DIGITAL POV: ‘Netflixisation’ of sports

Mindshare Point of View


On 8th August, ESPN turned ESPNU into "The Ocho" to showcase "seldom-seen sports from around the globe.” What if this day of sports obscurity was more than a fun stunt but in fact a glimpse into the future of sports media?

Details and Implications:

I grew up watching a combination of football, basketball and baseball. I never questioned why those were my preferred sports because they were pretty much the only things on TV or covered by sports media.  But now things might be changing.

As more viewers are cutting the cord, sports TV ratings have been declining while rights holders have been asked to pay more to the leagues. At the same time, live events continue to drive an increasing portion of viewership and cultural conversation as premium scripted entertainment shifts more and more to "on demand".  Sports Business Daily observed that live sporting events accounted for 93 of the top 100 rated TV shows last year, up from only 14 of 100 in 2005.

Enter the digital platforms that can now provide high-quality access to a host of live sports previously unavailable on linear networks. Whether it’s UEFA Champions League on Facebook Live or the WNBA on Twitter, League of Legends on Twitch, or the new upcoming CBS sports streaming offering, fans will soon have near endless choice in the types of sports they can watch live. ESPN is soon launching an over-the-top offering featuring sports not airing on TV. This is eerily reminiscent of how Netflix (and then Amazon, Hulu and others) precipitated the flattening of viewership of premium entertainment content. So what would the Netflixisation of sports mean for the advertisers that have relied on live sports as the last place to find truly mass audiences?

Focus on natural connections. Every brand would love to be an NFL partner - it’s the biggest game in town - but not every brand shares the values of the league. As more different sports begin to build digital audiences at scale, brands can finally evaluate partnership opportunities through the lens of their brand essence. Is your brand all about "laid-back intensity?" Maybe surfing is for you. Trying to amplify your brand’s French heritage? The French Pétanque league is perfect for you!

Shift from sponsor to patron. It will be years before we have access to all live sports from around the world. In the meantime, brands have a chance to be more than just a sponsor of a league; they can become a patron of an entire sport by helping to bring it to new audiences. Red Bull built its brand’s foundation on the back of very active involvement in action sports.

Lean in on personalities. Obscure sports and leagues feature many uniquely compelling athletes, whose stories can be told by brands for far less cost than an NFL or NBA endorsement deal. Digital sports influencers like Dude Perfect have proven how much power a distinct POV has to scale.

Be ready to play ball. As live sports become 24/7, the magical moments that bring all sports fans together in the moment will become more frequent. At the same time, new sports can enter the zeitgeist. Marketers will need the agility to jump in during moments that reflect their brand position or be willing to help a like-minded fledgling league just as they first arrive on the scene.


We are probably still a few decades away from the Kabaddi World Cup surpassing the viewership of the Super Bowl (in the US, at least), but there is no doubt the sports media landscape is about to be disrupted just like print and narrative TV before it and the next 5-10 years will determine brand-sport alignments for the future.

Further reading:

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