It’s exciting to be involved in the live-streamed sports industry right now. Things are changing rapidly, and different junior, amateur, and women’s sports are finding new audiences online every week. Almost any sports organization can invest a little money, start streaming, and begin to earn sponsorship dollars.
Although it’s important to realize that this is just the beginning, there are innovations on the horizon that will continue to make streaming easier, more profitable, and more accessible for sports at all levels. These changes could also completely change how sports fans think about amateur sport – and lead to bigger and better sponsorship deals.
In this, the final article in our Live-Streamed Sports & Sponsors series, we’d like to take a peek into the future. We can’t know for sure, but we want to ask what’s possible and think about what that might mean for amateur sport.
Here are our top five innovations that could transform live streaming:
Is there a future where games are streamed without human supervision?
The perfect live streaming solution would have zero setup costs and require no human supervision at all. It would be great just to be able to outsource everything and receive a cheque each month from the advertising revenue generated, minus a fee.
AI-controlled cameras are already in use for live sport, IBM is developing AI-powered commentary, and tech already exists that can track and log player movements, stats, and scoring. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone brings all this tech together and offers fully automated sports streaming.
As drone technology progresses, it might even be possible to stream video from games without using fixed cameras or masts. Drones could be deployed on matchday to broadcast the action. This would also allow for more exciting camera angles and aerial views.
An AI-powered sports streaming camera. Source: Pixellot.
Crowdfunding is an excellent way for sports leagues to get streaming up and running without any risks, and it has been happening for years. It’s perfect for sports that have a dedicated, committed following but don’t yet have any way for fans to watch games online.
A live streaming crowdfunding campaign can be run on a regular crowdfunding platform such as Kickstarter by just setting a target that equals your estimated costs. The game can then be streamed for the general public to watch free of charge, or you can decide to provide the link only to those who supported the campaign.
Could crowdfunding also be used for amateur sports sponsorship?
Small businesses could donate in return for their ads being displayed during the game. A league could go to sponsors with a list of fixtures and costs for games, or a self-serve platform could allow any sponsor to buy a percentage of ad space for a particular fixture. Once a certain level of investment is reached for each fixture, the game can be live-streamed. Also, if the list of fixtures is visible to the public, it creates a strong bond between sponsors and fans as they can see which sponsors are responsible for making the live stream possible.
We have successfully removed many of the barriers to live streaming sport, but the sponsorship side is still a complicated, time-consuming process compared to other types of online advertising. If you want to earn money from a website, a smartphone app, it’s a comparatively simple process. A few clicks is all it takes to add banner ads using an ad serving platform like Google Adsense. It’s inevitable that live streaming will soon benefit from the same streamlined setup.
At the moment, platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook allow amateur sports organizations to use their platform to stream, but the ad integration is limited. On YouTube and Twitch, streamers can manually trigger ads at certain times during the live stream, but since the ads are served on top of the feed, replace the feed entirely, or use picture by picture, there is no way to properly integrate the ads with live sporting action and on-screen graphics. On Facebook, the situation is even more limited, with only certain pre-approved streamers allowed to earn revenue from advertising.
A picture-by-picture ad on Twitch is not really suited to live-streamed sport.
In an ideal world, the two systems would be fully integrated. For example, a sports club could use a platform like LIGR to stream video on YouTube with designated blank spaces within the feed. When the feed is hosted on YouTube, an appropriate sized and positioned ad could be automatically triggered so that the ad is fully integrated into the live feed and graphics.
Why is this important? At LIGR, we’ve worked hard to build a system that offers TV network quality graphics and integrated ads that do not interrupt the viewing experience. To then show Facebook or YouTube mid-roll video ads or overlay ads on top of the action is not ideal. Also, full integration would allow ads to be clickable and trackable. This would greatly lower the barrier to new streamers generating revenue from advertising. It makes streaming more appealing if leagues and teams can start to earn revenue instantly, without having to find sponsors and manage the relationships. They can build an audience first, earn some revenue, and then work out how to get individual sport sponsorship.
TV networks can “virtually” replace pitchside adverts and show different ads to different TV audiences around the world. Called Virtual Replacement Technology, it works in a similar way to green screen backgrounds. It uses sophisticated technology to recognize the digital pitchside banners, filter out any objects that are in front of them, and seamlessly replace the ads for each country. The tech also works for static signage.
Virtual Replacement Technology was first used in 2018 during a soccer match between England and Costa Rica.
Could this be possible with live-streamed sports?
This system requires some processing power on the server-side, but it could be possible for a cloud graphics platform like LIGR to handle this and serve different ads to different markets.
In the future, it may even be possible for individual viewers to be served different ads based on their demographics in exactly the same way that different Google ads are shown to each visitor on the same website.
Right now, advertising on live-streamed sports can be a little disjointed – especially when the stream is hosted on a major streaming platform. This is because the video and graphics side is completely separate from the hosting side. As mentioned above, you can host your live stream on YouTube or Twitch, but currently there is no ad integration between the live stream and the streaming platform. You can use a platform like LIGR to integrate your sponsors’ ads into your feed, but then tracking exactly who has seen the ads, or whether viewers made a purchase after seeing the ads is not available.
For sports organizations that stream on YouTube or Twitch, live sports stream advertising is currently a lot like TV advertising. You know how many people are watching, but you don’t really know who is watching, who saw what ad, and whether they actually bought a product because of it. You can get a decent idea of the big picture from the platforms’ viewing analytics, but you have no idea about individual customers. Compare that to smartphone advertising, where advertisers can target individual users based on their demographics and previous purchase history; they know exactly who saw what for how long, and whether they bought something.
Our goal is to create a platform that takes sports streaming from the world of TV advertising to the world of smartphone advertising – an end-to-end solution that offers live graphics, advertising, and live stream hosting in one off-the-shelf package. Rather than brands sponsoring particular teams or sports, they could instead target users and fully track ad performance down to views, engagement, and purchases – exactly as they do when they use Facebook or Google ad targeting systems.
If adopted widely by sports organizations, such a platform would also open up a whole new world of advertising inventory and an audience of billions of sports fans worldwide.
We have already started making deals with individual brands and running their ads across multiple sports leagues. We’re just getting started in this area, but we see this campaign as a test case for a global amateur sports advertising network.
A deal was secured with men’s telehealth brand Pilot Health to run their ad campaign during live matches across six soccer federations in Australia. All six federations use the LIGR.Live platform to serve ads during their live streamed games, which allows them to designate a percentage of the ads during games to the Pilot Health campaign.
A Pilot Health ad, shown during a Cumberland United match in the NPL South Australia.
As the large majority of the leagues use our platform, it also allows us to report back to Pilot on the aggregated performance of their campaign across thousands of ad placements during hundreds of matches in multiple leagues. As part of our reporting, we manually assimilate our data with viewing data from the major streaming platforms to provide Pilot with an accurate performance report and allow the soccer federations to further monetize their content. The end goal is to offer this service as part of the LIGR.Live platform.
This campaign is a landmark moment for grassroots sports, as it shows the power of aggregating advertising space across multiple leagues and how attractive that is to advertisers. This is the future of advertising and live-streamed sport.