebrating this news were Amazon, who recently agreed a deal with the NFL for Prime Video to exclusively stream a newly scheduled "Black Friday" game from 2023.

Routinely the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States since 2005. The deal intensifies a growing trend of matching sports content and commerce, which was recently highlighted by Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of Vayner Media.

“This is being played during a massive retail day, the biggest retail day, by the biggest retail platform on the internet. If you look at what TikTok is doing with buying up warehouses and if you look at what happens in China with live shopping, I think the next decade is going to be defined by this concept of content and commerce mixing together.”

“[We are already seeing] influencer affiliate programmes from the [likes of] Walmart, Kroger Albertsons, [and] Amazon. Then, [we’re also seeing] the social platforms like Facebook and others actually buying retail companies and getting deeper into retail. Content and commerce are on a crash course and it's going to change the economic landscape of the next decade.”

Of course, if you’re based in the UK this may not come as much of a surprise. Amazon tactically acquired Premier League rights over the busy Christmas period in 2019leading to a record number of sign ups to its service (which just happens to also offer free shipping on deliveries). That deal was extended and is set to run until at least 2025.

This shift now, however, has the opportunity to go well beyond the Premier League or NFL (who both see this as supplementary to their already mammoth traditional TV deals).

In fact, it could have its greatest impact with what are perhaps considered as ‘second tier’ sports properties, the ones who have seen the gap in media rights earnings continually widen between them and the leaders of the pack.

This is a belief shared by SportsPro’s Nick Meacham, which he explained on the latest episode of his podcast, StreamTime. He suggests that rather than setting up to potentially sell media rights to a broadcaster in years to come, these rights holders should instead find out all the ways to leverage and drive value from their reach.

“That might sound obvious, but I think sometimes when people have in the back of their mind that they could get a pay TV cheque in a few years’ time if they get themselves to a certain scale, this can distort or guide them off of this right strategy and they end up not doing either quite as well as they could,” explained Meacham.

This is especially true now as “there is going to be ways to make significant revenue if they really commit to growing audience at scale.”

This is likely to occur in two key ways (which are not mutually exclusive);

1. Rights holders doubling down on their data collection and understanding of their audience.

The better they can understand their viewers, the more effectively they (or an OTT partner) can commercialise the audience directly (D2C). This applies for e-commerce, but is also true for other forms of sales (ticketing, hospitality, merchandising, even betting).

This could mean better luck courting the likes of Amazon, Rakuten, or Alibaba. Or, it could mean launching their own independent OTT platform and offering everything from live content, to fantasy sports, betting, and in-app shopping. We have seen this approach taken by the likes of FIFA, the NBA, and even UConn.

2. A commitment to growth on social media platforms, increasing the availability of content, and bending to the rules of the algorithms.

Social platforms are increasingly committing to creator monetisation features. In recent weeks we have seen that YouTube is adding new shopping features to its short-form video platform YouTube Shorts and TikTok Shop, which allows users to purchase without leaving the app, is finally expanding to the U.S. The platform has even been recruiting for jobs related to US-based fulfilment centres that would provide warehousing and returns for customers.

While social media platforms are not certainly the panacea, if they enable sports properties to start driving more direct value from their viewers, then we could expect to see further investment in both content curation and community building.

At the extreme end, we could even see an emergence of socially native competitor leagues or ‘second tier’ sports properties akin to Overtime. The company, which now has 65 million social followers and 2 billion monthly video views, began life amplifying college athletes on social media before launching its own sports leagues in 2021 and 2022. To call it a success would be an understatement.

Crucially, whichever strategy these rights holders take for their media rights, it needs to be coupled with an all-encompassing digital strategy that considers engagement and is underpinned by data. The more they get to know about their fans, the better.

For some like the NFL, sheer scale is enough to attract the OTT players and to drive sign ups and e-commerce sales. For others, there is a need to embrace this new trend with extra vigour - there can be ‘riches in niches’, too. While some sports are going to get found out, others will thrive with this new reality.


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