With Pub Pass, NBC Sports tries B2B bundles for specialty sports programming

The magic of media is remixing content to create new value. That’s the approach NBC Sports is taking with its new vertical sports programming bundles.

Three weeks ago, NBC Sports announced the launch of NBC Sports Pub Pass, a subscription service targeted at bar, restaurants and other commercial establishments that offers access to rugby, soccer and cycling events commercial-free, on-demand. Pub Pass is the first B2B and the eighth overall specialty sports video subscription NBC Sports has launched or renewed this year, and the 17th since debuting a video subscription service focused on cycling and the Tour de France in 2016.

Both the price and contents of the Sports Gold product vary. The NBC Sports Gold pass for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, for example, costs $199.99, while NBC Sports Gold for pro motocross, which runs til May 2020, costs $9.99. And while some consist mostly of exclusive access to matches or competitions, others include ancillary or shoulder content repurposed from television: In addition to pre- and post-game coverage, a Sports Gold for Philadelphia sports fans offers player profiles and documentaries about retired players, including former Phillies Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

While NBC Sports is not the only company gathering up niche sports rights for direct-to-consumer offerings – FloSports, for example, offers customers streams of everything from Professional Bull Riding to women’s college soccer – the vertical strategy stands out in a world where large media companies are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into expansive streaming video subscription products.

“It’s by no means one-size-fits-all,” said Portia Archer, vp of direct to consumer services at NBC Sports Group. “We really do take it sport by sport, property by property.”

By NBCU’s standards, many of the customer bases for some Sports Gold products are small. For example, the most-watched Pro Lacrosse League match in 14 years averaged 412,000 viewers across NBC’s linear and digital channels.

Archer declined to share specifics on how many subscribers the Sports Gold products have accumulated, saying only that she was pleased with the progress and that the subscriber growth had “exceeded expectations” internally.

NBC Sports can often stand up Sports Gold offerings without significant added costs. While a major North American sport like the NFL or the NBA would command an enormous media rights fee, the streaming rights to many smaller leagues are available for much less. Increasingly, these rights are even available on a profit-sharing basis, said Steve Smith, a managing partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and co-leader of the firm’s sports and entertainment practice.

“The rights fee model is less prevalent,” Smith said of streaming rights for smaller leagues. “You’re going to see more, ‘You get X percent of the revenue for each person who signs up.’”

The content is often easy to produce as well, thanks to investments made by rights owners. Rather than having to dispatch large production teams to far-flung locales, nearly every single Sports Gold product NBC Sports produces uses a feed of video content provided directly by the leagues or rights owners. “Everybody is trying to stand up their own network or DTC [product],” Archer said.“You see those production values going up.”

That leaves marketing, which NBC Sports is happy to do across every channel it has, including linear television, digital, social and email. And just as Disney went across its stable to promote ESPN+, NBC is not above using bigger NBCUniversal brands to promote Sports Gold products. At the beginning of the year, for example, a Today show segment about Alysia Liu, a 13-year-old figure skating champion, also plugged a Sports Gold product focused on figure skating. A recent spurt of promotion that aired during TK focused on the Sports Gold product for rugby, rather than the linear broadcast.

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NBC Sports also works directly with the leagues and rights owners on marketing outreach and strategy, not just on messaging and audience profiles but sometimes in directly communicating with league fans.

Moving forward, the rising familiarity with the DTC model and sinking production and distribution costs might make it attractive for some leagues to go it alone. But those competitors can’t match NBC’s promotional muscle, a consideration that may trump more revenue per customer for some smaller leagues. “If you’re asking why would you go to an NBC [versus going direct], the answer is because it’s NBC’s NBC,” Smith said.

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