Do You Really Need $5-billion Broadcast Rights Package to Engage Sports Fans?

Without broadcast rights for hockey, Canada’s official sport, what is TSN, “Canada’s Sports Network,” to do? Without World Cup broadcast rights for 2014 what is ESPN to do in the UK? TV and sports analysts suggest their businesses will suffer massively when locked out of broadcast and digital rights. Some sports networks have even left countries when they find themselves unable to compete with sports broadcast rights prices.

Sports broadcast rights prices are increasing to never-seen-before levels. The recent 12-year deal worth $5 billion CAD from Rogers for NHL rights is the latest in the fight for content reaching new levels. The NHL deal follows in the footsteps of BT’s three-year Premier League broadcast rights deal worth $5 billion for and the one year, $1 billion ESPN and DirecTV NFL rights deals in the US.

Sports broadcasts, of course, are seen as the last and best hope to get TV viewers watching TV with advertising and not on-demand without advertising.

These deals often include mobile and, according to some industry observers, seem to lock out all second screen competitors. That is not even close to the reality; Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter are not locked out from sports on mobile and they have never paid a dollar for broadcast sports rights.

Facebook and Twitter sell second-screen advertising during sports without broadcast rights. They even charge the TV network, the one that just paid billions of dollars to control all content, for access to social data and users.

Twitter and Facebook are making money off sports broadcasts without paying for broadcast rights, but they are not the only ones—other consumer-facing companies make their money from sports broadcasts through second screens without paying for sports broadcast rights:

Search: Google, Yahoo and Bing all have specialized search for live sports news and scores and sell advertising against live sports.

Sports Score and news: the Score, ESPN SportsCenter, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, TeamStream earn revenue with blogs, notification services, and methods for engaging users with live sports.

Sports league: The sports league (NFL, NHL, etc.) also offer consumer score and news services to earn additional revenue from live games after selling broadcast rights to the highest bidder.

Fantasy: Yahoo, ESPN, CBS and others have Fantasy sites and apps that drive revenue from games without paying for broadcast rights.

All the second screen activity during a game is leading to a convergence of ideas and technology and an interesting battle between the TV screen and the mobile screen.

It is impossible to ignore that sports fans and non-sports fans alike are addicted to our mobile phones and tablets. A recent survey from Weve shows that 46% of all 18 to 34 year olds consider mobile their first screen. TV lags at 12%. At the same time on a weekly basis TV reaches over 91% of adults. TV viewers, that is almost all of us, are undeniably distracted while watching sports by our mobile devices.

We are distracted by second screens, by consumer-facing products that don’t pay for broadcast rights. And its no wonder, in some sports the delays in action, or inaction outweigh the action—by far.

NFL broadcasts are on average three hours long. In that three-hour broadcast there are only 11 minutes of actual playing time. The remaining two hours and 49 minutes of an NFL broadcast are replays, analysis, background information, opinions, news, half-time, score updates, and over 100 ads. If our mobile phones and lack of attention aren’t driving TV viewers to distraction, sports broadcasts, and sports in general, are driving viewers to second screens.

In no way is this the end for TSN, CBC, ESPN or any sports network outbidded on broadcast rights. Does Twitter fold up operations in a country when one of their sports network customers does not win a bid on the SuperBowl or MondayNight Football? Sports networks need to do just as I know some of them to be doing. They need to focus on second screen engagement whether they have the broadcast rights or not.

The approach on second screen for a TV network must be different than an online social network, a search engine, an online betting site, sports score app, news blog, or fantasy league. It must provide not just social conversation, or just behind the scenes information, or just sports scores, or just gamification. It must do all of these things.

The TV network must provide a second screen experience that is relevant to sports viewers whether they are at the game or watching the game on another channel. The TV network without broadcast rights can still deliver images and moving images and audio, it just has to focus those images on the back story of sport against the backdrop of the current game. Bring on that behind the scenes content, the gamification with integrated social. Bring on the sports reality shows.