It’s difficult to imagine, in today’s video-saturated world, that when the 1985-86 English Football League season kicked off, not a single game was shown live on TV. Disputes over TV rights deals (at which time the TV companies held the upper hand), coupled with an effort to drive more people into stadiums on matchday, meant that the ability to watch live sports on television was rare. Football League highlights show Match of the Day has offered comprehensive clips of the matches since 1964, but video content was difficult to come by.
Even when a deal was struck, it was only between the league, ITV, and the BBC. English football had two providers, and if they weren’t showing the game or interview, you couldn’t watch it. Fast forward 30 years and video content in soccer is ubiquitous across social media, TV, and largely illegal streaming websites. Even games during the enduring ‘blackout’ can be found online with ease, and Match of the Day is far from the only highlights show out there.
Its in these conditions that the emphasis on ‘exclusive’ content has emerged. The ludicrous fees paid by both Sky and BT Sport - some £5.14 billion between the two - means that both are naturally protective over their content and will only make it public as promotional material in a heavily abridged form. We’ve entered into an environment where content is a commodity, and in soccer the premium is high. The worldwide marketing power of top football clubs is such that brands are willing to pay through the nose for behind the scenes access.
A lot of the brands vying for exclusive soccer content have no direct involvement in the sport itself, too. Uber’s recently announced partnership with Manchester United, allowing people from 200 cities across the globe to access exclusive United content on their journeys, is a prime example. Manchester United are the world’s most commercially viable football club not just because of the Premier League’s incredible TV rights money, but because it has one of the world’s strongest footballing brands, with one of the widest reaches in the game.
The ride hailing company is running competitions alongside the content, but allowing access to the football club’s video content in far-flung cities benefits both parties. For Uber, it improves customer experience during the ride, and for United it reinforces the global presence of the club. The notion that content could exist by only being available whilst en route in a taxi would have baffled a fan in the 80s, and we are now at a point where it is impossible to keep on top of the content being pushed out by major sporting bodies across their multitude of channels.
From Snapchat, to Instagram, to Facebook, sports teams and broadcasters already have a huge number of channels on which to publish content, and new ones are emerging all the time. Dugout is a slick, video-focused content site with often exclusive football content from the world’s biggest clubs. The site was created, essentially, to offer better access than other content hosts, to remove the noise of social media, and to offer curated content rather than sheer abundance. Without the rights for video highlights, the website is essentially split between training ground footage, vintage footage, and news. Without any real hook to inspire users to return, though, Dugout feels like just another place it’s necessary to visit to keep up to date with your favourite teams and players, rather than a genuinely unique offering.
For UK fans to follow Manchester United week in week out, for example, subscriptions to both Sky Sports and BT Sport - well over £50 every month - to cover all league and European games. There has been talk of some games being live streamed on social media channels, but as it stands it is incredibly difficult and expensive for fans to keep up with their team’s performances and additional content.
It doesn’t stop at content proliferation, either. NBC launched its Sports MatchMaker so that US fans could meet others keen to watch English football in the states. Interestingly, though, the app also features a news section and an alerts section. In a world dominated by social media companies, publishers are often at the whim of algorithmic changes that can slash traffic in one swift move. If NBC can draw more fans onto its own dedicated app rather than pushing content out through Facebook, it naturally benefits.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have taken this idea one step further, too, with a dedicated app just for Cavs fans. Wine & Gold Nation is a social network to give fans a ‘personalized platform to engage with each other and the team.’ The app is interconnected with Twitter and Facebook and allows users to set event notifications, plan and manage events, while discussing all things Cavs with other members of the community. It will be interesting to see if other teams follow suit with similar offerings, particularly given the hostile environment for new apps that exists at present. One thing is for sure, though, these moves point to a market in which sports teams and broadcasters alike are looking to protect their content, one of the most valuable commodities they have.