Four ways athletes can change the future of sports broadcast


by Marco Lorenzi

With live sport on a hiatus, the industry is looking far and wide to feed hungry and impatient audiences with new types of content. We had a look at four ways athlete-generated content can keep audiences tuning in today and well into the future


by Marco Lorenzi

With live sport on a hiatus, the industry is looking far and wide to feed hungry and impatient audiences with new types of content. We had a look at four ways athlete-generated content can keep audiences tuning in today and well into the future

Athletes and sports personalities hold the key to content creation – at least today. They are, now more than ever, under the spotlight for filling the white space and generating engaging content to satisfy consumer demand.

Athlete-generated content has become an increasingly popular element in the media landscape for sports entities of all kinds. Audiences crave ‘behind the scenes’ footage, which can be promoted via social media and provides access to typically unseen moments in the life of the main protagonists on the field.

As we look ahead, can athletes represent a real, sustainable, long-term change in content creation and consumption? Is the sports broadcast industry entering a new era, especially when it comes to the way it engages with fans?

To find out, we had a look at what’s going on right now in the digital space, where media outlets are extensively covering the day-to-day lives of sports stars across various channels. We identified at least four threads that have the potential to drive an evolution in sports content in the coming months. Let’s take a look.

#1. TikTok, a gateway to enhanced fan engagement

The stellar rise of TikTok has been in the spotlight for some time. Described as social media’s next ‘big thing’, the ByteDance-owned social platform has rapidly grown its audience with a very simple mission: “to create a community where everyone can be a creator”. In other words, TikTok provides end-users with an instrument to enhance their presence online, be visible, and stand out.

Athletes have been rapidly discovering the power of the network, enabling them to reach younger, hungrier audiences and get more creative with their original content by leveraging this video-first social platform. From funny moments otherwise unseen to the public, to self-imposed challenges that showcase their athletic skills, sportsmen and sportswomen have the opportunity to become known as personalities rather than ‘just’ athletes. For example, Arsenal FC’s soccer player Granit Xhaka went viral after posting a dance challenge with his partner, reaching nearly 900k visualizations in a few hours.

This all contributes towards stars acquiring a more all-round popularity that can win them new fans. Sports organizations want to reach new fans too, and TikTok represents a new opportunity for them to reach new and existing audiences on a popular medium. Bringing fans into the ecosystem naturally brings further opportunities to engage and monetize them across different streams.

#2. The power of streaming

We recently led a research study exploring how operators have the opportunity to enhance their content offerings with original programming - for instance, through exclusive fragments of interviews or ‘behind the scenes’ content.

In our most recent white paper – ‘A new digital decade - the evolution of the US sports fan’ – we reported that 20% of Americans claim that access to the ‘unseen’ represents a crucial deciding factor in accelerating their decision to subscribe to a new streaming service. In fact, content that’s generated by athletes or players themselves is increasingly expected by almost a quarter of younger viewers, the so-called Generation Z. These demographics spend approximately seven hours per day watching videos on their smartphones or other devices.

With this in mind, streaming operators have a chance to unlock the influence of their athletes by experimenting with bespoke content strategies that position single sportspeople as standalone ‘brands’.

Think of a soccer player, for example, demonstrating their specific workout routine alongside a famous pop singer, streamed directly via an over-the-top platform with a highly customized experience at end-users’ fingertips. Using our DIVA video player, it would be possible for an operator to monetize this content by surfacing ecommerce pop-ups around merchandise being used by the athlete.

With a little bit of imagination and the right technology infrastructure, operators face huge opportunities to capitalise on a significant cross-over between sports, entertainment, and lifestyle culture.

Back to our soccer player running a ‘personal training’ session live in synergy with a famous pop singer. How cool would it be to simply be alerted by the video player when an item, i.e. a pair of trainers, shorts, a top, or any other gadget used during the live stream, is available for purchase just a couple of clicks away?

#3. eSports, a new land of opportunities

With the world of live sports temporarily on hold, eSports figures are rocketing. For an industry that is largely confined indoors, the ‘play from home’ model is a natural fit and many expect to see an acceleration in its natural growth.

Can athletes capitalize on this opportunity? The answer right now seems to be ‘yes’. Whilst professional gamers are in the position to keep growing their profiles and compete among peers within an amplified virtual arena, there’s a huge opportunity for athletes from all sports and disciplines to re-create tournaments and events that cannot take place in real-life.

The Bundesliga, in Germany, has temporarily said ‘goodbye’ to stadiums and ‘hello’ to their couches, investing heavily in their own eSports tournaments. The Virtual Bundesliga is well underway, with weekends filled with live online games played by club representatives.

Similarly, ATP Tour has something in place for the end of April when the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro will take place, with both ATP and WTA stars playing online.

A new way to engage fans, clearly, but also a new horizon for athletes to explore as part of a future wave of sports broadcast.

#4. Who said it needs to be only virtual?

What we’ve seen as an emerging trend in the past few weeks is a prototype of what sports broadcast could look like tomorrow. Our Group Chief Evangelist, Carlo De Marchis, has described the CFH – or ‘Compete From Home’ – model in one of his last articles on the future of live sports. For those sports where competition is still possible, events are being organized by athletes from the comforts of their homes.

Unlike virtual-only environments, such as eSports, here we’re talking about something ‘real’. It’s a case that applies mostly to disciplines where the effort is carried by an individual (i.e. running or cycling). We are still at an experimental stage, yet there have been examples of sports events taking place remotely in the past weeks.

For instance, triathlete Mirinda Carfrae was part of the Facebook-broadcasted Ironman VR Pro Challenge. The race was well underway when her husband and fellow triathlete, Tim O’Donnell, tripped on a power cord and disconnected her. A bitter end, yet taken with a smile on social media.

Another winning example comes from the world of darts. The Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) has recently launched a new tournament that features professional players all competing from their own houses for 32 consecutive nights. The event is being streamed live on the PDC’s own TV channel to all registered users for free, as well as on several bookmakers’ websites. The rights have also been acquired by DAZN and other broadcasters across the globe and a sizable uplift in viewing figures is expected in the next few weeks.

Closing thoughts

Rights owners and rights holders have been called to a new mission – re-invent, yet again, the way users consume sports content. In the absence of live events, we are witnessing a radical shift when it comes to how today’s audiences watch and engage with their favorite sports. When events are not taking place on the field, and when on-demand content can no longer be delivered in the same way as before, a new concept of ‘live’ takes over.

With the right mix of creativity, editorial control and a thorough ecosystem of solutions and services, athletes and sportspeople are set to become an even more fundamental ally for broadcasters and sports entities alike.

What do you think? Join the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn.