Is soccer on TV match fit?

Soccer on TV needs to up its game to keep viewers engaged if it is to survive in the digital age. It’s time for soccer clubs, sports broadcasters and producers to start thinking outside the penalty box and the goggle box, argues Megan Goodwin, joint managing director of digital innovation consultancy IRM.

Is soccer on TV match fit?

Traditional sport on TV is in terminal decline.

That might come as a shock to many. After all, the UK’s Premier League soccer clubs are sharing UK£5.1 billion between them for the three years from 2016 to 2019. But the truth is, millennial audiences, and post-millennials, simply do not consume sport on TV in the same way that their parents did. 

Live TV audiences look like they are about to fall off a cliff. The average number of people viewing Premier League matches live on Sky during the 2016/17 season fell by 14% last season (figures from BARB). Yet the broadcaster has agreed to pay UK£4.2 billion to show 126 live Premier League fixtures a year up to the 2018/19 season, or UK£10 million a game. That’s a lot of money to pay when your viewers are turning off.

The reality is that live no longer chimes with the millennial lifestyle. People don’t want to watch entire soccer matches passively any more. Nothing this generation does is passive. They are used to using technology to immerse themselves. They want to be able to call up stats on screen, find out more about key players, control the camera angles, watch the same goal from different viewpoints as many times as they want and send them to their friends, and see and hear what the match officials see and hear. They want to feel like they are on the pitch, not watching from the sidelines.

Perhaps more than ever, millennials just don’t wish to be engaged in one activity for that long – the sheer power of ‘live’ doesn’t mean they want to put their life on hold for 90 minutes. They want to be able to consume it in bite size chunks on everything from smartphones all the way up to wall-sized Internet-connected TVs. They want to be inside the beautiful game and feel like they are participants, not spectators, whether it’s joining the constant comment stream on Twitch or Facebook Live or taking part in the multiple WhatsApp conversations that people hold as the action unfolds.

One great recent example is the Eurosport’s coverage of charity tennis tournament Andy Murray Live, which pushed the boundaries on how a sports event can be shot and shared, with a 360-degree camera placed on Roger Federer's courtside seat and another on the net post. Through the Eurosport app, this enabled viewers to watch the game in VR on their mobiles, putting themselves on the court in the centre of the action.

This coverage clocked up over 130,000 views and counting, more than the linear coverage on some channels! Heart-rate monitors were also trialled with the aim in the future of potentially showing biometric stats on how the athletes are faring physically during a match.

It’s time for soccer clubs, sports broadcasters and producers to start thinking outside the box (both the penalty box and the goggle box) in this way, or they will continue to lose their audiences. Some of the viewers who are tuning out of live TV may not even be watching soccer – or even ‘real’ sports. The growth of e-sports over the past couple of years has been phenomenal. People will watch other people play computer games: there are professional computer games players, teams and leagues. Think about that. Few teenage kids today really think they have what it takes to become a world class soccer player; but they can dream about becoming a wizard with their joystick – after all, they don’t even have to leave their sofa…

And what about Robot Wars and drone racing? The UK soccer establishment could learn a lot from analysing the success of the Drone Racing League (DRL) – it taps directly into the millennial and post-millennial zeitgeist; young, hipster, “cool geek” competitors using the latest technology to race mini drones against each other around twisting treacherous tracks.

And TV viewers can get right up close to the action, with each drone equipped with cameras allowing for instant replays and spectacular crash footage. I’m just waiting for them to combine Robot Wars and DRL by putting weapons on the drones…

The younger TV audience is demanding; it will vote with its fingers if it gets bored. It snacks, it grazes, it wants bite-sized morsels, it wants flavour and taste and excitement in half the time. All those involved in soccer broadcasting need to understand this and rejuvenate their coverage with new technology to engage viewers before it’s too late, perhaps even considering adapting the format of soccer itself. After all, look what Twenty20 is doing for cricket!

Megan Goodwin is joint managing director of IRM. A content innovator and digital media entrepreneur, she brings more than 15 years’ experience in television, publishing and digital media specialising in the creation of great digital products and pioneering new business models. Having worked at News International, Express Newspapers and Celador, Megan is a seasoned professional who has overseen the launch of over 70 products globally, generated revenues in excess of $400 million and received 10 industry awards. Most recently, IRM won the Ile-de-France VivaTech 2017 Smart City challenge for the most innovative solution to improve the experience and flow at tourist sites in and around Paris.