This week, the National Football League (NFL) announced a new partnership with Bruin Sports Capital and advertising giant WPP that will see the two companies and their subsidiaries drive the expansion of the league’s Game Pass over-the-top (OTT) streaming service across 61 European countries and territories.
Under the deal, Bruin-owned Deltatre, a global leader in sports media and technology solutions, will power the all-new NFL Game Pass service, while WPP-owned sports marketing agency Two Circles will work in tandem with the company to provide data-led consumer insights that will then be used by WPP’s MEC and Ogilvy agencies to effectively market and promote the product to new and existing NFL fans across Europe.
Together, the various partners plan to form a new London-based company that will be led by a newly installed chief executive and specifically tasked with overseeing the growth and expansion of NFL Game Pass, which provides paid-for access to every live NFL game as well as the league’s NFL Redzone and NFL Network digital channels.
“As the NFL continues to prioritise Game Pass, we sought out key experts to unlock the significant potential across Europe,” Mark Waller, the executive vice president of international and events for the NFL, said in a statement released on Monday.
“Bruin and WPP have a proven track record of innovation and success and we believe they are the best companies to help take Game Pass to the next level in Europe, technologically, operationally and in terms of growing the user base.”
On Tuesday, a day after the partnership was announced, SportsPro caught up with Bruin co-founder George Pyne and Matthew Entwistle, the group managing director at Two Circles, to find out what’s in store for a new OTT product that will sit at the heart of the NFL’s plan to engage and better understand its fanbase across the Atlantic.
SP: What are the nature of the opportunities that you see for NFL Game Pass in Europe?
GP: What’s professional about our approach, or unique, is we have a very integrated approach across Deltatre, Two Circles, MEC and Ogilvy. It’s really a seamless approach to solving a problem and creating essentially a new product that has capabilities over the long run that are localised.
The next step in the equation is - you say, ‘OK, well that sounds great, George. How does all that work?’ Well, with Deltatre, I think you’re going to see a different product than has been there in the past. I’ve seen the old product and I’ve seen the new product and it’s a significantly enhanced product in terms of the user experience and the overall presentation.
And then the next part of the story is consumer insights and the ability to understand what consumers like and ways to engage consumers in a thoughtful way. I think that’s where WPP and Matthew at Two Circles really come good in terms of understanding what consumer insights you have, along with MEC and Ogilvy.
I think you’re going to see aggressive application of engaging consumers in the UK, and in the long run, through the WPP network, we have intelligence and people on the ground in every territory. So we’re going to be able over time to localise messaging and eventually localise content. All that is very compelling and we’re very excited about the future prospects.
ME: Obviously I’d agree with all of that, George. I think the really interesting thing is there is just a big opportunity for the NFL in Europe at the moment. Over the last few years, they’ve been running the games at Wembley. That’s been pulling a big audience into the NFL and I’m sure Mark Waller and the guys at the NFL would be happy to tell you more about what their European strategy is.
Game Pass, alongside those games at Wembley and also Twickenham, is a really fantastic route for the growing base of NFL fans in Europe to access the game on their terms. They can get the content they want, follow the team that they want, in a way that is authentically NFL. It’s not a pastiche of what you would see from the NFL in the US - it’s the real thing.
What’s great is we’re reaching that market. We’re supporting and working very closely with the NFL to reach that market with a very credible product. But we also bring our own expertise in reaching out more deeply into some of those European markets, as George discussed.
It’s a great time to be in this product and, as well, when you overlay the industry dynamics in terms of the move to direct-to-consumer and the popularity of the NFL with that more millennial base. Those two key dynamics come together and that’s why we think this is a great product for consumers, for the NFL, and then obviously for Bruin, Deltatre and Two Circles to be involved in.
This is a product that reaches into areas where those broadcasters can’t go or don’t go by giving access to all the games that you want to see.
Where does this Game Pass product sit alongside what the NFL is doing already in terms of its international broadcast in the European region?
ME: The NFL obviously has a strong roster of broadcasters throughout Europe, and it’ll support and maintain those broadcasters in a great way. This is a product that reaches into areas where those broadcasters can’t go or don’t go by giving access to all the games that you want to see. You can’t show all 32 teams every week, but there are plenty of people in Europe who want to see their team.
You’ve got the broadcasters who are doing a great role of evangelising the league as a whole. This gives you a lot more access to more content when you’re already on that added path.
Before we get into the technical details, how did the partnership come about?
GP: We’ve been very impressed from the beginning - we said that WPP was going to be a strategic investor in Bruin and the lead investor. The reason we found it attractive was because we had the resources of the world’s global communications and advertising company.
What you see in this project is the realisation of that vision when we designed Bruin. To me, it’s only logical and natural to see the WPP family of companies working closely together on a project that we believe has a lot of growth.
We’re involved with Courtside Ventures and the investors there are Dan Gilbert and WPP. Again, WPP is a strategic investor in Bruin. They’re a key partner of ours so, to me, it’s perfectly logical and it’s why I think WPP invested in Bruin and why Bruin wanted WPP as a strategic investor.
We’re able to offer a product and services that are unique and different to what’s out there. Certainly, this is an example of that.
ME: The other bit I’d add is there are other products where Deltatre and Two Circles are working closely together. So it’s not a kind of voyage into the unknown. There is a lot of respect and knowledge about what each other brings.
I know that, from a Two Circles point of view, we’ve always been impressed with the Deltatre product, the technical knowhow, and the ability to just make things land, which is great. And then what we’re bringing is the ability to understand the data, understand the customers on an individual level.
Actually when you start to put those two things together it becomes interesting because when you’re building a product with the customer at the centre that becomes a product that is much stickier, one you can develop in lots of different ways to meet that customer need.
With any subscription product, retaining customers is absolutely at the heart of everything you’ve got to do, so if you can really understand the customers that you’ve got, make sure that you’re communicating to them in an effective way, where you know them, where you know their behaviours and you are delivering a product that responds to those behaviours, then you have the secret sauce for making a really good product.
The first part of growing and building things is identifying things that can be grown. We feel like we can grow it because we have a great product in the NFL and we’ve got a great team of people working on this.
What are each of the parties involved going to be responsible for when it comes to delivering this product?
GP: First of all, there’ll be a CEO of the company. We’ll be announcing a CEO and the creation of a new company and the primary objective of that company will be to oversee this project and grow this business.
Within the team, on the bench for that leader and the people that that person hires from the team, will be Deltatre, which is providing user experience and technology; Two Circles, which is developing the strategy and actually executing on the consumer marketing; MEC, which is going to be providing consumer insights and actually placing the advertising buys; and then we have Ogilvy, which will do the creative.
In the interim, Matthew and I and a few other people will be working collaboratively together to execute and over time we’ll build the team, working with WPP’s portfolio of companies as well as Deltatre.
ME: If you wanted to oversimplify it, you’d say Deltatre are doing the product and WPP, with Two Circles as the lead agency, are managing the customer marketing. That’s the reality, but the really exciting bit is making it a seamless whole.
What can make this a really different type of proposition is what Two Circles, for example, are able to understand from looking at the product is which videos people are watching, how long they are spending, and getting a really insightful view into different behaviours on the platform.
We can then use that data to give MEC much more insight into where they should buy media, and also give Ogilvy the insight into the type of creative that is going to get, by sector, each customer to respond in the right way. And then all of that adds up to what Deltatre are doing, which is being able to make the product work for all those different customer segments.
The fact that we’re able to work right from the start with Deltatre to make sure we’ve got the right analytics built into the platform, a really granular, almost minute by minute, day by day of what’s working, and then they’re able to seamlessly execute that through the broader WPP family, is quite powerful.
To what extent, with all of those parts fitting together, can this be a best case for the delivery of this kind of product, where people are using the product, you’re generating the data from them, and then you’re using that to understand more about the kind of people who are going to use it in future?
ME: The proof is in the pudding, absolutely, but the way that we’ve built this venture - and the NFL chose this group out of a lot of people that were looking at this opportunity. They chose it because they see that underpinning the customer journey with data and understanding their audience is, number one, crucial to this product, but number two crucial to the development of the NFL in Europe. It’s an exciting, strategic move for them in that case, so it’s absolutely at the heart of what we’re doing.
What are some of your targets for this partnership?
GP: I think the overall target is to engage more consumers with the product over time.
Is there anything tangible in that respect?
GP: We’re not inclined to discuss the subscriber numbers but we see a real growth opportunity and I think over time our goal is to really significantly grow the business.
What Bruin does is we grow and build things. The first part of growing and building things is identifying things that can be grown. We’ve identified this as a business that we think, with the NFL, with WPP, we feel like we can grow. We feel like we can grow it because we have a great product in the NFL and we’ve got a great team of people working on this.
Sports rights holders need to be understanding who their fans are, who’s engaging with them, and using that to really grow their business and grow that relationship.
Is this a model you think can be replicated again with other leagues who are exploring OTT and direct-to-consumer offerings, or do things have to come together in the right way?
GP: Absolutely. This is why we founded Bruin. We’re putting up the capital to start a new company, hiring the agencies and growing the business. If you think about it, that’s exactly what we did with On Location Experiences, one of our other portfolio companies.
On Location Experiences today looks quite different than it did two years ago. It has a vastly different array of services and capabilities, so it’s really quite a different company than when we acquired it two years ago. Part of it was because we hired a great CEO and a great management team and invested capital. Here is the same model.
When you think about Bruin, we’re guys that are going to identify things that can be grown, we’re willing to invest capital, we have a strategic partner with the world’s largest advertising capabilities, we have a company that we bought that is a leader in sports media and technology on a global basis, working with the largest federations and broadcasters in the world.
We’re pulling it all together and hopefully this won’t be the last time that we do something like this. It’s an attractive way to partner with federations to help them grow their business and engage consumers with an innovative and focused approach.
ME: If I can just add to that, I’d say sports teams that aren't investing in this kind of model are going to miss out because we know already that having that close relationship with your fans on a one-to-one basis, really knowing who they are and being able to communicate with them is going to be a huge driver. It already is, but it’s a massive part of just about every revenue line that the major rights holder is going to own.
And they’re going to have to get closer and closer to those customers. If they don’t, then Facebook will and Amazon will and everyone else will. Sports rights holders need to be understanding who their fans are, who’s engaging with them, and using that to really grow their business and grow that relationship.
OTT is right at the heart of knowing who those fans are and is at the heart of making your sport thrive and succeed over the next five, ten, 15 years. Rather than being something I’d like to replicate, it’s something that the sports business is going to have to replicate.
Pyne and Entwistle were speaking to SportsPro's Eoin Connolly.