PERFECT 10 | After a decade in sports media, Perform is still ahead of the game

This article was produced in association with Perform

There are times when the phrase ‘it takes one to know one’ rings particularly true.

That’s certainly the case with Perform Group, the sports digital content and media company which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary.

It has been a decade of growth, diversification and success built on an ethos of innovation and partnership and a hard-wired commitment to doing things differently to enrich clients’ businesses through technology.

Talk about Perform to clients and partners across the various strands of the sports sector and there’s unanimity in their description of the company as pioneers willing to put their money where their corporate mouth is to make a difference.

Perhaps unsurprisingly many of those clients, partners and associates are generally considered to be pioneers themselves; always looking for a new horizon and the next boundary to cross to maximise the value of their offering whether it is enhancing the game-day experience for fans or powering sports media and betting operations by delivering new levels of video and data.

Among them is Seamus O’Brien, founder of World Sport Group, which revolutionised sports marketing across Asia from its headquarters in Singapore before its merger with Lagardère in 2015. In a sports world largely focused on the old order of Europe and North America, O’Brien and his organisation helped develop the sports market in Asia, creating and monetising rights for a range of organisations including the Asian Football Confederation. In short, he knows a thing or two about beating a fresh trail and he sees Perform in the same light.

Genuine pioneers

“They are genuine pioneers. A lot of people today have followed others but Perform has been at the forefront of building new pathways. They had a great idea and the courage and determination to back themselves to make it work,” he says.

“The founders saw digital as a totally new frontier. I worked with them and they opened their Asian operation in World Sports Group’s offices in Singapore. I was happy to give them a few Asian football rights to help them get traction.

“The fact is that, back in the day, while we knew the internet was out there, people didn’t know where it was going. They (Perform) were the ones with a game plan and have gone on to do remarkable stuff over the last decade.”

Jonas Persson, who with his partners built IEC In-Sports, is another sports media entrepreneur who has successfully identified a rights niche and built a significant business from it. The roots of IEC were in identifying and inexpensively acquiring rights to second or third-tier events – often from Asia – to satisfy the content hunger of the growing number of dedicated sports channels springing up in the 1990s and beyond.

“I guess we were probably one of the first companies to sit down with Perform with a blank sheet of paper and discuss the ideas which we had around the internet space,” Persson says.

“Once we had done that we came to the conclusion that rather than do anything ourselves the right move was to do a joint venture (with Perform) using our inventory. It turned out to be the right decision and it helped them grow their business.

“The key to Perform’s success has been their total focus on digital from the very beginning. Ten years ago almost all the money was in traditional media but they stuck to their vision and succeeded through focus – being very innovative and having a strong financial alliance which gave them important muscle.”

Another sports business pioneer, Riccardo Silva, who built the MP & Silva agency into a global force, also saw a like mind at work in shaping Perform.

“I started my working relationship with Simon Denyer and his team in 2007 when they were still known as ‘Inform’ and we were working on different projects, including developing the Italian Serie A on British channels,” he says.

“Perform have always employed great staff and I’ve always had an excellent relationship, in particular with Simon. He rightly has a great reputation across the industry and I consider him a good personal and professional friend. When I look back, I think that one of the reasons we get on so well is that we’ve both followed a similar path to growth and success.

“Simon and Perform were the first to envisage the growth of betting rights. They were ahead of the times. But what I most admire is not just the vision but the execution. They actually drove the growth of betting rights. I always say that success is 20 per cent vision and 80 per cent execution and those guys delivered to the extent that they established themselves as leaders in that segment. They were also the first to strongly believe in OTT as a real competitor to traditional TV broadcasters and, again, it’s looking like they were right, and their challenge on this is really fascinating to follow.”

Media revolution

That “remarkable stuff” described by Seamus O’Brien has seen the company develop client touchpoints throughout sport, providing services direct to the consumer through its own global network of digital sports destinations serving more than 2,000 publisher sites with sports news and video through Omnisport, delivering video to publishers through the Perform E-Player and creating a media revolution in basketball and women’s tennis through its partnerships with FIBA and the WTA. Its consumer output is enhanced by its data services, and advanced data and analytics services are delivered through OptaPro to professional clubs for performance analysis, scouting and player recruitment.

In 2016 Perform Group added another significant string to its bow with the launch of DAZN, described as the world’s first truly dedicated live sports streaming service. DAZN, which is currently available in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and Japan but will roll-out in new territories throughout 2017 and beyond, gives fans unlimited access to the widest array of live and on demand sport on virtually any connected device for a low fee and no contract – effectively meeting the demands of cord-cutting fans who live on digital.

The launch of DAZN is indicative of the relentless desire to innovate at the heart of Perform’s culture and, according to Bill Koenig, President of Global Content and Media Distribution at the NBA, it is a culture which permeates its clients as well.

“We have worked with Perform for eight years and they have pushed us to innovate in ways we hadn’t thought of and we have been a willing partner to their ideas,” he says.

“They are a tremendous partner and Simon Denyer is one of the most creative and visionary executives we deal with. They came to us with the idea of getting invovled in businesses we hadn’t considered both in the US and internationally.

“Perform operates across all sports and has an affinity with basketball. They are committed to the growth of digital content distribution and, although we had video highlights before working with Perform, they took us into newspapers and other websites. Perform now operates NBA local digital destinations around the world in local languages with localised content and with a local sales force. Six or seven years ago they encouraged us to provide data and video content to bookmakers (where it was legal), which was another new step, while more recently there has been the OTT distribution of game broadcasts in Germany and Japan through DAZN.

“Their vision for the growth of digital content distribution has transformed the sports media landscape . They had a vision, stayed true to their vision and their vision has happened. While others are now seeing the value of sports to drive different platforms, Perform were the first and they are still the leaders.”

