Global football viewing figures are booming. Over 700 million people tuned in to watch the 2021 Champion’s League final, which is almost twice as many viewers as the previous year. Streaming services are becoming increasingly important in this equation and according to one report, OTT platforms are expected to account for about 20% of all sports rights spend in 2022.
So when FIFA, the global governing body of football, launches its own OTT service it certainly sets the bar for where sports viewing is headed going forward. The organization revealed its streaming service FIFA+ a little over a week ago to give fans access not only to a vast archive of matches but also original content and an impressive live game offering.
In my opinion, other sports organizations and rights holders can learn from how FIFA has taken full control of the fan experience to ensure growth not just from a business perspective but also in terms of further cementing its brand. FIFA+ will enable it to control how it monetizes its content across regions and platforms but just as importantly, it will also empower FIFA to drive innovation in the world of sports viewing. This is how:
Controlling the brand
Football is played (and watched) with passion on every continent. FIFA is a rightsholder for all of the biggest matches and events and this also makes it a key influencer on how the sport is consumed and perceived. By launching a central hub for live matches, archival games, statistics, and original content, the organization takes ownership over not just the content catalog but also the way football exists in the minds of viewers across the world. They will be able to curate content based on FIFA’s priorities and target it based on local focus areas and initiatives. If football were a brand, FIFA would be its gatekeeper and FIFA+ gives them control of where it lives in the minds of users.
Owning the data
FIFA+ needs to demonstrate measurable results to truly be deemed a success, i.e. the service needs to generate actionable insights on user behavior. It is no secret that brands can gather this kind of data from almost any engagement a user has with their offering across a multitude of digital platforms. However, this often also means that they are not in control of the data collected but instead beholden to the terms and conditions of each platform. The highest value data is that which you gather yourself and by extension also own. FIFA+ has the potential to become a significant 1st party data-generating machine for FIFA and leveraging this insight will help the organization design better user experiences to ensure happy fans that stay engaged over time.
Managing revenue streams
Managing global streaming rights for a large number of properties is a complex process for any video provider, and the same goes for FIFA. It is also very lucrative, and the creation of FIFA+ should help reduce the complexity of maximizing new and existing revenue streams for the organization. The new streaming service will enable FIFA to monetize all matches and member associations in a streamlined centralized way, and this will also provide added value for its partners and sponsors. There will be opportunities to access new regions and the ability to better target content and advertisements. Having its own streaming service also means that it can quickly adapt its offerings based on changing market dynamics, user preferences, or partner demands – which in turn will help optimize new and existing revenue streams.
No sport (not even one with 3.5 billion fans) can hope to survive unless it is made accessible to all kinds of audiences. This becomes especially relevant amidst figures showing that younger demographics are not engaging with sport in the traditional way. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has described FIFA+ as a way to “accelerate the democratization of football.” This democratization is going to start on platforms that are popular today but will doubtless also come to include whatever future channels that are relevant to different kinds of audiences. Whether this turns out to be based on augmented reality or some yet-to-be-seen technology, the key is to have a strategy in place that allows you to stay agile. Having complete control over their own OTT service means that FIFA will be able to move quickly and innovate its offering to stay relevant for different kinds of consumers.
There are important lessons to be taken from FIFA and the launch of FIFA+. Regardless of the scale of your sports organization, it is likely going to be a fraction of their size and this is good news. I would argue that being a smaller and less complex organization means that you can benefit more quickly from implementing a similar OTT strategy.
Controlling more aspects of your OTT business will help you scale today but also prove beneficial in the long term. You are building a destination for your sport and your fans. Controlling your brand, your data, your revenue, and the way football will be consumed in the future means you will be better positioned to deliver the best user experience (which, fundamentally, is the most important thing to do). Know your fans, know what they are doing, what they want, and where they are and you have the chance to build lifetime relationships that keep them coming back. This in turn allows your organization to maximize current opportunities, while also unlocking new revenue streams.
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