HomeMediaHockeyGlobal

Automated production and user-generated content will help FIH monetise new OTT service

The Belgium team warm up before their Men's FIH Field Hockey Pro League match against Argentina in Cordoba.. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

  • Revenue-sharing partnership with Mycujoo delivered new OTT platform for free
  • live generated 329,000 video views from 60 countries in first year
  • India’s participation in second year of FIH Pro League expected to boost audiences

In all of the excitement generated in sport by the advent of over-the-top (OTT) streaming, perhaps the greatest level of animation exists among lower-tier rights-holders. The cost efficiencies of direct-to-consumer delivery, allied to automated production processes, are providing smaller sports with new opportunities to stream their long-tail content, aggregate dispersed viewers into meaningful audiences and monetise rights for which there is no traditional broadcast buyer.

The Fédération Internationale de Hockey (FIH) has proven itself to be something of a pathfinder in this respect, launching its own OTT platform FIH.live earlier this year. This was all the more remarkable for the fact that it effectively did so at no additional cost to itself. Under an innovative four-year deal, Portuguese technology company Mycujoo, better known for streaming lower-tier football, agreed to deliver the FIH-branded product for free in return for a share of future advertising revenues.

The platform has been providing live coverage of the leading FIH competitions in every market for which there is no broadcast partner since January. A longer-term objective is to create additional depth to the coverage with user-generated content of lower level games uploaded by players and fans.

One year on from the deal and FIH chief executive Thierry Weil – who joined FIH after a ten-year spell as Fifa’s director of marketing – thinks it is still too early to gauge if the partnership will be a commercial success. In their haste to establish the platform, he admits both parties were prepared to take an evolving product to market.

“We did not anticipate that the monetisation of the platform would work from the first year,” he says. “We need another three-to-four months, even in 2020, to have it up and running as we wish. And then potentially towards the second half of the year and the end of the year maybe we can start potentially monetising.”

Automation

At the time of speaking to SportBusiness, Weil says FIH.live had generated a total of 329,000 video views from users in 60 different countries. But he thinks the addition of the user-generated content and plans to work with an automated production supplier will help to it to deliver a critical mass of hockey coverage that attracts a larger audience in the future. Presently, the FIH covers its own production costs, which limits the number of matches it can show.

“The next part will be automated filming because we have a lot of games, even from continental confederation competitions, which are either just streams or not even captured,” he says. “If you can install two or three fixed cameras at each game, that will reduce dramatically the cost and will increase dramatically the number of games you can put on the platform. And by doing so, you have naturally other fans coming to see their teams, their friends, their family members playing those games.”

Weil believes automated production will allow the FIH to post more content on FIH.live (Picture courtesy of Pixellot)

He adds that more work needs to be done to create an intuitive taxonomy for the platform, with sections for international, continental and national matches, which explains why the FIH has so far stopped short of allowing fans to upload their own content.

“The amateur footage which was planned to be on the site is also a development which needs to happen,” says Weil. “We had an option to just put it randomly on the OTT, but then it would be hard for people to find among all the other games.”

For now, the platform exists to attract advertising revenues rather than paid subscriptions. To provide a clearer picture to advertisers, the FIH will add a login function and attach a CRM system to evaluate the types of audiences that are watching. Weil says he would also like to create a mechanism for registering hockey players because in most cases national associations don’t know exactly how many people are playing the game. The terms of the deal with Mycujoo are such that the FIH will have access to all of the site data.

Weil speculates that there might be as many as 2 billion field hockey fans globally, although he would be reluctant to quote this figure to sponsors, admitting that it is nothing more scientific than the number generated by a Google search. In creating one-stop community for hockey enthusiasts at FIH.live he hopes to get a clearer idea of the actual figure.

FIH Pro League

The federation can certainly count on a strong following in India which contributes the largest number of FIH.live viewers. This explains why the FIH was so keen to include the country in the inaugural edition of its new top-tier international competition: the FIH Pro League.

The concept, which launched at the same time as FIH.live last January, and provides a large share of the content on the site, was to build a regular home-and-away competition around the nine men’s and women’s international sides with the most commercial potential. The FIH ignored the world rankings and handpicked the participating teams based on factors that included their ability to market and host bold and engaging events as well as develop commercial strategies for the sport in their countries. Rather than staging competitions in single destinations, there will be 144 ‘home’ matches, which will allow fans in various countries more opportunities to watch games. Previous FIH chief executive Jason McCracken said the federation wanted to leverage ‘the power of home’ to create more partisan atmospheres and stoke rivalries between teams.

hockeyindiasahara.jpg
Weil believes India’s participation in the 2020 FIH Pro League will boost audiences

After initially being selected, India withdrew its men’s and women’s teams with some reports blaming a possible scheduling clash with the domestic Hockey India League. Weil believes concerns that the event would harm the development of the lower-ranked Indian women’s team were a bigger factor.

He says an agreement was eventually reached to include the country’s men’s team in the Pro League in 2021, but this was brought forward to 2020 when Pakistan was removed from the competition for being unable to fulfil its first three matches due to lack of funds. The team will now make its debut in the competition on 18 January in a fixture against fellow hockey powerhouse the Netherlands.

