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As the world moves increasingly D2C, the lure of being able to distribute (and monetise) your content directly has become ever more attractive to sports organisations. The clamour around OTT has become louder as more and more organisations, seeing uncertainty in the traditional broadcast market seek to become masters of their own destiny, or at the least, hedge their bets.

PTI are huge advocates of taking back control of your own assets: your data, your customer relationships and your means to engage with and monetise them. That approach brings greater agility, greater control over the quality of experience and a greater slice of revenue. It does, however come with greater risk: what is the real opportunity? Will people understand it? What kind of experience do they want? How much will they pay for it? Is it not just safer to stick with what we know? All valid questions, which should be considered fully and holistically.

Sport’s default setting is – and has been for a long time – simply to sell want it wants to sell, rather than what customers want to buy. Generally-speaking, marketing has trailed a long way behind in terms of prioritisation. The reason for this is obvious: marketing tends not to generate short-term returns, which is an outlier in those businesses who tend to have to work very hard just to keep the lights on. However, marketing is the key to finding answers to all of those questions and the key to generating the commercial returns to make OTT a viable option.

The reality is – as a consequence of never really understanding, much less prioritising marketing – is that for the past 15 years we (along with multiple other industries) have outsourced our engagement strategy to Facebook and the like. We have done this for a number of reasons: it was cheap, quick and easy; it enabled us to counter fragmenting media numbers with new, equally high “engagement” stats for sponsorship sales purposes; and everybody else was doing it, so it must have been the right thing to do.

The net result is that those platforms made a lot of other people very wealthy and none of the revenues, nor the customer data were shared, meaning that as the momentum behind D2C has gathered pace, sport has missed out on 10-15 years of genuinely immersing itself in building the customer experience, learning what people want (and don’t want) and through that process, building repeat business and advocacy in the way that those digital platforms largely have done.

Both the quantity and quality of data that our industry has on its customers – and that’s before we talk about knowing what to do with it – is pitifully low given the emotional connection that other industries would kill for.

Now that OTT is a thing, many are thinking its simply a case of launching a service and all those people it has kept at arm’s length (at best) and treated as nothing more than a cash generator (at worst) suddenly rushing to buy their service.

The reality is that it is not that simple. Nothing in life ever worth doing – and doing well – ever is. In our view OTT should be a by-product of other activity that creates organic, authentic and longer-lasting value for the rightsholder. That activity is marketing. The days of just selling what you have are gone: these are the days where creators – and the smart ones are creating products and services they know people want to buy – should be thriving. Giving people want they want makes them feel understood, valued and engaged.

Too many engagement “strategies” are fluffy, engaging for their own sake and as many again are overly focussed on selling when they should be about providing a value proposition to the target audiences. That will drive the propensity for those audiences to share their data and this is the nub of what engagement should be about: the acquisition of first party data into owned data ecosystems to enable the rightsholder to create a tailored long-term plan to optimise that customer’s experience, maximise its chances of retaining that customer and even converting him or her into an advocate and driving the best possible lifetime revenue value. Long-term commercial gain founded on a genuine commitment to customers.

One of those revenue outputs might be OTT. It could also be increased propensity to purchase existing products and services and equally that data enables new product development and business diversification. Bigger, more engaged audiences also provide more attractive sponsor value, especially at a time when first party data is harder for brands to come by.

There is usually a huge gap between the macro (the stated vision / objectives) in sports business and the micro (day-to-day behaviours) with no obvious roadmap for bridging the two – resulting two, three, five, ten years down the line with things  pretty much where they were at the start. This is where marketing comes in: without it, sport just stays on the week-to-week, season-to-season hamster wheel. Marketing first, OTT, D2C Sponsorship, New Product Development et al second.

Sport needs to get out of its traditional ways of thinking. Pre-COVID, the wider world was already moving in this direction and post-pandemic the need to put the marketing horse in front of the sales cart will become absolute.

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