Eurosport is trying to meet the simultaneous challenges of keeping its channels on air across its various markets while also considering creative content that goes beyond simply archive and esports or virtual content, according to Andrew Georgiou, the broadcaster’s president, global sports rights and sports marketing solutions.
Georgiou told SportBusiness that the ability to keep the channels on air and staff safe has been the priority during the Covid-19 crisis that has locked down Paris and London, the two cities in which the broadcaster’s main production facilities are based.
Beyond that, Eurosport has, like many other broadcasters and rights-holders, turned its attention to maximising its archive content to try and retain a touchpoint with viewers, and looked at esports and virtual events to help fill the void created by the shutdown of the global sports calendar.
Georgiou said: “Our ability to keep the stations on air has been the priority. The easiest way to do that in this first phase has been around replays and archive footage around our core sports.
“The focus has been predominantly about figuring out a process and an environment for our staff that keeps them safe and confident to keep coming into the office in order for us to keep pumping out Eurosport 1 and 2 in 74 different markets globally. And doing that with predominantly archive and historical footage.
“We’re now looking to make it more interesting and adventurous, and we’re starting to work with rights-holders whose events have been cancelled and figuring out what we can do that’s a little bit more creative, interactive and engaging than simply archive footage.
“How do we create more of a narrative around a Giro or a Roland Garros, for instance.”
As the former Lagardère Sports chief executive notes, the market has “clearly pivoted towards virtual and esports”, in a bid to provide content and retain a chunk of its audience.
Eurosport Events, the broadcaster’s events arm, has itself been part of that industry response, striking a deal with esports promoter RaceRoom to produce a pre-season virtual racing series for its forthcoming Esports WTCR series.
However, Eurosport is looking for short-term solutions beyond archive and esports to try and entice viewers who have largely shut themselves off from sports broadcasters worldwide.
Georgiou remarked: “Our view is we will borrow on virtual and esports no doubt, but it won’t be the sum total of what we’re doing. We’ve got some designs around virtual and esports because it’s the right time to do that, but also thinking about how we can curate content around our core sports which actually brings to life a better narrative than just replays.”
He continued: “We’ve got some really good ideas but the challenge is the more we do the more people we need to bring into the office. We can do a lot remotely but we can’t do everything remotely.
“If we were just a broadcaster in a single market with a single language it would be easier. But we are a broadcaster in 74 markets in over 20 languages that we put on air and you can’t serve all equally. So we need to figure out how to get some of this done and for which markets we can get it done in before actually doing it.
“It’s a complicated decision-making process in order to figure out how ambitious you want to be with your content, whilst still protecting the people who are coming into the office on a daily basis. It’s not easy.”
Given that Paris and London, which serve most local Eurosport channels with content, have been particularly badly hit by lockdown measures, one solution, Georgiou said, could be to decentralise parts of the programming to help certain markets get it to air.
In France, the broadcaster recently launched two new programmes. Club Eurosport, which is shown at 6pm (CET) every day, features a panel discussion with various sports stakeholders and athletes via video conference. Meanwhile, Le Débat (The Debate) brings together Eurosport’s journalists from a particular sport to discuss certain topics (also via video conference).
Workout videos are also being presented by Alex Corretja and Barbara Schett, the Eurosport pundits and former tennis players, and available internationally via Eurosport’s Instagram account and Eurosport.com, while also being broadcast on the Eurosport 1 channel in France.
In Spain, the Eurosport content team has created a weekly cycling training session featuring two-times Tour de France winner Alberto Contador.
Olympics financial effect ‘difficult to quantify’
As a rights buyer across multiple markets, a rights seller and an event promoter, the ramifications of the Covid-19 shutdown are particularly complex for Eurosport.
The coronavirus impact on sports events has wreaked havoc with its 2020 programming plans, headlined by the loss of the Olympic Games, its headline property, from its schedules.
The Tokyo 2020 Games have been pushed back by one year, a decision supported by Discovery but that leaves it to assess any financial impact that will be felt this year.
Speaking in the wake of the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 organising committee announcement last week to reschedule the Games, Georgiou told SportBusiness that Eurosport was still going through the financial implications.
He said that representatives of Discovery and Eurosport would look to sit down with the IOC and related third parties in the coming months, something that has not yet been possible due to the near global lockdown.
He stressed: “It’s difficult for us to quantify with any specificity what the final impact is going to be as far as it relates to this year and what can be carried into next year.”
Georgiou continued: “We’ve got [costs associated with] production suppliers, hotel rooms, airlines, transport, hospitality and all sorts of third-party suppliers that we’ve been trying to engage with in order to support the Olympic Games in 2020. That’s not to mention sub-licensees and national broadcasters in 50 different markets.
“So we don’t know the full extent of what can and can’t be pushed and what the position the airlines or hotels will take and how it will all play out.”
Discovery, which holds the Olympics rights in Europe (excluding Russia) from 2018 to 2024 in a €1.3bn ($1.42bn) agreement, is starting to speak to broadcasters to which it has sub-licensed rights and collate information, before sitting down with the IOC.
Asked if Discovery had any indication yet as to whether sub-licensees are all on board to show an Olympic Games in 2021, Georgiou replied: “Every one of the sub-licensees would be in the same position as us. They have put in place their own production plans, editorial and talent that they’ve hired. The knock-on impacts just go right down the chain to every single person that touches the Games.”
Discussing Discovery’s response to the unprecedented market conditions it (and all other sports industry stakeholders) face, Georgiou said: “The senior leadership team at Discovery has responded magnificently well to the issues. The first thoughts have truly been with our staff.”
In terms of any lay-offs, he said that Discovery was doing “everything it possibly can” before thinking about taking that measure.
He continued: “Being prudent in the way we manage our business at this time is about protecting staff, not just health wise but economically. Sitting here today we don’t know how long this is going to go on for.
“Doing anything other than being prudent at the moment is a difficult thing to countenance and Discovery as a group is focused on maintaining its financial strength so that when we do get over the hump of this, we’re in a better position to be more aggressive with what we can do. It’s a sensible and responsible approach that Discovery has taken and it’s really good to be part of.”
Discovery recently borrowed $500m (€459.4m) under its credit facility in a move the broadcaster attributed to increasing its cash position and maximising flexibility “in light of the current uncertainty surrounding the impact of Covid-19”. The move also comes with continued uncertainty over what global banks’ positions will be in response to the coronavirus economic fallout.
Discovery stressed that it has $1.55bn in cash on its balance sheet and access to a $2.5bn revolving credit facility, and has now decided to draw down a portion of that so that the funds sit in its accounts, and not the bank’s.