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Project Restart - What Have We Learned?

We are now half way through "Project Restart" and the Premier League has provided a blueprint to other sports around the world of how to bring back sports in a COVID world. Here at First Five Yards, we're taking a look back at some of the coverage, partnership activations and brand messaging that has become our "new normal" during the past few weeks.

1) Match Sound

A lot of questions were asked before the season was resumed about what the match experience was going to look and feel like without fans in the stands. One of the main talking points was the fear of a lack of atmosphere for the TV viewing audience. The Premier League came up with an interesting solution by partnering with EA Sports to provide fans with a virtual atmospheric experience

Viewers have been given the option across all UK broadcasters to access this virtual crown noise or the eerie experience of the real stadium audio (featuring the thud of the football mixed with players' and coaches' shouts. This product will surely become the template for all other sports leagues around the world.

2) Stadium Aesthetics

Clubs were facing a monumental commercial challenge as the season restarted, namely how can they deliver their contracted partnership value within the new matchday framework. Together with the backing of the Premier League, clubs have developed a uniform activation that allows additional media exposure to key partners through the creation of giant branded seat covers. Every Premier League stadium has covered their lower tier of seats with these branded wraps, creating a uniform solution that gives the brands a premium look and feel.

Nielsen estimates that these new ad sites could generate as much as £600k in media value per game.

As good as it is to deliver an element of value back to partners, the solution is still an analogue product and there are a number to companies offering more digitally driven products to improve the look and feel of the stadium.

La Liga partnered with Norwegian broadcast technology company Vizrt to create a virtual crowd within its games.

Icelandic based Oz Sports have also developed a virtual crowd system called ARena

Both pieces of tech use Augmented Reality to overlay the crowd on top of the live broadcast in real time. The technology, whilst primarily being aimed at broadcasters and leagues, can also provide clubs with opportunities to regionalise brand messaging across match content on their digital channels. The AR tech allows you to produce additional brand messages without the fear of blocking the view of supporters within the stadium. From the commercial point of view, use cases allow for brands to own different types of match highlight content as well as creating localised versions of match content to suit different international markets.

3) Twitch - A New Platform

As part of their rights partnership with the Premier League, Amazon were allocated 4 games as part of project restart. Smartly, they took the decision to supplement their Prime Video product broadcast their coverage on Twitch in the hope of driving a younger viewership. However, the product they produced seemed to be a direct simulcast of their Prime Vide coverage. Twitch's engagement is always driven by the chat functionality however you could ask the question of whether they could have done more with the platform?

Could they have followed Sky's lead in creating a "watch-along" style product featuring prominent streamers that would have given a unique feel to the broadcast. Sky pioneered the concept during the peak of lockdown with their Cricket retrospectives and have continued this with their Premier League coverage.

4) Podcasts - A Missed Commercial Opportunity

During the lockdown period, video content production proved very challenging. A lack of player contact coupled with logistical challenges meant that most clubs relied upon a mix of archive content and POV webcam pieces. However, the low level of tech required meant that a number of clubs tiptoed into the audio space by creating podcasts. Even though the audio landscape is littered with football podcasts, very few offer the access and credibility that official clubs products can.

A handful of Premier League teams have launched podcasts this season. Manchester United kicked have run episodes throughout the whole season covering a wider variety of subjects throughout their interview series. Other clubs like Watford and Arsenal have tried to use the nation's need for the comfort of familiar voices as an opportunity to launch their own audio products. One of the key aspects to drive success within the medium is the ability to promote the content to your audience. With football clubs already having this "baked in" audience across their social channels, content such as audiograms have provided a great opportunity to drive engagement.

However, none of the clubs have used these new content to help deliver commercial value for their partners. Be it "presenting partner" or creating sponsored segments, this content is a great vehicle for relevant brand messaging. The commercial executions could be visual integration into the social graphics, ad credits or sponsored live reads. Either way, there are a variety of ways to generate commercial value for brands.

At this time, where it is vital for clubs to deliver new sponsorship assets to negate the need for rebates against fan-free stadiums, it's surprising that no clubs have found partners willing to support these products.

Overall, it's been fascinating to see the innovation that has come about as a result of the pandemic. Where possible, clubs have tried to innovate however it's still surprising that even in the face of a huge need to deliver value to their partners, most of the new assets have focused on more analogue solutions and very few are sponsor driven. It does somewhat prove the theory that clubs need some assistance to help bridge the gap between their Partnerships and Digital departments

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