D.C. United has agreed to a multi-year broadcast agreement (up to 4 years) with FloSports that will give the digital television service the exclusive rights to carry 21 of 34 regular season matches within the Washington market; league broadcast partners ESPN, Fox Sports and UniMas will carry the remaining 13 contests. The subscription streaming service plans to supplement game action with live and on-demand programming (think: pre-game/post-game, training camp coverage, player profiles). Games will air in high definition on FloFC.com, FloSports’ newest vertical dedicated to soccer content.
Howie Long-Short: D.C. United isn’t the first MLS team to bypass television in favor of a digital outlet, LAFC claimed that distinction when they elected to bypass English TV – in the Los Angeles market – last season for YouTube TV (Spanish television was available); Chicago Fire SC had a similar arrangement with ESPN+. But unlike those partnerships – limited to just game day broadcasts – FloSports has promised D.C. United “a dedicated marketing content deep dive into all things DC united as a part of the distribution strategy.” The pact is FloSports’ first with a Big 5 sports team.
YouTube TV and ESPN+ have much larger subscriber bases than FloSports. I asked Mike Levy, FloSports’ Vice President, Global Rights Acquisition – taking money out of the equation (no financial terms were disclosed) – why would D.C. United choose the OTT provider with the smallest audience (of the 3)?
Mike: Our promise to the club is that we’re going to grow their fan base. The goal of this partnership is to create some sort of emotional connection, to tap into people’s passions about DC united. Co-founder Martin Floreani used to say that the traditional media is a mile wide and an inch deep, we want to go a mile deep and an inch wide. We don’t believe that you can just throw out a live game and expect to grow your fan base anymore. The world is just too fragmented, the media landscape is too cluttered. Youtube TV or ESPN+ might be bigger platforms, but they’re not going to be generating even a fraction of the content that we’re going to be distributing daily (which explains why exclusivity is crucial for FloSports). We’ll also be deeply engaged with both ticket sales and social media.
Last Tuesday, the Formula One Promoters Association held a meeting with Liberty Media to express their concerns over the direction of the sport. Liberty’s intent to move races from over-the-air television to a paid OTT streaming service was among their chief apprehensions. The Association explained that “it is not in the long-term interest of the sport that fans lose free access to content and broadcasting.” With D.C. United making a similar move from cable/satellite to a paid streaming service, I asked Mike if D.C. United’s decision is in the best long-term interests of the sport?
Mike: We believed that there are certain sports that are ripe for disruption and need it to grow. Sports with massive participation, vast social reach and impressive fan engagement, that remain underserved by linear media outlets. FloSports is about going deep into a sport, from the amateur level all the way up to the professional ranks; and we want to do that year-round.
In the D.C. market, fans won’t be limited to just DC United. We’d like to get involved in the community at a grassroots level. It’d be the connective tissue between youth soccer in the DC metro area and the college game. We’ve already have rights to the University of Maryland through our Big 10 deal and we’re looking to expand our collegiate portfolio in the mid-Atlantic region. Nobody has programed a local channel deal around maximizing all the interest in the sport and we believe that the digital environment is the best place to do that.
One could argue that every pro sports league in America – except for the NFL, MLB and NBA – would benefit from FloSports’ vertical model. Mike says that “there are other bigger sports that are also underserved” implying the company plans to compete for Big 4 broadcast rights in the future. NHL rights would seem ripe for the picking. They’re relatively inexpensive and no Big 4 sports fan is more underserved – with regards to coverage – than the NHL fan.
Platform agnostic long-tail content will help with the development of some fans (and, existing ones will love it), I’m just not on board with the idea that pulling over the air broadcasts of games – in favor of a paywall – helps to grow a fan base. I don’t see how excluding potential fans is beneficial to the long-term interests of the game.
I asked, how many D.C. United fans he’s expecting to convert to the service?
Mike: I think we can do as well, if not better, than what the team was doing on linear television. You see all the investments being made in the digital landscape. Cord cutting is becoming more prevalent. Data shows that young fans are getting deeper and deeper into the sports that they love; that most people can only follow 1-2 sports at a time. We know these trends are happening. It’s going to take time, but this is an investment in the way consumer consumption habits are evolving.
Fan Marino: It’ll cost D.C. United fans who want to watch all 34 games an additional $150/year (or $30/mo.) in 2019, but the subscription will give them access – in addition to FloFC.com – to content from 24 other sports including auto racing, MMA and wrestling. Games will be broadcast in both English and Spanish.
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