YouTube TV has combined the backing of a Silicon Valley heavyweight (Google and parent Alphabet) with the mindset and nimbleness of a startup to quickly become a player in sports sponsorship and distribution. YouTube burst onto the scene as a distributor last fall as the first-ever presenting sponsor of the World Series, a deal that YouTube Global Head of YouTube TV & Originals Marketing Angela Courtin said was sealed in “six weeks to two months.” She added, “We saw it as a big opportunity, our coming out party to the largest group of viewers. There’s no better place to do it than the World Series.” That helped raise awareness, which Courtin said is the number one issue for nascent companies even if they have a well-known brand attached to their name. “We wanted people to understand what YouTube TV is and how easy it is to use,” she said. “Live sports drives viewership. It’s an inalienable truth. When we think about how do we communicate and overcome the obstacle of describing what a (distributor) is, we immediately went to sports. The timing was perfect and the partner could not have been more perfect.” She contends YouTube TV also brought a “whole new consumer into the baseball landscape.” The deal has been extended for the next two years and Courtin said MLB Network will soon be available on the YouTube TV service.
DIVING DEEPER: YouTube also partnered with the NFL with a spot right before kickoff and is partnering with the NBA around the Finals (it was also a presenter during NBA prime time games on Saturdays on ABC and ESPN during the season). The NBA channel is now available on YouTube TV. The nascent streaming service is going even deeper into sports with MLS expansion franchise LAFC. YouTube TV has broadcast rights for local matches that are not nationally televised and the service’s logo is on the jersey, but Courtin said the company wants to be more than a kit sponsor: “We want to actually change the way MLS fans locally experience content.” She talked about the amount of content the broadcast arm will capture through its co-branded booth in LAFC’s new stadium.
GOOGLE, FIND COWBOYS GAMES: Courtin touted YouTube’s partnership with parent Google’s search functionality in helping ease the pain of finding and recording content around your favorite team. “I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan,” she said. “I plug in Cowboys and push a button that looks like a plus and I have the entire Cowboys season recorded for me because my DVR is unlimited. Now I don’t have to think about what channel the game’s on or what time, because it finds it for me. Now I have a full playlist of Dallas Cowboys games and content available for me whenever and wherever. That’s how easy and elegant TV should be.” Another feature has been designed with sports fans in mind: “We have a spoiler mode, you can put that on and if you’ve recorded the game it brings you back to the beginning without ever showing the score so it doesn’t ruin or spoil the game. We’re thinking about how we can enhance the sports viewing experience.”
KEEPING SCORE: The YouTube TV head wouldn’t divulge numbers, but said, “We have accelerated growth beyond our prediction.” Should legalized gambling become more widespread, Courtin said it wouldn’t take much to add new features. “We can move fast if that’s something the industry and consumer really want in terms of data to overlay any API into the YouTube TV environment,” she said. “In terms of what excites you, the speed at which we can be responsive to what our consumers and what sports fans want, what the industry’s driving is unparalleled.”
The future of sports business was the focus of the opening panel at Day 2 of the '18 CAA World Congress of Sports, as execs looked at what is on the horizon for issues like technology and data analytics, gambling and growth sports.
PUSHING FORWARD IN COLLEGE: SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey mentioned early adoption of technology as one area that will improve the fan experience, particularly ways to more directly involve fans. CAA Football co-Head Jimmy Sexton noted that some of his older coaching clients are concerned about adopting new analytics and data. Sexton: “It’s changing so fast, you have to have your head on a swivel.” Sankey also said he foresees the rising salaries for college coaches slowing down, but is not sure how or when. Sankey: “There is an end. What causes that end? At some point there is a resource issue.”
NEXT BIG THING: Sankey mentioned lacrosse as a hot sport in the college space, but seemed less bullish on esports. Sankey: “The naming of ‘esports’ is interesting. It’s a great marketing technique.” Outgoing Soccer United Marketing President Kathy Carter and AEG Worldwide President & CEO Dan Beckerman were bullish on soccer as a growth area, particularly around MLS and a potential FIFA World Cup in North America in ’26.
PLACE YOUR BETS: IBM North America Sports & Entertainment Lead Shannon Miller noted that casinos have led the way for years on data. Miller: “If you want something that’s going to pull the sports world forward in terms of data and analytics, (sports gambling) will accelerate it faster than almost anything we’ve talked about.” Beckerman noted the gaming discussion came up at the MLS BOG meeting on Tuesday. Beckerman: “You can’t have the talk about engagement with talking about gambling because there is a relationship between those two, and I think the leagues and the teams have a decision to make about what role, if any, they want to play with that ecosystem.”
