Securing live linear TV coverage for youth and women’s events is impossible for most governing bodies. However, the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) is proving that you can build audiences for grassroots events in a cost-effective way on social media. Frank Dunne reports.
FIBA EXPECTS TO BREAK even this year and register a profit next year from its free live streaming of youth competitions.
That may not immediately strike you as significant. However, think about it: producing 480 games per year in HD of kids as young as 15 playing basketball – content that mainstream broadcasters wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole – and making a margin on it. These are the kinds of opportunities that social media platforms are now opening up for sport.
Basketball’s global governing body has been live-streaming its youth competitions free via social media websites YouTube and Facebook since 2014.
This year it has substantially expanded the initiative, both in terms of the number of games streamed (see figures below) and the quality of the production. Fiba has had to be prepared to lose money on the project for the first two years to gain traction, but is close to seeing the rewards.
One of the keys to making the project sustainable is keeping costs down without sacrificing the quality of the product. Revenues come both directly, from sharing advertising income with YouTube, and indirectly, from building a better proposition to take to potential sponsors further down the road.
Talking to SportBusiness International in the wake of the U-17 World Championships in Spain, Nicolas Chapart, Fiba’s head of digital, explains exactly how the project has evolved.
“At the beginning it had to be a cheap exercise,” Chapart says. “We believed that even with a lower quality than broadcast we could still get an audience. We started with two-camera production, even one camera sometimes. Now we have five cameras at many games, with slow motion and graphics, and all games are filmed in HD. For the World Championships we increase the quality further.”Production and staff are Fiba’s two biggest costs for the project. For a 10-day event, with an average of about 50 games, production costs start from about €23,000 ($26,000) to €25,000, of which travel expenses for the crew represent at least 40 per cent.
On top of these costs, Fiba has two full-time members of staff for its social media activities – one at its Geneva headquarters and one in Munich – plus Chapart and works regularly with three to four external people who produce content and images during events.
One big advantage that the governing body has – that many smaller federations might not – is that it owns its own server farm; a cluster of computer servers at which it can pull together all the video content and distribute it to multiple platforms. Otherwise, it would have to license this activity to third-party operators and pay a healthy fee for their services.
Chapart explains the rationale behind the investment by saying: “We can take every piece of content that does not have TV rights associated with it and not only show it on our platforms, but give it to as many people as possible. To do that we need this server infrastructure to distribute the content we want. I firmly believe that this kind of content distribution is going to be the key to our success in the future.”
There is a major cost benefit of live-streaming games on third-party platforms rather than on the Fiba official website: it eliminates bandwidth charges. These could be up to €3,000 per event, depending on the size of the live audiences. Facebook and YouTube swallow the bandwidth costs of all the video content streamed on their platforms.
YouTube is currently the only monetisable platform used for the youth events. The standard deal offered by the Google-owned video-sharing site is a split of ad revenue, usually 55:45 in the content producer’s favour.
All of the ad inventory around the youth games is sold by YouTube, but Fiba can block certain categories, such as those for products that the governing body does not want to see associated with the sport. Fiba has control over things like how long the pre-roll ads are on its content. It favours shorter ads, with the skippable option, to put as few obstacles as possible between the viewer and the content. Fiba is currently in discussion with YouTube about shifting to a more premium model, in which the ad inventory is offered to a smaller group of strategic partners. This kind of negotiation is only possible because of the high number of viewers that the youth games have enjoyed on YouTube.
In future, sponsorship will add to the direct revenues. Fiba is about to embark on a new sales cycle and Chapart believes that the big numbers it is seeing across digital and social media platforms will enable it to secure higher fees from its existing sponsors and bring in new partners.
“We are at the end of a three-year cycle where we have built our inventory and gathered data,” he says. “We have invested in delivering regular content with more and more live content. Now we want to try to sell the sponsorship inventory. We have shown that we have a mature product that can guarantee visibility.”
He adds that the sponsors that have been on board from the outset are those that have gained most from the initiative. “They suddenly got exposed to millions of people, whereas before, sponsors of youth events had limited exposure,” he adds.
Facebook is still working on ways to share ad revenues with video content creators, but is expected to adopt a similar 55:45 split to YouTube, which would further boost earnings. For the moment, there is an indirect value in working with Facebook because it is a key vehicle in the activation programmes of Fiba sponsors like Molten, AirBnB and Tissot.
Fiba simulcasts the streams on its Facebook page to 15 other third-party Facebook pages. It also distributes some of its live feeds on the DailyMotion site. Sites like Twitter and Snapchat have so far not been used for live-streaming. The governing body dabbled with Vine for clips, but came to the conclusion that it did not have regular enough content to make the platform work.
“It is not important to be on huge numbers of social media platforms. For each one there are cost and resource implications. It is more important to be on the biggest ones in a structured way, so our fans can find meaningful content,” Chapart says.
Ownership and letting go
One of the reasons that many sports rights-holders have up to now preferred to keep rich video content for their own website and apps is to make sure they ‘own’ the relationship with the fan. To access a team website, a fan usually has to register and provide personal information that is invaluable in marketing campaigns for merchandising, tickets or whatever the club has to sell. Put your content on Facebook or YouTube, the argument goes, and it is the social platform that owns the relationship, feeding back to you the information it suits them to provide, but keeping plenty of juicy user data for themselves.
Chapart argues that sport has to chill a little on issues of ownership and control. “Social is a tool to bring content to the fans where they are,” he says. “The digital landscape has expanded.
“We are no longer in an era where we only have a website and we try to push everyone to that website. We produce content for each social network. If you are a Facebook addict, we want you to be able to find all the information you need about Fiba, about your national team, your favourite player, on Facebook. If we can take you to our website to get more information, fine. But we are happy for people to stay on social media and become part of a community there.”
The data provided by Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – and used by Fiba for near-live clips of its events – does have a value to the governing body. “Fiba is global and has to cater for every continent and every country,” Chapart explains. “We see patterns of usage by region and by country. We adapt our output in line with what the usage data tells us. For example, the Philippines is a huge basketball market and the people are hungry for content, so we do far more content for them than for most other countries. We can push this just to the Philippines thanks to the geo-blocking tools on the social networks.
“We have seen that in some countries fans like full games more than clips. In Japan and Korea they are nuts about watching 90 minutes, even if it is not live. So we tailor our output there accordingly. The beauty of social media is that it is an ongoing, flexible process. You are able to adjust on the basis of the data that comes through.”
Fiba enjoyed some encouraging numbers for the live-streaming of the U-17 World Championships for men and women, which took place in Spain in June and July, on its official Facebook and YouTube pages. These included:
5.6m …total live views (3.1m Facebook; 2.5m YouTube)
1.9m …views on YouTube for the men’s games (129 per cent up on 2014)
600k …views for the women’s games (350 per cent increase on 2014)
200k… live viewers across both platforms (111,230 Facebook; 85,231 YouTube) for round-of-16 men’s game between Australia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the biggest live audience ever for a youth basketball game
24k …peak concurrent viewership, just 1,000 short of the record for the 2014 Fiba Basketball World Cup
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