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‘We are permanently in beta’: European sports broadcasting is still in a coronavirus-forced state of reinvention

September 15, 2020

By Lara O’Reilly

European broadcasters were among the first to welcome elite live sports back to screens, after a coronavirus-induced pause. But the sporting calendar remains log-jammed for the rest of the calendar year and that’s forced broadcasters and rightsholders to once again be more flexible — in everything from scheduling to creating more custom commercial partnerships.

Discovery-owned Eurosport lost around 4,500 hours of content and programming it had scheduled between March and August for its TV and over-the-top platforms amid coronavirus lockdowns — including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Now, for the remainder of the year, and likely into the start of 2021, the schedule is more packed than usual. In cycling, for example, more than 200 days’ worth of cycling is set to be shown in just 100 days now that the season has been condensed to later in the year — with Eurosport also airing some racing across the Eurosport app and the Global Cycling Network. (In 2019, Eurosport aired 200 days and 2,500 hours of live racing — but spread out throughout the entire year.)

Elsewhere, the PGA Tour has announced a 2020-21 “super season” of more than 50 U.S. golfing tournaments — the most tours in a season since 1975 — which Discovery airs on its GOLFTV streaming channel in international countries outside the States. The tennis grand slams also returned this August.

Despite the jammed sporting calendar and the potential for audiences to split off between different events, Eurosport has managed to “maintain pricing, if not improve” ad rates for these sorts of “category A” assets as they return, said Mike Rich, Discovery Eurosport’s head of sports marketing solutions.

“Pricing levels get back to a premium because there’s a lot of pent up demand in the market from advertisers keen to get back and start communicating,” he added.

As with so many media companies — and particularly those who had been anticipating a windfall year of tentpole sporting action — Discovery’s business was far from immune to the effects of the coronavirus. Discovery International Networks posted a 41 year-on-year dip in ad revenue to $276 million in its second quarter. Still, Discovery CEO David Zaslav said last month the company was “cautiously optimistic” about the rest of the year. Ad markets in some European countries including Germany and Poland had recovered quicker than expected, he said.

Rich said flexibility has been key — not just in moving advertising campaigns to later in the year once sporting events resumed, or providing other ad inventory offsets — but also in building new commercial products.

For example, with coronavirus-related safety measures limiting broadcasters’ production footprints at events, Eurosport launched a mixed reality studio in which U.S. Open tennis stars could be “teleported” to be interviewed by its presenters in London. Originally planned for the Tokyo Olympics this summer, Eurosport is speaking to advertisers about potential sponsorship integrations around the technology.