The future of live sport - how 5G will change the game for mobile operators


by Carlo De Marchis


by Carlo De Marchis

Live sports on mobile has had a chequered past. Despite continued technological advances, content delivery using cellular connectivity has suffered many issues.

And although fans value being able to watch their favorite teams play from anywhere, the quality concerns that have historically been synonymous with live streaming on the move have proven a difficult hurdle to overcome. Now, though, the game is changing.

With 5G on the horizon and sports providers investing huge sums into their streaming services, those teething problems are becoming a thing of the past. In fact, the arrival of 5G will become a tipping point where sports streaming reaches the prime time once and for all. It’s a shift that is ushering in a new era of the digital fan experience. But it’s also taking place at a time when the economics of sports viewership are evolving.

The changing sports fan

Gone are the days when live sport was the exclusive pastime of die-hard fans willing to pay well over the odds to access it. Deltatre recently commissioned a global research report which revealed $39 has become the consumer cut-off point for this type of content spend. At the same time, an increasing number are tuning in on mobile to get their sports fix. There will always be demand for the relaxed, main TV viewing experience, but the average viewer is now watching four hours of sport content on mobile each week, which will only grow with 5G.

Considering this, alongside the fact that digital-first players such as Amazon and Twitter are buying up sports content, the likes of DAZN and ESPN are working hard to establish themselves as the Netflix of Sports, and with the rights to many premium sports properties around the world coming up for grabs in the next three to six years, telcos have a huge opportunity on their hands to use sports content to their advantage. As they need to recoup the considerable investment they have already made into 5G, this opportunity has also becoming an incredibly important one for them to grasp hold of.

Recouping their investment in 5G

However, simply doubling down on sport rights is not enough for telcos to secure a strong ROI from their 5G networks. Nor does this opposite apply. Investment into the user experience to help drive immersion and personalize the experience must also take place. Especially as mainstream sports operators are spending heavily on streaming technology.

$6.8 billion (15% of total budgets) will be spent by sports providers on the OTT tech stack by 2021. As sports goes through this digital transformation, success in the new market it is creating means delivering a highly curated and interactive experience for fans. The best OTT services will be able to cater to both casual and die-hard fans at the same time. They’ll make the viewer feel like they have the best seat in the house with control over their match experience, which starts with data insights and deep understanding of what makes them tick.

With sport being such an emotionally charged experience, data is essential to improve subscriber stickiness and keep them opening their wallets. And telcos, more than any other media provider, are in a unique position to get a more rounded view of each consumer.

Data insights - driving personalisation and telco fortunes

By pairing user insights into purchasing patterns, habits, mobile and broadband access, and more, with a sport-focused user experience platform that delivers a personalized experience, telcos can stand out in what’s become a crowded market. They can use this information to put the right content in front of the right subscriber, on the right device, at the right time, in a way that’s designed to interest them most.

This approach is the rocket fuel necessary to supercharge the sports service a telco can offer. With the masses of data they have at their fingertips, telcos will be able to apply those insights in a variety of ways to not only personalize what content fans are shown, but how it’s presented to them. This is simultaneously the future of live sport and the answer to new revenue opportunities. From increasing ARPU through upselling a subscriber on other services such as match betting, or using sport as a hook for encouraging them to sign up to a new all-in-one contract tariff, it’s all connected.

For fans, this means their mobile operator will be their one stop shop for all sports services they require. By getting this right, telcos will simultaneously cater for long term subscribers that are sports fans while also luring in new customers.

How this will change the fan experience

The other benefit of an approach like this is that fans get access to a "beyond TV" experience. Telcos will be able to chop up sports content in a way that hasn’t previously been possible, bringing a personalized offering to individual subscribers. The NBA, for example, already lets fans stream the final quarter of any game at a reduced price, which caters in equal measure to the casual sports fan and a die-hard basketball follower that’s out of the house while the match is on.

When fans watch on mobile using an operator’s service, the operator owns that experience from end-to-end. A push notification could be sent to interested subscribers offering them a deal to watch the match at a low rate, or even for free in exchange for renewing their contract with the operator for another 24 months.

Telcos are also in the best position to use freemium and shared accounts to their advantage. Allowing subscribers to share access to sports content with their family, they can bring new consumers into their ecosystem, collect data for personalization benefits, and convert them into fully paid-up subscribers over time.

Live sport is still going through its digital transformation, and the best routes to monetization are still being established. But one thing is clear: the future of this industry will be both interactive and immersive. It’s also going to be driven by 5G, one way or another. And operators that use sport as a tangible use case for their next generation networks, combined with making the right investments into their OTT tech stack today, stand to reap the benefits for years to come.

* This article was originally published on International Business Times, on 24 July 2019.