Multi-dimensional partnerships

Among the most significant milestones in the Perform journey to date have been the signing of deep and multi-dimensional partnerships with two global sporting bodies. The first, with the WTA Tour and then FIBA, basketball’s international governing body.

Both sports had similar challenges of finding deeper engagement with audiences worldwide but the scale and depth of the partnerships which emerged were seen by some observers as watershed moment, indicating a new way of doing business for rights owners.

WTA Tour CEO Steve Simon joined the organisation after the agreement to form WTA Media was in place but sees it as a transformational move.

“The WTA’s partnership with Perform continues to play a major role in the transformation of our sport,” he says.

“Perform has a unique understanding of the digital media universe which is allied to a deep affinity with the WTA, our aims and objectives and the outcome has been the creation of an entirely new media experience for tennis fans and all of the commercial and marketing opportunities that go with it.

“They are genuine innovators in sport who lead the way rather than simply following trends.

“Our partnership with Perform in WTA Media oversees the production and distribution of more than 2,000 WTA matches and that revolutionises the fan experience by bringing them closer to global and local stars. Importantly WTA Media has also hugely increased news content and delivers magazine shows and significant additional off-court content.

“It’s about getting great content to fans as and when they want it and that is at the very heart of our strategy for the future of the sport. Thanks to Perform, fans decide how to consume the matches and who they want to follow. They are in control.

“It’s a game-changer for women’s tennis and it results from Perform’s innovative culture, tech savviness and willingness to invest in building sports to benefit all stakeholders.”

Similarly, FIBA Secretary General and International Olympic Committee (IOC) Member Patrick Baumann sees the creation of FIBA Media with Perform as central to the organisation’s strategy for the growth and development of the sport.

“In the fast-changing world of sports media, Perform has consistently demonstrated its ability to think differently and innovate and this is the basis of the ground-breaking strategic partnership with FIBA signed last year,” Baumann said. “This is a real partnership and until 2033, Perform will be FIBA’s worldwide partner for the distribution and sale of all media-related rights for FIBA national men’s and women’s team competitions.

“The partnership covers more than 5,000 live games including qualifiers and major tournaments – such as the FIBA Basketball World Cup and FIBA EuroBasket – with more than 1,500 live games in the first cycle (2017-2021).

“Together with Perform, we have created FIBA Media, a joint venture committed to increasing the value of the basketball fan experience. FIBA Media is maximising exposure for our sport on multiple platforms and providing fans with unprecedented access to content.

“The partnership is helping us realise our ambitions to accelerate our sport’s growth by unlocking the true potential of national team basketball, bringing the game to a new level globally, and tapping into emerging markets in Asia, the Americas and Africa.  This agreement marks a step forward in a fast-growing and developing strategic area for FIBA and its international competitions.” Among Perform’s enduring customers is Matchroom Sport, whose founder, Barry Hearn explained that he had known the company and its founders since the very early days.

“The business depends on accessing volume TV rights and I deal in volume blue-collar sports and was probably their first customer 10 years ago,” he says. “They have always been very creative in digital rights and kept ahead of the game. In betting, for example, live sports streams changed everything.

“As the world has progressed and technology has advanced, Perform has changed with it. In many ways, I compare them to Sky Sports, who rewrote the rule book. What they are doing is fulfilling unserved demand, taking niche sports to a general market and providing content for the audience when and where they want it. Millennials want sport on the go and Perform delivers sport in a way that suits their lifestyles.”

But, he pointed out. It’s not always just about the business. “There’s one other thing,” he says. “They’re good guys and fun to work with and that’s important!”

Broken new ground

Perform has broken new ground across many areas of sports media and business but it is arguable that nothing has been as profound as the changes the company has helped drive in the betting sector, where the business has been transformed by changes in consumer behaviour resulting from access to new opportunities to bet created by digital technology.

Erik Backlund, head of Sportsbook at Kindred Group, which comprises 13 major betting brands including Unibet, underscores the importance of their contribution.

“Our partnership started many years ago with Unibet’s first channel and then built around providing streaming services. The relationship went on to become more strategic and is now integrated into what we do from board level down. It is far more than a supplier relationship and is something which we really value,” he explains.

“They provide a premium service of video and data and I believe they have played a huge part in the rise of live action betting, actually helping to change consumer behaviour.

“Perform has been one of the driving forces in giving consumers what they want and they’ve had a particular impact in making mobile betting what it is today. Their work helped reduce the delay in delivering video via mobile from 20-30 seconds – which made betting impossible – to 5-7 seconds. That opened up the market.

“Most recently they’ve shown their creativity by responding to our push to add voice to streams without adding to the delay.”

In its first 10 years Perform has had a profound impact on the sports media sector and the consensus is that the success has been achieved by total focus on digital innovation and thinking differently.

Culture behind the success

In an interview for SportBusiness International earlier this year CEO Simon Denyer explained the culture behind the success.

“Our ethos has always been not to replicate things done by other businesses and not to do anything that isn’t digital. By keeping to that we have moved up the value chain,” he said.

“Ten years ago, there were already well-developed ways of making money from sports media rights.

“We just looked at where the industry was from the perspective of starting from scratch with just some technology and some rights and worked on how we would build a sports content business for the nest 10 years.

“We knew that we didn’t want anything to do with analogue broadcasting, linear programming or print and that we weren’t going to collect content in anything other than digital,” he explained.

“Every year we change the way we do things. We are always looking for more efficient ways to get more coverage and faster ways of getting the feeds out. Digital and IP (internet protocol) is more efficient and there are always better ways of doing something.

“We are not bound by any existing business model and we have a pretty ruthless approach to the way we do things.”

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