How sports broadcasting is gearing up for a comeback

Despite a slump in viewership and revenues for major leagues, experts discuss why the coming months may not be so tough for the highly-monetizable sports genre

e4m by Sonam Saini
Updated: Jun 29, 2020 1:00 PM

In the last three months, where the TV consumption was at an all-time high and almost all the genres were growing in viewership, sports genre was an exception. With sports leagues across the world cancelled due to the lockdown, the genre was adversely affected.  

In the first week of COVID, or Week 11, saw the genre’s impressions dropping by a whopping 69%. The daily average reach fell by 29% whereas daily average time spent slipped by 56%  as per the BARC-Nielsen report. However, the experts believe that the coming months won't be as tough for sports broadcasting as it was in the last three months.  

Global Leagues back on TV

After three months, as lockdown eases in many other countries, some sports leagues have been coming back on TV. For instance, recently, Star Sports aired live telecast Premier League from 17 June-23 June. Similarly, Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN), the official broadcasters of Serie A in India and the Indian subcontinent, airing live broadcasts of the top-tier Italian football league which started on 20 June till 1 July.

“These ongoing leagues are definitely bringing some cheer to Indian fans as we have missed live sports for over two months now. Also, the broadcasters will have some positive outlook towards advertising in the absence of original content in the entertainment space and hence, the viewership for live sports (European leagues) is also expected to be better than the pre COVID period,” said Vinit Karnik, Business Head - Entertainment, Sports & Live Events. 

As per the TAM-Adex Television Advertising report,  in the sports genre, soccer tops advertising in the absence of live cricket.  There has been a sharp drop in live programming as IPL was postponed. Around 60% of the ads during live sports were on soccer. 

German soccer tournament Bundesliga was the only live soccer tournament that was aired during COVID on Star Sports Select 2 and Star Sports Select HD 2. The weekday matches garnered 17% more advertising compared to weekend matches. It attracted 9 advertisers from 17 categories promoting 26 brands. 

Girish Menon, Partner and Head, Media and Entertainment, KPMG in India, believes that sports remain a lucrative and highly monetizable genre. With global football leagues back post the easing of lockdowns in many European countries and live cricket also likely to be back in Q2FY20, the broadcasters may see ad monies coming in, although the quantum will be lower due to contributing sectors/advertisers facing their own revenue pressures. “Much would depend upon whether the IPL can be held in Q3 FY21, as a significant amount of advertisement revenues ride on that one property. Once India cricket and the IPL are back on the TV screens, a V-shaped rebound for the sports genre is not inconceivable. Also, with many events like the Olympics, Euro and some cricket series shifted to FY22, the long term prospects for the genre remain robust,” he said.  

While speaking about the current leagues and advertising, Mayank Bhatnagar, Executive Vice President, Carat India. said, “Sony & Star have started airing live football, which has helped these channels to get viewers, however, improvement in viewership is still marginal. In my opinion, viewership and ad revenue will continue to get affected for the next few months. Moreover, inventory demand has also reduced as brands have either cancelled campaigns or put them on hold. I would expect to see an improvement during the festive period on the back of an increase in demand from advertisers.” 

According to Karnik, “There has been an overall impact on the adex and not only on sports as a genre. But whenever we see the return of live sport in India, it will certainly bring a lot of positivity and cheer to the fans and the advertising community.” 

Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN) had continued showing live content for WWE as well as UFC and launched WWE blockbusters on Sony Ten 1 and Sony  Ten 3, which was supported by a massive marketing campaign. Due to this, the viewership grew by 30% during April. Currently, the network broadcasts live football matches with Serie A live from 20 June, followed by FA Cup, which returned on 27 June. The network is also working on the return of UEFA Champions League & UEFA Europa League that are returning in August. After over 120 days of no live cricket in the world, SPSN will exclusively air the West Indies tour of England, the live telecast of three Test Matches starting from 8 July.  

Neville Bastawalla - Head - Marketing & On-Air Promotions, Sports Channels at SPNI said, “With the resumption of other live sports, we’ve seen new sponsors along with the return of old sponsors on our channels as well like Amul, Apple Skoda, ITC deodorants, Playgames 24x7, Maruti Suzuki India, Bharti Airtel, MPL and Amazon Prime among others so there is a definite upswing in advertiser interest. 

