Magazine article The Futurist

The Future of Sports Media: What Do the Fans Want? Sports Teams, Leagues, and Marketing Professionals Are Turning to a Growing Array of Media to Capture the Elusive Customer

Magazine article The Futurist

The Future of Sports Media: What Do the Fans Want? Sports Teams, Leagues, and Marketing Professionals Are Turning to a Growing Array of Media to Capture the Elusive Customer

Article excerpt

There is probably no better place to examine the media landscape in the next decades than the sports arena, especially the first big players in this highly lucrative, multibillion-dollar worldwide industry. We are now seeing a massive readjustment in what has historically been a synergistic relationship between the sports leagues and teams and the media. In this transformation, new alliances will be formed, media giants will be sorely pressed to operate, and viewers--i.e., fans or customers--will have unprecedented access to information on numerous and yet-to-be-determined distribution channels.

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In the United States, today's sports-media model was pioneered on television by ABC's Wide World of Sports, NBC's coverage of the Olympics, and CBS's Sunday afternoon football. This relationship was clear: The sports properties sold their rights to the media, who then sold the sports content to advertisers, who gained audiences and potential customers for their products. The model was primarily built on network television and was largely responsible for turning professional and college sports into multibillion-dollar businesses. Over time, this model began to change as cable television networks entered the sports rights fee arena and, because of cable subscriptions revenues, began competing with network television and fragmenting what was once a scarcity-driven market.

The best example of a current winner is ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network), the synergistic sports-media brand that communicates with its fans through every distribution channel imaginable. From its flagship television network, the company has spawned other networks (ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, ESPN Deportes), syndicated radio stations (ESPN Radio), a magazine (ESPN the Magazine), an interactive Web site with streaming video, audio, insider information, and fantasy games (ESPN.com), a mobile phone content provider (Mobile ESPN), and sports-themed restaurants (the ESPN Zone). Throughout most of the cable network's history, if a sport wasn't covered by ESPN, it didn't exist.

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In the next stage, sports leagues and teams, because of technological innovations, are beginning to communicate differently with fans. For the first time, the content providers are developing pipelines directly aimed at their fans. A leader in this transformation is Manchester United, the billion-dollar English football (soccer) club, which has adapted and expanded ESPN's blueprint to its own one-city team. It has a television channel (MU TV), radio station (MU Radio), magazine (United), mobile phone service (MU Mobile), team-themed restaurants (the Red Cafe), and interactive Web site (Manutd.com) with streaming video, audio, insider information, and a fantasy game. Outdoing ESPN, it even has its own financial services, including car insurance, credit cards, and mortgages; a ManU lottery; and a host of other attractions. As an English football club outside of London, Manchester United has transformed itself into a global lifestyle brand through innovative partnerships and new media communication strategies.

The signals of this future trend are everywhere. Sports properties are becoming their own media companies, interacting directly with their consumers without the filter of traditional media. For example, the most valuable television property in sports is America's National Football League (NFL). For most networks, the NFL is sought after not only for its high ratings but also for the promotional lead-ins to the rest of the network's schedule and as a competitive asset in the television content wars.

Despite their league's television rights monopoly, the NFL has been building its own television channel, the NFL Network, which competed against ESPN with its own NFL draft show and broadcast eight regular season games in the 2006 season. Rather than selling its Thursday and Saturday night television package to other networks, the NFL is investing in its own media brand, using the network as a backup plan for the time when or if television networks won't pay the rights fees. …

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