The development of digital sports media companies

July 2018

In our Sports Trends article, published in January and accessible here, we discussed the development of digital media companies thriving in the non-live sports sphere. Whilst large TV broadcasters have dominated the live broadcast of sports, online players have grasped social media to commercialise the coverage of not just sport alone but the atmosphere and culture around sports.

We predicted 2018 would see increased interest in these online offerings from larger, more traditional players and also the branching out of these platforms into live streaming of sports. Halfway through 2018, both of these predictions appear to have materialised. 

1. Corporate Activity 

The UK based website Copa90 is reported to have undergone another round of funding in April, securing a 10% cash investment from Infront Sports, the marketing group owned by Dalian Wanda. The funding will allow Copa90 to boost its coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and its presence in Latin America and China. This is the latest in a series of investments in Copa90 from the likes of Liberty Global, Major League Soccer and Turner, the latter a deal on which CMS acted. 

Whilst TV has dominated live coverage of sports, platforms such as Copa90, Bleacher Report and Barstool Sports have thrived in sports coverage across social media and apps. Traditional sports media outlets may have more "followers" than the likes of Copa90, but it is the "impressions" these platforms are creating across social media and the resulting engagement with fans that is impressive and attracts investment interest. They are also very popular in the 16-34 market that has proven to be lucrative in advertising terms which is another reason why larger players are taking an interest. These platforms are agile enough to appeal to a younger audience, offering easily digestible content in a "peer-to-peer" voice. 

However, investments in and partnerships with these companies are not always without issue, especially with platforms that have thrived using the "peer to peer voice". For example, in the US, ESPN announced a partnership with Barstool Sports that was cancelled almost immediately as previous offensive articles published on the platform re-emerged. 

2. Live Broadcast of Sports

Whilst these online platforms have been able to excel in parallel to live broadcasting of sports, moves are afoot for an overlap between the two. 

For example, in the US, the Turner-backed Bleacher Report has recently announced the launch of B/R Live, which will be a direct to consumer live sports streaming service. Pundit Arena, the Ireland based fan generated content platform, has also recently branched out into live streaming, albeit on smaller scale sports events. 

There has been much discussion recently around movements from Amazon and Facebook into live sports. However, platforms which have dominated the non-live sports sphere may also have a part to play in the push towards OTT sports broadcasting. 

3. Next Steps

Moving forward, there is likely to be more significant investments in these digital media companies as they grow in popularity. It will also be interesting to see if a B/R Live type offering is replicated in Europe.  

Of particular interest in Europe is the Players' Tribune expansion from the US in time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. This platform offers content provide by players and athletes and has proved popular in the US as consumers are given a direct insight into the sports they love. Whilst entering the live-sports market may not be an aim for this platform, executives have spoken of the aim to sign deals with networks, online streaming services and other content distributors and it is an example of the further diversification of sports media.  

Authors

Paul Guite
Paul Guite
Partner
London