The Revolution Will Not (Necessarily) Be Televised

The Rise of Sports OTT Platforms - Innovate by Hashtag Sports

There is a revolution coming.

And (humbly) I recognize that I’m playing two small parts in it.

1) I am a Millennial.

Everyone wants to get into the muscle memory of Millennial and Gen Z consumers. This influential cohort is driving the train as we enter a new digital frontier, and, as a millennial myself, I’m part of the code that needs cracking.

2) Monumental Sports Network is redefining the bundle.

All marketers need to ensure they’re reaching the next wave of consumers and, from our perspective, our fans were potentially at risk of being disconnected from our business, our programming, and our teams if we didn’t take action. For these reasons, we felt it was vital to launch our sports OTT platform, Monumental Sports Network.

Photograph of Monumental Sports OTT Platform
Image Credit: Monumental Sports Network

Millennials are tricky. Many are cord-cutters. Even more are cord-nevers. Tickets to live sporting events can be expensive and sometimes unavailable. So, the familiar distribution of live game rights through regional sports networks (RSNs) on cable could be subject to risk at some point, even as they continue to deliver revenue and eyeballs right now.

We knew we needed to take a thoughtful, long-term approach to how and where we distribute the hundreds of hours of live and on-demand content generated by the five major league teams under our roof and the esports organization that we have invested in.

When you look at typical RSN deals, they’re usually long-term partnerships. But, it’s hard to project what the world will look like for anyone in a decade, let alone what the sports world or Monumental Sports & Entertainment will look like in 10 years’ time.

The influential cohort is driving the train as we enter a new digital frontier, and, as a millenial myself, I’m part of the code that needs cracking.

Zach Leonsis, VP and GM of Monumental Sports Network

We also realized that the Washington, D.C. metro area here in the United States is a perfect breeding ground for a digital sports experiment. From Richmond to Baltimore, the population is rapidly expanding. Over 7.5 million consumers call the area home (with estimates that it will double in the next decade) and 33% are Millennial/Gen Z. That puts us 3–5%+ higher than markets like Philly and Chicago. To provide some international context from an increasingly important market to the North American sports industry, London is about 27% Millennial/Gen Z. This provides a huge competitive advantage that only makes it logical for us to go over-the-top.

So, what we created is an innovative strategy that allows us to secure present-day levels of revenue and engagement via existing fans and RSN-driven distribution channels while also learning how to build and own a proprietary, technology-driven distribution channel.

First, we crafted a unique, long-term, symbiotic business deal with the Comcast-owned Mid-Atlantic RSN that distributes our Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals programming to millions of subscribers. But, we didn’t just sell them the linear TV rights and call it a day. We exchanged proportional equity stakes in one another’s media networks that we would jointly control and manage.

Then, along with our RSN partner, we launched a multi-platform sister network built for OTT: Monumental Sports Network.

The symbiotic relationship with Comcast gives both of us skin in the game when it comes to growing fan bases and revenue opportunities across all of Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s properties, and it provides the opportunity to distribute hundreds of hours of programming — AFL, WNBA, AHL, esports, and even hyper-local programming like high school games — that wouldn’t have a home on linear.

In year one, Monumental Sports Network will create and distribute more than 400 hours of live programming while gaining valuable information about what Millennials will and won’t pay for.

Photograph of Otto Porter Jr. participating in a mixtology class
Otto Porter Jr. of the Washington Wizards participates in a mixology class with MSN subscribers.

We’re constantly experimenting, layering in digital enhancements and IRL experiences for subscribers to turn the passive nature of linear into an active experience by mixing tools including VR technologies and hat cams with real-life access to merchandise discounts, yoga sessions and a mixology class with our premier athletes (Otto Porter makes a mean martini).

Unlike the linear business, the new OTT offering also provides a huge amount of granular demographic, psychographic and behavioral data that we can leverage to segment, target, and personalize.

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If you don’t know who your subscribers are, you definitely don’t know who your subscribers aren’t, which makes targeted growth difficult. Going direct-to-consumer allows us to really understand our customers.

My dad talks a lot about “redefining the bundle.” We’re students of the evolving Amazon Prime game, and still have a lot left to learn. There will be mistakes, missteps, surprises and course corrections along the way, but we believe firmly that we are on the right side of the revolution.

Zach Leonsis serves as Vice President and General Manager of Monumental Sports Network, a first-of-its-kind regional sports network for digital, mobile and over-the-top platforms where he oversees all operations, including digital development and design, product fulfillment, brand marketing, content production and integrated partner solutions.

To hear more from Zach and other thought leaders of sports OTT platforms click here.