16 Feb 2016

SXSW: Digital’s Role in the British Sports Invasion #SXsports

It’s 3:30am. My alarm goes off. Time to get up. No, not to catch a flight for an exotic holiday. It’s time to break out my laptop in the middle of the night to livestream the Arsenal match against Leicester City. And I’m not alone. Far from it. There are Gooners (Arsenal Gunner fans) across the U.S. up at this hour, in pubs, in their pajamas, but all very intent on cheering, sharing observations, jokes, bitching and moaning in person and on Twitter with each minute of the match.

When I saw that the panel “Going Global: Taking British Sports Brands Abroad” was part of this year’s SXSW SXsports programming, it definitely resonated with what I’d seen taking place in the states over the years, especially in the area of Premier League football. The speakers on the panel - Alexandra Willis, Head of Digital & Content for AELTC Wimbledon; Ben Gallop, Head of Interactive & Formula 1 at BBC Sport; Chris Harris, Managing Editor for Arsenal Football Club; and Richard Ayers, Founder & CEO of Seven League - will share how their digital tactics, strategies and activations have fueled the American passion for British sports.

As an avid Arsenal fan, going through my ‘Footie’ Twitter feed and live Tweeting during the match is as integral to the viewing experience as having a pint (or just coffee, please) with a Full English Breakfast at an Arsenal pub. Using Twitter enables people like me who travel to find Arsenal pubs in every city in the states; the official USA supporters clubs and unofficial pubs filled with fellow Gooners, where you can go into Peeve’s Pub in Fresno, Village Idiot or Fox and Hound in Los Angeles, The Tavern in Austin, or Three Lions in Denver a complete stranger and have an instant kinship.

That digital connection between Arsenal fans across the states in real-time and in between matches has been critical to the success of community building by the Gunners football club and other clubs in the Premier League. Digital teams at each club develops content distribution strategies that extend with podcasts, photo galleries, videos and daily news on Facebook, Soundcloud, iTunes, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, in addition to Twitter, and fans eat up every bit and byte. This digital content then supports off-line and off-season events, including Arsenal's return to the U.S. to play the MLS All-Stars match in San Jose, CA on July 28th, and then in Los Angeles on July 31st for a friendly against Chivas.

 

.@DenverGooners en mass, chanting truth, son. #globalgooners #ARSvTHFC

A video posted by Kim Owens (@kaffeinebuzz) on

There’s no doubt that the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) takeover of Premier League broadcasting has had a major influence in the growth of the British sport here in America. One that NBC had to invest in early on in 2013 and had to pony up for again last August, extending that agreement through the 2021-22 season at a cost of $1 billion.

According to the New York Times, “The new rights fee basically doubles the annual cost of NBC’s current, three-year $250 million contract — but its willingness to do so was an acknowledgment of how the globally popular league has come to redefine NBC’s sports cable network, NBCSN, and also of the value NBC sees in Americans’ growing appetite for top-shelf European soccer.”

You mean European FOOTBALL. Anyway…

NBCSN is well aware of the fervor that takes place during each match, especially crucial ones like Sunday’s battle between Arsenal and Leicester City. When Arsenal's striker, Danny Welbeck, who had been on the injury list since April of 2015, scored the crucial winning point in literally, the last few seconds of the match, videos of Arsenal fans going wild flooded Twitter, and NBC tapped that content to include in their Halftime postgame review.

The NBCSN contract renewal comes at a time when the Premier League is set to go sponsor free. Barclays, who's held a sponsorship contract that began in 2001, did not renew a deal with the league, and that contract ends with the current 2015-16 season. At this point, the league, which introduced its new branded logo and colors, void of any sponsorship inclusion, may have the financial freedom to go solo. NBCSN wasn't the only broacaster shelling out cash. Sky and BT Sport also paid a record £5.1 billion for TV rights as of the beginning of this 2016 season. Even so, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore is said to be looking for a new sponsorship deal for the 2016-17 season and forward.

 

Live @MenInBlazers broadcast + beer. Fab way to end Day 2 of #SXsports.

A photo posted by Kim Owens (@kaffeinebuzz) on

Although Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, told the New York Times that the NBC deal with the Premier League was not yet profitable, especially with the new, more expensive contract, “We look at it for what it does for our portfolio from all our revenue streams: advertising, affiliate deals, digital monetization.” With thousands of Premier League matches over the next six years and hundreds of hours of related and original programming, this British sport has become a crucial piece of the American broadcaster’s long-term power play.

When it comes to digital and livestreaming football, I’m personally hoping NBCSN saved some budget dollars to improve their NBC Sports Live Extra platform and app, which hasn’t had a truly decent upgrade for far too long. It’s left many a fan frustrated with that spinning wheel and freezing streams, and if you miss a last-second score by Welbeck, there's no telling what you may do. As the cord cutting and content streaming space gets more crowded, including Dish's Sling platform gaining ground, the state of digital mediocrity isn't going to cut it in the long term.

At SXSW last year, NBCSN took over the Four Seasons as part of the SXsports programming, including a featured broadcast of Men in Blazers. If they do it again this year, what better time to introduced a “New and Improved” NBC Sports Live Extra. Hint, hint.

In the meantime, it’s “Good, good, good to be, good to be a Gooner!”

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