If expanded legalized sports betting becomes legal in the U.S., American Gaming Association Senior VP/Public Affairs Sara Slane said to expect a mix of “brick-and-mortar experiences” and mobile platforms, which is a good “opening salvo.” During a discussion about sports gambling during the final session of the ’18 CAA World Congress of Sports, DraftKings VP/Business Development Jeremy Elbaum, whose company has had to go state by state to get DFS legislation passed, said of what his expectations are for sports gambling, “A federal solution is pretty far away. I think it is going to be state by state. ... It’s going to take a lot of collaboration between companies to work things out.”
DECISIONS FOR LEAGUES: MLB Senior VP/League Economics & Operations Morgan Sword noted that the league, like many others, wants to protect itself from potential issues and/or bad actors related to gambling. Sword: “We sell competition, and expanded sports betting presents some threats to that, both real and perceived. An umpire can make a call a certain way, and then the conspiracy theories will be out there. That can do damage to our brand.” But Sportradar U.S. Deputy President Laila Mintas talked about how sports gambling could help stem a league’s sagging ratings, help with fan engagement and open up sponsorship opportunities.
Pizza Hut CMO Zipporah Allen talked about the brand’s recent March Madness activation and also looked ahead at Year 1 of the chain’s new NFL deal during an interview at the ’18 CAA World Congress of Sports. Allen, who appeared alongside Bumble Head of Brand Alex Williamson, said Pizza Hut had a hit on its hands around the NCAA Tournament with its “Pie Tops” -- which allow users to order pizza through a button on one sneaker while while pausing TV with a button on the other sneaker. Allen said of the shoe campaign, which is in its second year, “They kind of exploded more than we thought they would. ... This year we kind of focused on our delivery experience. So we started ideating around what we could do to really top the phenomenon of Pie Tops from the first year.”
HUT! HUT! HIKE!: Pizza Hut replaces Papa John’s as the league’s official pizza for the '18 season. “What we’re so excited about is going back to our business strategy around digital and delivery,” Allen said. “Tens of millions of NFL consumers are enjoying that content at home every weekend, and that really is the center of gravity around how we think about activating this partnership. It’s really about the fan experience, particularly at home. ... There’s a huge opportunity with a platform like the NFL, which has lots of female fans and multicultural fans that overlap with our consumer base, to activate.” Allen noted the brand’s first big activation around the league will be with the NFL Draft, particularly at the Draft Experience. Allen: “We’re going to invite fans to show us their best doorbell dance. We’ll have 360-degree cameras where they can film themselves doing the dance. It’s really a content play for us.” Pizza Hut will also feature a few players, but did not reveal those names.
The might of the Patriots compelled the Bose Corporation to open its doors to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Krafts at 8:00am on AFC Championship Sunday in '13 for a technology showcase, but it couldn’t force Bose to skimp on the R&D in pursuit of a deal. Bose Chair and former CEO Bob Maresca shared that story during a walk down memory lane Wednesday morning at the ’18 CAA World Congress of Sports, recalling how the Krafts had given him 20 tickets to the game later that day in January '13. The tickets helped Bose to convince some cafeteria and other building workers to come in early on game day, to prepare for the high-powered visitors. After a showcase of Bose’s noise-cancelling technology, Goodell told him: “We want this on the sidelines in September 2013.” Less than nine months away. Maresca said: “I’m a huge football fan, and nobody more than me would like to do that. We will not do that unless we can truly improve the coaches' experience, and there’s no way we can get it done between now and September." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft nudged him under the table. “You can’t say no to the NFL,” he muttered. Maresca replied: “I just did." Of course, Bose ultimately did get the work done and signed with the NFL in August '14 -- a year later than Goodell wanted. They renewed the deal in May '17. It was a repeat of ancient history for Maresca and Bose, he noted. When Founder Amar Bose asked him to take over the noise-cancelling project for the military, it had cost $50M without a product to show yet. Most of the company wanted to shut it down. Bose told him: “'If this were a publicly traded company, I’d have been fired years ago,’” Maresca recalled. "But we’re not a publicly traded company, and we could invest in research over the long term without having stockholders demand we change our course of action."
Traditional sports should disrupt themselves. That’s the prescription of two team owners representing three major sports leagues: 49ers CEO Jed York and Fanatics Founder & Exec Chair and 76ers and Devils investor Michael Rubin. Rubin asserted: “It’s better to disrupt yourself than have someone else disrupt you.” But York said creative disruption is being stymied by the amount of cash flowing from traditional media. “That’s the blessing and curse of the NFL,” he said. “We get so much revenue from traditional broadcast, we’re not incentivized to be disruptive. I’d prefer to be more disruptive, but that might mean giving up some revenue and EBITDA today to build your business of the future.” York added, “There’s more money than is being made now going forward, if you’re willing to take that leap.” Intel Senior VP and Intel Capital President Wendell Brooks moderated the panel and remarked on the influx of money into sports: “There’s been more disruption in the last five years than in the cumulative 70 before that. Venture investing to disrupt sports in 2010 was less than $50 million, last year that approached $1.5 billion.” Rubin replied: “If you think we’ve had that much disruption in the past five years, we’re going to have even more in the next five years. I think it’s going to benefit the fan.”
