George Pyne is the founder of sports investment firm Bruin Sports Capital. The firm’s portfolio includes Deltatre, the company behind the European version of the NFL Game Pass OTT product; On Location Experiences, the official hospitality provider of the NFL; and experiential marketing agency Engine Shop.
I’ve attended somewhere between 20 and 25 Super Bowls. I count them up every once in a while. There’s nothing like it – the who’s who of America, the entertainment around it is unmatched and the game itself is a spectacle and an event. 110 to 115 million Americans last year viewed the event – 1 in 3 Americans – and the Super Bowl commercials are going for $5 million. There’s nothing else like it.
I think On Location Experiences is going to entertain 24,000 people on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s significantly more than has been done before.
We felt the Super Bowl was the premier event in North America and one of the premier events in the world [when Bruin Sports Capital acquired a stake in On Location Experiences]. And the league felt like there might be an opportunity to continue to expand their hospitality and event experience. On Location had roughly four employees at the time. Today, On Location has 550 employees with offices all around America.
On Location Experiences have made a number of acquisitions. We invest behind creating more services that we’re able to go to rights-holders with and help them create more value for their fans and for themselves. We can bring many different experiences to life at many different price points and offer an à la carte menu of [hospitality] options for consumers.
I’m often asked about the ratings for the NFL, so I’ve done a little research. If you go back and look at a lot of the stories in 2015, it was the highest-rated year for the NFL in 10 years and the story was: is this ever going to end? So the [current] comparisons are done against a very high benchmark.
Every sport, every franchise has an ebb and flow. And when you’re the most successful franchise, you’re on what I would call centre stage unlike any other.
We believe there’s a change in media consumption going on and so our investments reflect that change. Clearly the NFL is part of that ecosystem and [NFL] Game Pass is a direct-to-consumer business that experienced growth this year and is a part of the puzzle going forward. Owning the relationship between the consumer and a sports property is going to become more and more important, whether that’s through a ticket or a media subscription, I think that’s going to be a big part of the future.
Because media is changing, things that aggregate people are going to become more valuable. Live events are going to become more valuable, experiences are going to become more valuable, that’s the prism from which we look through things.
If you go back 30 years, somebody might have valued it more if somebody gave them a clock or a watch. I think [with] today’s generation, people value shared experiences more: things that are unique, things that are special, things they can share with people that are there, or share with people on social media. Then also, as media becomes more fragmented, things that can get people to leave their homes or change their behaviour for five hours – we believe those things are going to become more valuable to corporations over time.
The NFL [have] experimented with Twitter, they’ve experimented with Yahoo, they’re experimenting with Amazon. I think it’s early days both for Amazon and for the NFL. I think meaningful people watch it [Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime] and I think the challenge for sports properties is that while this change in consumption is going on, there are segments of the population that, if you are not experimenting and testing and trying, you are not going to be relevant to.
I think the NFL got caught up in some dialogue this year [the anthem protests] that presented challenges. But I think it’s more a moment in time rather than a trend and I guess we’ll have to monitor it over time. Somebody gave me good advice once. They said: ‘things are never as good or as bad as you think they are,’ and I think a snapshot in time is not an accurate picture of the long-term health of the franchise.
Martin Sorrell will be my guest at the Super Bowl – as he has been for last two years. WPP have been a terrific strategic investor for us. I think the thing where we have really benefited is they have helped us identify opportunities, they’ve helped us to perform due diligence on opportunities and they provide us with consumer insights that have helped us evaluate different things that we might do. Two Circles [a WPP company] have been doing direct-to-consumer marketing for NFL Game Pass, Group M has been doing the media buying, and Ogilvy has been providing the creative, so when you think about it it’s pretty seamless. And I’d like to think what Bruin provides to them and their clients is insights into global sport.
This is the third part in a series of interviews with Super Bowl stakeholders. To read the other interviews in the series, click on the links below: