Led by the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, 2021 will be a massive year for live sport hopefully accompanied by the return of crowds to stadia. But the pandemic has permanently scarred club and league finances.

According to figures quoted by Deloitte in its end of year report, the NFL lost U$5.5 billion of stadium revenue last year. The NBA was set to lose half a billion. Multiple sports in Europe from the elite to the grassroots are surviving off government bailouts.

eSports not immune

Even eSports were not immune with spectator events halted. Consequently, analyst NewZoo cut its growth forecast for the industry in 2020.

With reduced household incomes and intense competition from SVOD entertainment services, pay-TV broadcasters are under pressure to revitalize interest in the sports rights they own – or risk losing them entirely when the next round of tenders is up for grabs.

Discovery will be looking to further recoup the $1.45 billion investment it made in rights to the Olympics on Eurosport TV channels, Eurosport online and on new streaming platform Discovery+ beginning with the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Broadcasters and leagues need to rethink their approach to live sports by investing in the infrastructure to power digital channels, streaming platforms, and augmented and virtual reality solutions.

Fan interaction

Most importantly, they need to start interacting directly with fans, a growing number of whom no longer want to passively consume content. Whether that’s with AR/VR or a ‘watch party’ with friends, a live chat with athletes and pundits, fans or selectable audio options, today’s sports fan expects to interact with the video.

Esports and live-streamed gaming platforms have been leading this trend for a while. Indeed, lockdown resulted in particularly explosive growth. Twitch grew 101% year on year to April 2020, YouTube’s gaming service grew 65% and Facebook Gaming was up 238%.

The immediacy and intimacy of the interaction with friends, fans, and players create a social community that traditional broadcast will increasingly look to adapt to its own.

The promise of IP streaming and video has always been about the interactivity and enhanced user experience and that means more pressure to reduce latency. Low latency content delivery allows the consumer to become their own producer.

But we can go further. To translate Tier 1 sports like F1 or multi-sport events like the Olympics into a real time interactive broadcast you don’t just need ultra-low latency. You need to transport multi-camera environments and highly rich metadata all of which needs to be synchronized, end-to-end, glass to glass and securely managed across the whole production workflow.

The sports and live event experience is being recreated before our very eyes. The revolution is here and this time it’s personal.

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