We live in a time of unbelievable money in sport. Athlete’s paycheques are astronomical, global brands are being built across different sports, and broadcasters pay almost inconceivable fees for the rights to show lives games. The reason for this is that it’s big business, and the giants of social media are muscling in for a piece of the action, with Twitter and Facebook both securing rights to broadcast certain games on their sites. Alongside this, though, is the development of DIY broadcasters, immensely popular channels built entirely separately from traditional incumbents.
If we take soccer as an example, there are a number of online-only publishers building significant audiences and challenging the conventions around who gets to have their say on soccer. To varying degrees, just about every Premier League club has a dedicated ‘fan channel’, groups that post with impressive regularity on issues surrounding their teams.
Arsenal Fan TV is certainly the most eye-catching of the DIY soccer channels, owing to its genuinely watchable characters and infamously explosive reactions to poor results from the team. The negativity was initially met with everything from laughter to scorn, a novelty act tacked onto a club seemingly in perpetual swing between crisis and the resumption of normal service. As the channel has grown, though, and genuine celebrities have emerged thanks to their involvement, people stopped laughing and started seeing it for what it was – a new kind of punditry, opinions and (dare I say it) actual insight from the people who care the most about their clubs.
The channels stars attend events alongside Premier League players, sponsorship money from Ladbrokes has made it a genuinely profitable entity, and the aforementioned sky-high views legitimize what was for far too long seen as a joke. The conversation has largely shifted from criticism of the sensationalist content to respect for the passion shown, and Arsenal Fan TV has slowly but surely positioned itself alongside the more prominent voices of former players and traditional broadcasters. The influence of the YouTube channel is such that initial critic Gary Neville met them for a 36-minute interview, in which they discussed their differing views on the state of the club in depth, a mark of respect that seemed miles away when the channel first gained notoriety. The future of Arsenal Fan TV is something only its creators will know, but its moves toward becoming a legitimate discussion forum for one of the world’s best-supported clubs is exciting for anyone tired of the stuffy, traditional broadcasters.
Another channel with a very different approach is Copa90. Rather than showcasing irate fans, the channel publishes everything from documentaries about the world’s most bitter rivalries through discussions with former pros over a game of FIFA. The tone of Copa90’s content is altogether younger, more relevant, and more culturally aware than its traditional competition, which clearly resonates with its large online audience. With just short of 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube and a strong presence on Twitter, Copa90 is a modern broadcaster in every sense, and the future looks bright for the genuinely innovative brand. Head of Copa90, James Kirkham, said in August 2017: ‘I have a feeling this is going to be a mad 12 months in terms of what you’re seeing, who’s showing what and different formats. All these bits are early sighters of what’s increasingly going to happen. It’s up for grabs.’
The next step in the development of online broadcasting platforms will be the ability for them to stream live games. They currently work well as platforms for conversation and interesting content surrounding sport, but audiences are still reliant on the key players when it comes to watching their teams regularly. The astronomical sums paid for the rights to broadcast games may well protect the current incumbents for now, but it is anyone’s guess what sports broadcasting will look like in the years to come. YouTube’s DIY-turned-professional broadcasters are testament to a changing audience that wants authenticity rather than spectacle and a tone they can recognize.