Ben Weiss at WSC Sports explains how to engage younger audiences with live sports content

WSC - Ben

The competition for declining brand activation budgets is tough, so rights holders and broadcasters must grow the reach and engagement of their most valuable content – live video.

This is not straightforward. Younger fans watch fewer full live games than previous generations and are less likely to go directly to broadcasters’ owned platforms. But those audiences are not lost – live rights holders just need to find them.

The obvious move for rights holders is to meet changing habits with an OTT model. That, though, is just part of the response.

Search, for example, is now key to the content distribution mix. Google lets rights holders show real-time highlights within the OneBox at the top of search results, with referral links back to their owned platforms.

During the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, this delivered over 360 million real-time video views, with one in three fans clicking through to related content on distributors’ native digital channels.

That suggests two things: younger fans are still seeking live sports content, and you can build a direct relationship by getting it to them.

Doing so creates new impressions for sponsors and helps drive fans back to live broadcasts, preserving the value of that initial rights outlay.

To achieve higher engagement with younger audiences, you need to offer the best user experience on mobile.

Social media is fuelling an appetite for immersive, mobile-first vertical video. Transitioning to a 9:16 ratio will win you massive points with algorithms on TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts - and improve video completion rates of sponsored content on your mobile web and app.

Rights holders like the NBA – who recently announced a record-breaking season across its social and digital channels since prioritising vertical video – and DAZN use automation to instantly repurpose video for these platforms, while the same technology also enables personalisation.

By activating first-party data and leveraging automated solutions, rights holders can create bespoke email and push notifications that serve sponsored highlights of a user’s favourite teams and players.

Media outlets without live rights have already shown high CTRs using interactivity and gamification via sponsored quizzes, trivia, and polls. If rights owners can combine that with official in-game video, they can secure superior engagement rates and new first-party data around levels of fandom.

Media companies should build a strategy to grow engagement for sponsored content, reach younger audiences in their habitat and drive them back to owned and operated platforms. With so many touchpoints available, it is time to innovate and leverage the full potential of live video.

Audiences for live sport are not falling – they are changing. The challenge ahead is to capture their attention on their terms.

Ben Weiss is head of monetisation ventures at WSC Sports