The NFL has a distinguished history of successful partnerships with upstart media companies. When it became the home of Sunday Night Football in 1987, ESPN’s unprecedented growth accelerated. Then, in 1993, the NFL sold its NFC Sunday afternoon package to Fox, firmly establishing it as the fourth major broadcast network in the U.S. In turn, both deals expanded the NFL’s reach and significantly increased its media rights revenue.
This fall the NFL is working with another new media partner: Twitter. In a $10 million deal, Twitter is live streaming for free 10 Thursday Night Football (TNF) games. It is part of Twitter’s overall strategy of making live events the centerpiece of its platform. For its part, the NFL reportedly passed on higher bidders for the digital TNF package to test new distribution models with a trusted partner.
The mantra of youth sports where “everyone gets a trophy” is permeating professional leagues. These days every team can claim some semblance of winning. In the bygone era of the NFL, two teams made the playoffs and that consisted of one game, the Super Bowl. Today six teams from each conference advance, and there is talk of adding more. In MLB, it used to be that the league leaders won the pennant and then went to the World Series; now, five teams in each league make the playoffs. In the NBA and the NHL, meanwhile, more than half of all teams make the post-season.
As the definition of post-season success broadens and winning becomes a commodity, a team’s performance isn’t enough to stand out in the $750 billion sports industry. And at a time where traditional revenue streams are under pressure and the competition for money, media, and sponsors remains stiff, sports organizations have to be more innovative.
So, what should they be doing to drive revenue? How can they use technology to attract and interact with fans? And, in the Age of Big Data, what’s the best use of analytics to increase ticket sales? These are some of the questions on the table at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
I’m supposed to be pretty good at statistical-based predictions, but I could not have predicted how much the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytic Conference would grow in just five years. The success is not just in attendance – this year’s March 4-5 event was another sellout – but in the range of topics, sports, and speakers. And that reflects a bigger trend: analytics has expanded not just within sports such as baseball and basketball where it has been accepted, but to other professional leagues, such as hockey and football.