CES 2018: Turner’s Sports Business Innovation Conference Delves Into Evolving Content Ecosystem

Panel examines Turner-UEFA Deal, Twitter’s evolution, the importance of diversity in sports, and more

Turner Sports once again trotted out the big guns for its annual CES Sports Zone last week. The event featured not only live productions of Inside the NBA, The Warm-up, and ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Celebrity Showdown but also the two-day Sports Business Innovation conference featuring leading execs in the sports-media industry.

From left: Turner’s David Levy, WNBA’s Lisa Borders, Twitter’s Anthony Noto, Control Media’s Steve Nash, and UEFA’s Guy-Laurent Epstein

Day 2 of the Sports Business Innovation conference featured a panel titled The Evolving Content Ecosystem, moderated by Turner Sports commentator Ernie Johnson, and featuring WNBA President Lisa Borders, UEFA Events S.A. Marketing Director Guy-Laurent Epstein, Turner President David Levy, Control Media CEO and two-time NBA MVP Steven Nash, and Twitter COO Anthony Noto. The panel provided a deeper look at Turner’s recent rights deal with UEFA and planned OTT platform, Twitter’s sports strategy, the future of esports, and more.

Inside the Turner-UEFA Deal
In August, Turner Sports announced a landmark deal with UEFA to broadcast Champions League games in the U.S. and launch a new direct-to-consumer OTT service based on the global soccer property. Levy explained why he sees value in the UEFA rights and previewed Turner’s plans for the new property.

“We’re excited to have UEFA as part of the family,” he said. “It was a unique thing for us because this is our first property that I can remember that we actually purchased not for the linear television business. There will be access on our channels to some of the Champion League and Europa League games, but a majority will be on a new sports OTT product.”

Levy also detailed how he sees Turner’s multiplatform coverage of Champions League and Europa League appealing to the all-important millennial generation.

“We’re moving into [an era] where the largest living generation right now is millennials and the next is Generation Z,” he noted. “They’ve grown up with the internet and grown up watching content very, very differently. And how they get content, consume content, find content is very different than how we do having grown up in a cable-TV world.

“From a Turner perspective,” he continued, “we’re entering that OTT space right now, and we believe this is the exact time to enter. … UEFA is our foundation, and we believe there’s a passionate fan base here in the U.S. for European soccer and they will seek out and find it and watch it on any device. There just wasn’t that opportunity before.”

Epstein also weighed in on why the deal with Turner appealed to UEFA, noting that the broadcaster’s work building the NBA as a property represents a model for success.

“Here in the U.S., [UEFA Champions League and Europa League have] become a real brand that has been built along 25 years,” he said. “We’re very pleased to partner with Turner and what we’ve seen achieved on the NBA we would like to replicate and even go further because it’s great content delivery.”

Evolution of Twitter in Sports, Need for Reliable Measurement
The role of Twitter in promoting and distributing live sports content has evolved over the past decade. For its part, the social-media giant has made an effort to partner with major sports-content creators to extend their audiences by promoting their content and, more recently, has acquired streaming rights in an effort to appeal to viewers of non-linear content.

“We’ve really tried to position ourselves as a company that makes other brands and their content better,” said Noto. “I used to use an analogy, when we were taking Twitter public, that Michael Jordan and Steve Nash make the other four people on the basketball court better than they would otherwise be. At Twitter, our goal is to make our partners better than they’d otherwise be. We’re not trying to disrupt anyone; we’re trying to extend the audience.”

However, the significant growth of any major media platform creates the need for reliable audience measurement, and this is true of Twitter and other social-media channels.

“[In terms of] our properties, historically, TV audience was the measurement. For me, that’s irrelevant now,” said UEFA’s Epstein. “I think the conversation around sports and the competition is far more global than the core TV audience. And how do we measure that in the future? I don’t have the answer, but I think it’s very important for all of us to be able to [determine] the social-media impact of our competitions rather than the pure TV audience. We have to find the definition of how to count all these conversations going on around [the content] in a much different manner.”

WNBA’s Borders seconded the notion that reliable audience measurement across multiple platforms is an absolute must as the industry evolves: “I think what we’re going to have to start measuring is relevance and resonance in real time. We’ve always talked about viewers and attendance. I think those metrics will still hold, but they need to be complemented. I don’t have the answer today, but being able to say what is relevant, what is resonant [is important].”

The NBA vs. NFL: Two Leagues at a Precipice
Over the past year, much has been made of the NFL’s ratings dips this season along with the growth of the NBA’s viewership and position in the cultural zeitgeist. Nash, no stranger to the NBA or creating media, noted how the two leagues differ in both their content-distribution strategy (the NBA has embraced social media and made its highlights readily available for streaming; the NFL has primarily taken a more closed-off approach) and the nature of the respective games — and how that could affect the future of each league.

“It’s an interesting case study to see what’s going happen with the NBA vs. the NFL in the next 20 years,” he said. “The NFL is the king; they’re on the top of the hill, and they have all the money and all the viewership, relatively. But the NBA has this extremely open and forward-thinking [approach] where they’re investing in apps. They have players that don’t wear helmets or masks; there’s five of them on the court, and they all are massive personalities and social-media moguls. That is so salable and so important to the power of getting your sport out there that it’s going to be interesting to see how these two sports adapt. I’m fascinated to see how this plays out.”

Technology Will Be Key in Growth of Women’s-Sports Properties
Much of the first day of the Sports Business Innovation conference focused on the impact of diversity and the social impact of sports and the role of technology in both factors. During the Evolving Content Ecosystem session, Borders added to this conversation with an exclamation point: technology will drive women’s sports to broader appeal in the future.

“I think,” she said, “that all this technology will allow women’s sports to mature and have a broader appeal, not just global but universal, and that we will take our rightful seat as an equitable partner in the community. We have always been an adjunct, but I think this will certify that we are an asset once people recognize the value proposition of women’s sports, which will be seen through all of these new devices and these new platforms. Exposure is king, then customization is queen.”

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