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Why the Detroit Lions chose direct-to-consumer distribution to diversify its advertising revenue

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Pre-season games have traditionally offered NFL teams chances to generate additional ad revenue via commercials and brand partnerships. However, recent adjustments to the NFL schedule have led to a reduction in the number of pre-season games to three games per team, consequently limiting the inventory available for teams to capitalize on monetization opportunities.

To address this issue, the Detroit Lions have taken a proactive approach by introducing an additional channel for its local NFL broadcast. This move aims to expand advertising opportunities, utilize direct-to-consumer distribution, and forge stronger connections with local fans, to ultimately boost pre-season viewership.

The Detroit Lions signed interactive video company Kiswe, who also did DTC streaming for the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz basketball teams. Together, the two parties developed Altcast for the Detroit Lions’s website and NFL app, utilizing Kiswe’s cloud production platform to coordinate with the crew remotely and add in the on air talent from their various locations. Altcast was introduced for free for fans to use starting with the Detroit Lions’ pre-season games back in August.

This includes live commentary from sports celebrities during Lions games, starting with the preseason. Additionally, there is a live chat and functions similar to Twitch, as this initiative aims to enhance fan engagement and open up new revenue streams. The financial agreement between the two parties as well as its Altcast ad options were not disclosed.

Execs for the Lions are still evaluating the value of this pre-season content, said Carl Moll, the director of broadcasting for the Detroit Lions. Moll declined to offer specifics, including the cost of ads, revenue figures and participating advertisers. Altcast does offer advertisers inventory segments based on language, demographic and geography, noted T.K. Gore, Kiswe’s head of sports business development.

“This was really about experimenting and trying to see how we could bring our preseason games to our fans a little bit differently via the web and our app so our focus wasn’t to go out and sell multiple fragmented sponsorships,” he said. “It was about the content first and having done it, you always have a much better understanding of where the monetization opportunities are and how they fit and having executed it once.”

Moll mentioned that the Lions didn’t allocate marketing dollars for the Alcast. However, its broadcast resulted in viewers who engaged with either the chat or poll feature watching about twice as long compared to those who did not participate, though he did not provide specific figures. Furthermore, viewers who used both the chat and poll features watched three times longer than those who opted for neither. Moll declined to share details on how much ad revenue Lions games on Altcast gained. According to Vivvix, with paid social from Pathmatics, Detroit Lions spent a little over $688,000 on advertising so far in 2023, down from $1.2 million in 2022.

Former Lions players Golden Tate and Grover Quinn appeared on the telecast along with Lions legend Chris Spielman. The mix also included Detroit area native Jalen Rose, former Detroit Tiger Kirk Gibson, and Darren McCarty from Detroit’s hockey team, the Red Wings.

“Not only was it to do something compelling and different, but it really was focused on how do we engage the younger part of our fan base who accesses content much more frequently through apps and through social media,” he said.

Detroit Lions’ eagerness to engage with its fans follows the NFL’s initiative to target Gen Z audiences last year, the league pursued this goal by providing content creators with access to archival footage for potential monetization opportunities. Additionally, the LA Rams utilized Snapchat’s augmented reality (AR) technology for stadium advertising. In another approach, the league engaged Gen Z influencers to promote signups for Sunday Ticket during the NFL Draft.

“Sports leagues are looking for buzzworthy moments to increase viewership in the short term, which can often lead to viewers getting more hooked on the league and more likely to become a long-term viewer and having higher viewership helps them sell more ads and increase revenue,” said Frank Maguire, vp of insights, strategy, and sustainability, at the omnichannel ad exchange platform, Sharethrough.

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