Control the things you can, plan for the things you can’t

Author: Luka Maselj | Read time: 9 min

The habits of consuming sports are continuously evolving and becoming more and more complex for the average sports fan, but at the same time opening a whole new horizon. DAZN is among the most known products of its kind – an over-the-top (OTT) subscription service – seen as the future of sports broadcast. “Affordable access to sports anytime, anywhere,” is how Cristian Nyari, Head of Commercial Content in North America, described DAZN’s core for SPORTO.
Apart from commenting on the future and effects of the pandemic on the industry, Nyari, a devoted sports fan, former New York Times columnist and FC Bayern’s Head of Media in the Americas, also touched on the importance of the “feel-and-touch” experience in today’s digital world.

SPORTO: The industry of live sport broadcasts has suffered a lot during the pandemic. But if you could point out one main learning and the most positive thing about sport in the era of Covid-19 cancellations, what would that be? How has all this effected OTT platforms, such as DAZN?
CRISTIAN NYARI: Above all, my experiences and observations throughout this difficult year have underlined what a unifying force sports are and can be, both for fans and society at large. While live events were paused, so much of the energy and resources within the industry turned to helping communities, healthcare workers and sharing important public service messages. It was a stark reminder that sport is just one part of a greater whole and that, ultimately, only collectively can we get through a global challenge like Covid-19.

From a business perspective, like most disruptive events, it has highlighted opportunities to rethink and evolve. Conscious of the fact that our subscribers come to our platform for our premium live rights, we quickly pivoted our programming strategy to keep users engaged. We set up remote production workflows and focused on content formats that were both considerate and relevant of the time, all the while preparing for the eventual return of live sports – control the things you can and do your best to plan for the things you can’t.

After starting in selected countries (Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the United States), DAZN is currently preparing to launch its global streaming service with boxing content – one of the most important revenue drivers of today’s retro but modern pay-TV at the time – identified as its backbone. What is the reasoning behind this decision?
Since our launch in 2016, we have seen increasing levels of interest around our key events from both international fans and potential partners which showed us there is an opportunity to capitalise on our existing rights portfolio within boxing to fuel our expansion. Our roster of championship fighters also represents some of the world’s most popular athletes and we’ll be working with them to stage spectacular international events for years to come. Establishing DAZN as a global home for fight sports also aligns with our mission, which is to lead the charge to give fans affordable access to sports anytime, anywhere.

Not long ago, sport in Europe – compared to the USA – was supposed to be more pristine, less commercialised, while it seems this has changed. How do you see the role of global platforms, such as DAZN, on a local/regional scale?
Ultimately for a broadcaster like us, or for any consumer product, it is about delivering maximum value to our customers. Albeit at different speeds, the way sports are consumed is changing all around the world, and with it, as a result, comes an opportunity to evolve how users are served. The modern sports fan wants a frictionless, platform-agnostic and affordable experience. The world is also becoming increasingly connected, which is raising the standards and expectations for how sports are broadcast and consumed. That requires a product-led, customer-centric, watch-anywhere delivery, which is at the core of DAZN’s value proposition, whether regional or global.

There are different levels of people’s involvement with sport, or better yet, with sports teams. The actual matches are just a part of it, although a very important one. Based on your experience with FC Bayern’s fans in the US, what are the top triggers to engage them outside of competition?
It was all about the relationship with the fans in and around the matches. Like any relationship, it’s built on trust, transparency and communication. That was at the core of our entire strategy – to try to build and maintain the kind of close connection and communication that fans have with the local teams they have been following all their lives, even if in this case they were thousands of miles away from Munich. That meant improving every touchpoint of the fan journey, from the products and services to direct line of access to the club through the North America office. That in turn increased affinity and scale against all on-ground activations. I feel very grateful to have been able to be a part of an innovative organisation with a great fan base and culture.

Speaking of Bayern, we should also mention the Bundesliga, which was the first football championship to return on TV after Covid-19. As a football enthusiast, how do you see the contemporary TV/OTT broadcasts with no or limited fans in the arena and artificial sounds being transmitted to overshadow the silence (and the players’ discussions)?
I thought the Bundesliga and its broadcast partners, DAZN being one of them, did a very good job to adjust and bring sports back during the lockdown. So much goes into a matchday production, from broadcast operations to commercial activations. Layer on top of that the Covid-19 protocols, different programming schedules, etc. To deliver a top-quality product to partners and fans was no easy task, but one that also showed the adaptability and creativity of our industry.

At the end of the day, sports are not the same without fans, and it is crucial to get them safely and responsibly back into arenas, but it was encouraging to see how quickly teams, leagues and broadcasters were able to adapt and use the opportunity to experiment with new ideas, technologies and formats.

The long tail of original content can in fact increase the value of live rights by keeping fans more engaged, creating more awareness and ultimately also increasing the commercial value of the inventory.

During the sports drought”, we saw the appeal of original sports content even more than usual. Why would you encourage people to produce more and what is your stance on the “less is more” approach, regardless of the budget?
I think it showed the appetite for great storytelling and the many possibilities of engaging fans by leveraging different rights and formats, ranging from archive materials, user-generated and athlete-driven content, to use just some examples. I would also not think of it as a replacement or secondary to live events but complimentary. The long tail of original content can in fact increase the value of live rights by keeping fans more engaged, creating more awareness and ultimately also increasing the commercial value of the inventory.

New digital platforms are popping up all the time. In the SPORTO Digital Talk, Luka Dukich, Director of Content with the Chicago Bulls, said: Every platform is different and deserves its own strategy and focus. Everything needs to belong where you put it.” Would you agree?
I agree with Luka. “The medium is the message”, as Marshall McLuhan put it. In an increasingly complex digital world where algorithms power discovery and competition for eyeballs is fiercer than ever before, it is more important than ever to have platform-specific strategies. Users and fans are more selective than ever with their time and wallets, so the standards are higher. Broadcasters, teams, leagues and brands all have to match those standards. It’s no longer just a competition for the best rights but also for the best user experience, the best technology products or the most frictionless digital experiences.

It’s no longer just a competition for the best rights but also for the best user experience, the best technology products or the most frictionless digital experiences.

What is your prediction for the future of (marketing in) sport – is what we have seen in 2020 the new reality, only happening to us faster, or just a contemporary anomaly?
I think it’s fair to say that organisations are using this time to reflect and re-evaluate their strategies, business models and structures to not just future-proof their businesses but to evolve and adjust to trends like digitalisation and internationalisation. In that sense, 2020 has accelerated what was already happening incrementally. For example, I believe revenue sharing models will be explored more to reduce risk. Companies will also seek new revenue streams in areas like betting, which in the United States is being legalised at rapid rates.

I believe revenue sharing models will be explored more to reduce risk.


The interview was first published in the SPORTO Magazine No. 15 (November 2020).