“For me, it’s crucial that India is part of it,” says Weil. “You can imagine how many eyeballs you will get because India is already number one on all our platforms and on social media, even when it is not participating [in the Pro League].”

Of the other countries selected to participate in the first edition of the league, Weil says Great Britain has proven to be one of the most innovative, using a portable hockey pitch to bring a game to 12,000-capacity rugby ground the Twickenham Stoop.

“It opens completely new possibilities,” he says. “For example, Belgium is one of the best teams in men’s and women’s hockey but the infrastructure in the country is a lot of hockey fields and no stadiums, so for every single game they had to do temporary seating, temporary VIP tribunes, temporary toilets, and that’s quite costly.”

The Pro League will be a closed competition until 2023 at which stage the FIH will introduce a second division, the Intercontinental Cup (the initial working title was Pro League 2) with promotion and relegation between the two. Weil believes this will create a greater sense of jeopardy and help to avoid meaningless ‘dead rubber’ matches for teams in the lower reaches of the league. He makes no apology for having a closed league for the initial four-years, explaining that it was necessary to select teams with the financial resources to send teams to away fixtures around the world.

Beyond the Pro League, the former Fifa executive says he wants to simplify the FIH schedule – a complicated mix of events with no clear narrative and no fixed position in the calendar. Too often, he says the federation has changed the timing of events at the behest of event organisers, while qualification for the FIH World Cup and Olympics is determined by a bewildering mix of different events with different weightings.

“When it comes to qualifiers, we need to use the continental competitions instead of organising our own qualifier series which are completely competing with the continental competitions,” he says. “That doesn’t make sense. We are one family and we should give more importance to the continental competitions.”

Spain’s women’s team play Germany in the FIH Womens Hockey World Cup in London in 2018. (Jack Thomas/Getty Images)

Media deals

Weil believes the fact the FIH has media deals in most of the countries with a team participating in the Pro League proves the strength of the concept. All of these are agreed directly by the federation, which has sold its media rights in-house since 2017. It had previously sold the global rights, excluding Argentina, to pay-television broadcaster Star India for eight years, from 2015 to 2022, for a deal worth an estimated $250m. But it cancelled this in 2017, with Star retaining rights in the Indian subcontinent.

The termination of the agreement pre-dated Weil’s tenure at the FIH but his support for taking the rights in-house is perhaps understandable given his Fifa background. “It’s always better if you manage this yourself,” he says. He can see why Star might be better equipped to sell the FIH’s rights in the sub-continent, but he would prefer to draw on each of the different national associations’ relationships with local broadcasters to help the in-house sales effort outside of this region.

Sponsorship

Weil’s Fifa’s experiences have also been brought to bear in restructuring the FIH’s sponsorship categories. At his instigation, the federation has done away with trying to find a title sponsor for all of its competitions, choosing instead to create five main sponsor categories and three suppliers below this. “I found it complicated that somebody else would buy a product which is named with another company name,” he says.

However he says National Associations will be permitted to work with a presenting partner at the local level, as was the case with the 2018 Vitality Women’s World Cup in England. Below this they will have the same structure of five main sponsors and three suppliers that the FIH has at a global level. He says the FIH wants to provide every opportunity for the associations to strike local deals to pay for the cost of putting on memorable events and to foot the cost of their team’s travel and accommodation expenses for participating in the Pro League.

Further evidence of the popularity of the sport in the sub-continent can be found in the fact that Indian motorcycle and scooter company Hero Motocorp is the federation’s only global sponsor at this stage, with rights to all of its events. The FIH has filled out all of the slots in its supplier categories, a list that includes fantasy game supplier Dream 11. Weil says the game is played by millions in India and the company will soon make the game available globally, which will also help the federation’s fan engagement efforts.

FIH chief executive, Thierry Weil (Photo by Lea Weil)

It’s a far cry from managing the sponsorship rights of the world’s most popular sport, but Weil says he enjoys fighting it out in the more competitive substrata.

“You have most probably another 20 international federations which are all trying to convince everybody of the same thing. They all come with the same PowerPoint presentations, they all claim to have so many fans and so many players,” he says.

“At Fifa it was mainly that you got the right number for the product and that reduced the number of potential candidates which could afford a sponsorship. In our field it’s the other way around. There are so many federations which are trying to sell the same thing.”

He believes the opportunity created by the Mycujoo partnership to know more about its audiences and become more of a direct-to-consumer business will provide the point of differentiation the federation needs.

“I decided to not go to the market in a strong way before we have those elements because usually you only get one chance,” he says. “And if you come and you want to sell something, but you don’t know what you have to sell, then the discussion starts quickly to be a nice and friendly discussion, but not a commercial discussion.”

Most recent

Covid-19 pandemic means ‘up to 50 per cent’ of EFL clubs available for sale as distressed assets Premier League clubs thinking of selling minority shareholdings C

When the German Bundesliga presented behind-closed-doors action on Saturday, May 16, it ignited a wave of interest among football fans worldwide, and a reawakening of sponsorships that had gone largely…

Ecommerce live streams are a growing phenomenon in online retail in Asia, and sports businesses are starting to dip their toes in the water.

Venerable maker of sports simulation games has seen a strong resurgence amid the Covid-19 outbreak. Eric Fisher reports.