Sports-streaming panel finds no one winning play in issues like personalization, distribution and betting

When even big-league sports can’t be sure what their fan experience and distribution will look like in 10 years, the prospects for smaller leagues and franchises will understandably look even fuzzier.

So a virtual panel at Fierce Video’s Stream TV Show, featuring executives from four companies with varying levels of reliance on streaming video, yielded more suggestions than action items — because these firms are still figuring these things out.

“In sports we’re just scratching the surface with side casts, alt casts, mega casts, meta casts, anything else,” said Brian Carroll, EVP of programming, global distribution and partnerships at LPGA.

He told moderator Patrick Crakes that while golf programming remains largely linear, the association knew what it had to offer: “More personalization and more choices for the viewers.”

Sarah Hoffman, director of digital marketing at FloSports, gave an example of how that could work: “We might be producing a wrestling event that has 40 different mats, allowing them the opportunity to control and choose what mat they want to see.”

But providing that level of choice can get trickier for streaming platforms that don’t focus on a single league in a single market.

“With 1,000 events every year, it’s a challenge,” said Kim Hurwitz, CMO of FITE TV.

“We have 11 live events alone this Saturday night” — with that combat-sports platform covering them in places ranging from Hawaii to the U.K. to Sweden.

A different sort of personalization, that attempted by advertisers, faces its own challenge as the cookies traditionally used to track audience interests face an accelerating sunset in browsers.

Rich Calacci, chief revenue officer at the social-centric sports-content firm Overtime, suggested that it was time to return to contextual ad targeting.

“Cookies can do a lot of different things,” he said. “And one thing they can do is show you a new Calloway driver while you’re watching a news event.”

Calling that “really problematic,” he said such an ad would be more persuasive when it was “at least tangential to the content you’re watching.”

Hoffman, meanwhile, urged video services to make it clear to viewers why they’d want to provide details about themselves that could both inform ads and the on-screen product they see: “Be a little bit more transparent and again, demonstrate value to the consumer around what they get when they provide any sort of data.”

Crakes then turned to distribution, calling out the groundbreaking move by NESN to offer direct-to-consumer subscriptions to Boston sports fans.

Hurwitz suggested smaller sports leagues needed to show a similar sort of flexibility.

“I think people who are flexible and are willing to work with even so-called competitors will thrive,” she said. “Because especially if you’re a little bit on the smaller side, if you don’t do that, I think you will get swallowed up.”

Calacci then pointed to the NFL as an example of a giant sports league also moving to offer viewers more choices — from free ad-supported video on Twitter to its new Amazon Prime Video deal to its longstanding availability on over-the-air local broadcasts that let cord-cutters watch for free.

“That combination of distribution paths works really well for the highest-value content, which is the case in the NFL,” he said.

Calacci also commended sports leagues for not optimizing solely for profit, citing his own perspective as a golf fan.

“If I woke up one morning and they said you had to pay $250 for all four days of the Masters, I would get out my Visa card as fast as possible,” he said. “August National doesn’t do that, because they still want to grow the game.”

Crakes closed out the panel by asking about gambling, and the panelists all said they didn’t want to bet too much on that as a core business model.

Hurwitz said that too many of the brands carried on FITE already have betting partners: “We don’t really want to tread on their tails much.”

Carroll said today’s state-by-state patchwork of sportsbook regulations leaves LGPA holding up its swing.

“Right now, there’s probably not enough states to make us want to do a ton of betting information in our telecasts,” he said, adding that the association might eventually add a betting-focused sidecast.

Calacci advised sports streamers to focus on the social aspects of gambling.

“The anticipation of the betting outcome is actually the best part of betting,” he said. “It creates conversation, it creates engagement, it creates brand adhesion, it creates community.”