SBJ/Aug. 19-25, 2013/Media

One year in, Al-Jazeera’s beIN Sport ready to focus on growth

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John Ourand
Fox Sports 1 launched over the weekend as a sports channel set up to disrupt the status quo.

One year ago, it was another new sports channel that some, including me, thought could bring big changes to the sports media business, albeit on a much smaller scale than Fox Sports 1.

The Al-Jazeera-owned beIN Sport and its sister channel beIN Sport en Español officially turned 1 last Thursday. Amid the hubbub of Fox Sports 1’s launch, I thought it was a good time to check in on its progress.

At its launch last August, I thought beIN would be more of a disruptive force over its first year than it was. It already had outbid GolTV for rights to the top soccer leagues in France, Italy and Spain. Plus, it picked up rights to all away U.S. men’s national soccer qualifying matches.

Many thought it would be a player in the bid to win U.S. rights to the English Premier League, which NBC won last October, but it wasn’t.

One of the channel’s top executives told me that he was satisfied that beIN has met its goals so far. The first year was about establishing itself. Now, the channel is focused on growth.

BeIN will try to jump-start growth with new print and digital ads.
“We are exactly where we expected to be one year into the venture,” said Antonio Briceno, deputy managing director, beIN Sport. “We need to grow in many ways.”

To jump-start that growth, beIN is starting a digital and print marketing campaign this week to improve brand recognition with consumers. One print ad has a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding up a yellow card alongside ad copy that says: “beIN Sport: America’s International Sports Network.” Ads will run in major national dailies and select soccer trades.

The marketing campaign comes the same week that Al-Jazeera is launching its U.S. news channel.
The focus on growth will start with distribution. Because the network is not Nielsen-rated, it’s hard to say how many homes the channel is in. It has deals with many of the big distributors, including Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, but some deals put beIN’s two channels on sports tiers, which aren’t well-distributed.

To help it with distribution, beIN plans to expand its TV Everywhere streaming service, beIN Sport Play. Last week, Verizon and Dish Network rolled out the service, which can stream up to seven live games at the same time.

“This is what we have planned from the beginning,” Briceno said. “We view beIN Sport Play as a complement to our total offering, where we are able to show a lot of the overflow product that we have.”

On the programming side, beIN had an uneven year. For a smaller network, its programming lineup is formidable. It has rights to some of the world’s biggest soccer leagues, like La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy and Ligue 1 in France. But the few beIN productions that I’ve seen have been surprisingly less than polished. I’ve watched the channel a handful of times in the past year, typically when it carries U.S. soccer World Cup qualifiers.

For a U.S.-Jamaica game in June, beIN’s pregame and postgame production was marred by technical problems and production glitches that you wouldn’t expect to see from an established TV network.

Briceno acknowledged some problems but stressed the big picture. “We’re a new channel. We don’t say we’re perfect. We have room to improve,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that those matches were never available before, or they were on a pay-per-view basis. We are the first network to transmit those matches in HD and we made a tremendous financial effort to have that coverage from places that are hard to reach, like Jamaica.”

Briceno outlined plans to improve programming, from adding to the original programs it offers in prime time to bringing in more high-profile talent.

BeIN will start to highlight some of the popular teams (like Barcelona and Real Madrid) and stars (like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi) that are on its air. This can be achieved on a show it has on both networks called “The Locker Room,” to focus on Mexican players for its Hispanic channel and U.S. athletes who play overseas on its English-language channel.

“The only goal that we have this year that is really important for us is that we want the American audience, regardless of whether they are Hispanic or general-market people, to come to beIN Sport as a destination for anything that is related to any of the properties that we have exclusively,” Briceno said.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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