The media model for college sports outside the US is completely broken

As a Duke alumnus, it’s weird to be excited about college football; but after last season’s phenomenal 10-2 run here I am hopping on the bandwagon.  Yesterday was media day for ACC football, and one of the topics ACC commissioner John Swofford talked about is showing ACC games nationally on digital.

Given the ACC’s attractive footprint, I can see the potential.  But I can’t help think there’s a huge, missed opportunity: international.

US college sports is classic long tail content.  It’s content meant for a very specific person: the die hard college sports fan — already niche in the US, miniscule outside it — and alumni from the two schools competing in any particular game.  I follow college basketball quite closely but even I don’t really care about Missouri playing Arizon State.  During the regular season it’s Duke first and foremost, and perhaps ACC games second.

Any business model predicated on showing me multiple “Missouri vs. Arizona State” type games for the occasional game I really want to watch are bound to fail.

alibaba_longtail copy

Therefore, it strikes me as broken that college sports continue to be parceled out to TV broadcasters overseas.  They might only be able to show two games a day, each game appealing to an extremely niche group.  How do you build a following when your audience is so fragmented?

The only sensible answer is on-demand, digital streaming.  Make every game available and the right audience for each game will find it and watch it.  The media owner doesn’t have to calculate which two match-ups will attract the most eyeballs, because online, every game has the ability to attract its natural audience — no matter how small each might be on its own.  Taken together, it can be a sizable number.  It’s the difference between monetizing a fraction of your inventory versus all of it.

Done right, I’m willing to bet that in this arrangement the content creator (i.e. the ACC) will be profitably better off.  I can’t imagine international TV broadcasters are paying the ACC well for the privilege of showing two games nobody watches.

How much am I willing to pay to watch every ACC football and basketball game online in HD?  $100 per year is no problem.  Maybe even $200.  I paid about that amount for the NBA League Pass, and I care about the ACC a lot more than I do the NBA.

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