Fan engagement: Pixellot uncovers the grassroots opportunity in sports broadcasting

The Women’s Super League is now on Sky SPorts, which is ‘normalising’ the game by upping the broadcast production and coverage to English Football League and Premier League levels

By Alon Werber, CEO, Pixellot

The pandemic has changed a lot of things regarding sports broadcasting. As it progressed it stopped live sports entirely for a while, then sports could only continue behind closed doors. The evolution of COVID-19 continues to deliver uncertain news, and as an industry, we need to provide flexible technology and solutions to enable sports to use data and video to negotiate this new, shifting, environment in which we now operate.

Enhancing fan engagement

The last year has shown sporting leagues and federations that they have a fabulous opportunity to widen their programmes of fan engagement. When they were deprived of gate income, they embraced new technologies. Innovations like remote and automated production helped clubs to capture valuable revenue through streaming games live. Now fans have returned to stadiums around the world, leagues and federations are realising they can have their cake and eat it; they can service the fans in the stadium, and the fans outside at the same time.

It’s not only the live streaming of games either; thanks to the automatic and semi-automatic collection of data, clubs can provide fans with highlights and match analytics. This can all be monetised to help open even more valuable revenue streams for clubs. Once this used to be the preserve of top tier sports with lucrative broadcast contracts, but now a whole new stratum of leagues and federations are aware they can leverage this technology. They too can use it to cost-effectively reach their fans, no matter what level they are operating at.

This doesn’t just apply to local audiences either. Through streaming, highlights and match analytics, leagues can reach pretty much anyone in the world that might be interested in watching their games on any device. From families that have simply moved to entire diaspora populations. Suddenly the local game is one that is available globally.

Championing diversity in sport

This has been a heady realisation for many sports, but technology is also a great opportunity to champion diversity. For example, the Football Association of Ireland have been using automated production to broadcast top tier ladies’ football to fans in the country. This is great to promote women’s football more widely. This is all part of an overall trend to deliver sporting content to audiences in a much more economical way. Fans and family members of women’s football and youth sports, just to take two examples, are willing to pay to see their teams online. This is now possible, which is fantastic to bring in revenues for different sports, but also great for them to boost overall fan engagement.

Alongside the boost to fan engagement, the automatic and semi-automatic collection of data can enable coaches to use video and analytics from matches to help enhance players’ performance. This technology can help to develop the next generation of women footballers and youth players in much more niche sports. The possibilities really are endless.

Even without the pandemic, this transformation was very much underway. Federations, leagues, and teams were all looking at automated video models; and new economic models to deliver sports content to fans. The sophistication of the technology is increasing all the time and the industry is seeing genuinely automated multi-camera systems use artificial intelligence (AI) to live ‘direct’ match day broadcasts. Technology can automatically detect game action, switch camera angles, zoom in on the ball, track players, and deliver professional production at a fraction of the costs of a traditional sport production. Moreover, that innovation can feed into the distribution side, with one button publishing to social streams and even the easy white labelling of fully featured over the top (OTT) channels.

Democratising sports broadcasting

The last year has underlined it has never been easier to establish end-to-end sports broadcasting solutions. It’s not just been to the economic advantage of professional leagues and federations either. High schools, colleges, amateur sports clubs, leagues, and federations have found themselves able to use automated broadcasting to capture games, provide highlights and match analytics. This can not only be shown to fans and family members, but also to open up the opportunity to monetise content and use video content and data to coach the next generation of players.

This is a revolution. There is so much data that these sports teams can use to improve athletes, while generating interest from the next generation of players via the games they broadcast. The revolution might slow as COVID-19 starts to lose its grip on the world – but it will never stop. There is an opportunity for everyone.

Another year of change

Expect the adoption of technology to continue to accelerate next year. We are going to see augmented reality (AR) and AI technology being used to engage with fans in every segment. Meanwhile, 5G is a game-changing technology which is going to spread even further next year and connect fans to their teams more than ever before. The higher data speeds and lower latency that 5G offers is going to drive many changes in 2022. As contribution becomes easier, secondary sports will be given their chance to shine.

Agile OTT players will get the chance to develop the grassroots sports space. This is where there is a huge opportunity. Lower tier sports have enormous potential to unlock new revenue streams with technology, improve their players with video and data, and to engage fans by broadcasting their games online.

Software remains the biggest driver for change. As the industry moves ever more into cloud-based workflows and virtualised solutions, so it decouples itself from the hardware cycles that used to drip feed change. Freed from those shackles, a whole range of players in the sports broadcast space are free to innovate at whatever speed their individual business circumstances will tolerate. As a result, from the established sports broadcasters at the top tiers, to the smallest club hoping to engage with its local community, the chance to broadcast more sport, at higher quality, in a more affordable way is right in front of us.


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