Sports is a fan’s game now

It’s springtime at the NAB show and building fan engagement for sports in the OTT era has been a hot topic this week in Las Vegas.
Sports 2.0: The New Rules of Fan Engagement featured a panel of experts including Jim O’Neill, Videomind editor, Principal Analyst and Strategic Media Consultant. Joining him were John Bishop, CTO, Media Business Unit, Akamai Technologies, Eric Brunner, Sports Partnership Lead, Twitch; Eric Black, CTO, NBC Sports Digital & Playmaker Media; and moderator, Barry Bedlan, Deputy Director, AP Sports Products, The Associated Press. 
O’Neill kicked off the panel by breaking down some recent stats showing great declines in live TV sports viewing, including the worst ratings for the final round on Sunday during the Masters golf tournament since 1980.
The panelists discussed the importance of reaching audiences where they are these days and as Brunner pointed out, align with their same interests, as eSports is doing.
Of course, the conversation turned toward Millennial sports fans. O’Neill noted they will watch sports highlights versus four hours of a game, and the way to reach them going forward will be through mobile devices. He said, “their love affair with the big screen is over,” and with the cross-over to small screens, it’s unlikely that Millennials will ever go back to TV as their primary screen. Bishop said that Millennials have the same expectation across all screens, noting, “For Millennials, there’s no second screen now.” Black highlighted that NBC is seeing more engagement not only on mobile but on connected TV devices, and even desktop is still showing increases, as audiences across the board are coming to digital platforms.
The panelists discussed the importance of getting closer to sports fans through activities such as offering fantasy leagues, tracking social media interactions, utilizing all available content assets, and enabling user-generated content (UGC).
Monetization of content will continue to evolve, with new ad placements, hybrid business models, binge-viewing opportunities and even crowdsourcing. Immersive, interactive and data-driven offerings were also suggested as ways to increase fan engagement and ultimately expand revenue for sports. 
At the Innovating for Sports Fans panel presented by Telstra and moderated by Anna Lockwood, Head of Market Development, Telstra Broadcast Services, panelists included Dominic Wedgwood, Director of Content Operations, Perform Group; Jennifer Angell, Director, International Broadcast Project Services, VER; Richard Craig-McFeely, Strategy & Marketing Director, Interxion; and Andreas Eriksson, Head of Sales, Telstra Broadcast Services. The group discussed topics including the benefits of IP delivery and data centers for enabling flexibility in live sports broadcasts. 
On the subject of virtual reality (VR), Craig-McFeely commented that VR can give fans the idea of a sports event experience even if they’re out-of-market and can’t attend in person. Angell suggested there was “still a ways to go for consumers to enjoy the full potential of it” and Eriksson mentioned that it’s about storytelling. 
Lockwood also pointed out that the next three Olympics will be in the Asia-Pacific region, so more innovation there will be needed to match audience expectations. 
Overall, it’s clear that sports continues to be not only the most valuable video content but a bellwether for how OTT and consumer engagement will further evolve.