Live Broadcasting & Non-live content 

Experts believe that sports broadcasting is a little under indexed on the non-live programming front and it's a great opportunity for the broadcast and the right holders  (team owners and federation) to build some programming and storytelling in non-live content space. “This possibly is needed for this hour as some of our emerging sports leagues are struggling to make a mark and need an overhaul in terms of players popularity and overall understanding of the sport. I'm sure a lot of plans that Indian leagues and Indian Federation are considering at this point in time and can expect some interesting pieces of content very soon,” said Karnik. 

Apart from the live content, SPSN aired The Blue Revolution, a series focused on the successful ODI campaign of the Indian Cricket team at the B&H World Championship of Cricket in 1985 and Modern Marvels that showcases the best innings played by batsmen such as Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, David Warner and Steve Smith among others. They also launched a 15 part series called Retro India.  The network is also planning to bring some more content like WWE special event, Extreme Rules 2020 which will have a host of superstars from Raw & Smackdown. 

Similarly, to fill in the void left with the absence of live events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Star Sports has been actively engaging with viewers, taking them through the memory lane with a host of iconic matches, right from the international arena to the Vivo IPL. Shows like Cricket Connected, Cricket Connected Chats were among the non-live content space. Besides the highlights package, which is part of the non-live regular programming schedule, some of the prominent nostalgic shows aired during the past couple of months were Mauka Mania, Glory of 2007 and others. The network too has a line up in the non- content space.  

Bastawalla shared, “Live sports is back and it is returning in a big way. All the leagues across sports are in the process of closing their current seasons and new seasons are being scheduled. In fact, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju recently spoke on the resumption of sports saying that India should be ready to host some of the sporting events in a couple of months and the government wants not just the top but all athletes to resume training as soon as possible. The Sports Authority of India has already drawn up the Standard Operating Procedure regarding resuming sporting activities.”

 It might be an off-season for India but globally the sports season has already begun. Most of the leagues have a live broadcast in India, which is an advantage as the country can learn from their experience. “We will have three months to learn from the developed markets/ leagues in terms of what measures those leagues are taking, securing the players, testing and social distancing protocols etc. Technology advancements that will be implemented considering these live sports will happen in close doors and will be interesting to see the fan engagement and experience being played out,” said Karnik. 

India’s sports picture 

As per the ESP Properties Business of Indian Sports report, sports sponsorship industry in India has been growing at a healthy CAGR of 12.8% over the last 10 years, with the overall Sports Sponsorship market in India crossing the mark of Rs 9,000 Crore for the first time. With most of the sports tournaments either cancelled or indefinitely postponed, YOY growth/estimation for the year 2020 pre-COVID-19 will not hold true, says the report. 

According to Karnik, "IPL is a tentpole property for India and for now it's been suspended. There are conversations happening that it will come back in September or October but this has not been officially communicated by BCCI as yet.”

According to FICCI EY M&E Report, 2019 - Era of Consumer ART, 17% of live sports hours generated 45% of advertising volumes, which clearly indicates how important is the live sports for the sports broadcasting business. Also to generate another 35% of ad volumes, broadcasters focused more on repeats and highlights and generated fewer hours of related content.

Menon said, “There has been a loss of around Rs 2,000 – 2,500 crore in advertising revenues for the sports genre in Q1 FY21.”

According to Bhatnagar, “In the absence of any live events in the sports genre, ADEX volume and value both, have been impacted severely. In May, we observed a drop of 10-15% in value and 7-10% in volume. Viewership, on the other hand, has also been impacted and an average drop of 35-40% was witnessed."

Karnik said that currently, it's an offseason for sports in India as monsoons traditionally don’t have outdoor live sports season and usually it starts back post monsoons. Therefore, if all goes well, the leagues in India are likely to take place from September onwards. There are conversations happening that it will come back in September or October but this has not been officially communicated by BCCI as yet.

Experts believe that although monsoons are an offseason for sports in India, by September, the leagues in India will pick up. 

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