STREAMING REVENUE: Rubin expects even bigger growth abroad. “International growth is an enormous opportunity for all sports,” he said. “We’re seeing the demand. (U.S. professional sports) are building a nine-figure international business.” Much of this revenue will come from streaming companies, who Rubin sees as the natural partners to deliver the games and content. “If we look five to 10 years down the road, I think the digital companies will be the primary distributors for most sports content,” he said. “A lot of people don’t agree with that, (but) I think their ability to deal directly with the fan and better customize experiences for the fan, and do it through such great digital companies, is a massive opportunity. It’s one of the reasons why I’m still bullish on the costs of these franchises.” While Rubin sees digital distribution within a decade, York conceded, “You don’t want to completely disrupt your model overnight. ... We have the entertainment, the new media companies will have the biggest reach, the current broadcast companies have the expertise to produce these games. There’s going to be some partnership between the three. We all know how it’s going to end, we just don’t know how we’re going to get there.”
HOME V. IN-STADIUM: York said their proximity to Silicon Valley helps the 49ers stay aggressive in updating the in-stadium experience. “We want people to always be connected at the stadium,” he said. “Some people, like Mark Cuban, don’t want people to look at their phones in the arena. That’s just not feasible. If you’re not embracing that, you’re not giving customers what they expect in their daily life. You have to figure out how to give them what they expect and enhance their experience and get them inside the game.” He also said the 49ers welcome Intel and other tech partners to use Levi’s Stadium as a testing ground to keep improving the fan experience. Rubin added, “I don’t worry about taking butts out of seats in the stadium. To me, I look at how we make the experience so great that they want to come back to the stadium. ... If one experience gets better it pushes the other experience to get better.”
RATING THE NFL: York bristled at the subject of lower TV ratings for the NFL: “It’s harder to measure what the reach is. You’re seeing more people consume it differently, while ratings are down a little bit.” Rubin weighed in from a merchandise perspective: “We’re up 40% on our NFL business. It’s really healthy ... we look at fandom together (broadcast ratings and online consumption).”
ROLL THE DICE: “I’m all in on gambling in sports,” said Rubin, commending NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for backing legalizing sports betting. “It’s a way to build fan engagement. To me, it’s not if, but when. It’s coming and will be great for sports, done the right way.” In fact, he sees sports gambling as a great investment opportunity: “If I didn’t own Fanatics, I’d be all in on gambling. Each decade a special company gets developed and I think gambling is the next big thing coming from a financial and engagement perspective. It’s controversial, but it’s one I believe in.”
RETAIL DISRUPTION: The retail industry has been radically disrupted by improved supply chains that allow for greater customization and rapid order fulfillment. Rubin: “Five years ago this business was about guessing -- which teams and players were going to be hot and how did you deal with players traded. We’re always going to guess wrong, so we’ve changed it to an on-demand business. Our goal is we want to get fans whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want.” York pointed to the boom in sales down under when the team signed Jarryd Hayne: “No one thought we’d sign a rugby player from Australia, and we sold one million jerseys in Australia.”
Several individuals within the sports industry weighed in on social media during Day 2 of the ’18 CAA World Congress of Sports. Heritage Werks' Heather Joy Martin tweeted, "Brian Cooley, President, Sports and Entertainment Group, EverFi challenging a room of sports and brand executives to include transformative social impact into every partnership is the best call to action of the #sbjwcs conference so far." MKTG's Stephanie Rudnick: "Super impressed by this preso by @EVERFI's Brian Cooley and the work they're doing to leverage athletes and sports to give back to kids/schools. Need to learn more about them." 49ers' Al Guido: "Final day of #sportsbiz meetings @SBJSBD #SBJWCS with @49ers @JedYork and @Fanatics @Sixers Michael Rubin --Charged to return to Bay Area w/ fresh perspective. Tremendous insights on future of broadcast/streaming rights, future of gaming, e-commerce, new sports tech and more." Executive search firm Grace Blue's official Twitter feed: "Great discussion at Sports Business World Congress on expanded legalized sports betting in the US - It will deepen the fan’s engagement with the sport and bring forth the need for new capabilities and #talent to reach these fans." InviteManager's Troy Tutt: "I’m a satisfied @YouTubeTV subscriber and enjoying hearing from @AngelaCourtin and her #startup mindset." You can see all the reactions from this year's conference by using #SBJWCS.