The other club: How OTRO plans to give Messi, Neymar and Beckham their own storytelling platform
Imagine a place where you could watch Lionel Messi kick soccer balls at a drone, his former teammate Neymar Jr play a rendition of Ludovico Enaudi’s ‘Nuvole Bianche’ on the piano, and David Beckham reminisce about his England career while frying onions and peppers.
Now, with the launch of OTRO, you might not have to.
The brainchild of industry veterans Stephen Duval, Jonny Nye and Simon Oliveira and backed by 23 Capital, the new soccer-centric content platform went live on Monday in eight languages across more than 200 countries after months of being kept strictly under wraps. Equipped with a star-studded squad of 17 current and former stars which – alongside the aforementioned names – includes the likes of Manchester City’s eccentric left back Benjamin Mendy, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez and even Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane, OTRO has bold aspirations of using the world’s best players to foster an unprecedented global digital fanbase.
In what is becoming an increasingly crowded soccer media landscape – already occupied by platforms such as Copa90 and Dugout – OTRO is planning to stand out by shining a light purely on the lives of the players away from the pitch. Not to be mistaken for a platform which showcases behind-the-scenes footage from matches and training, the startup company will provide a unique glimpse into the personalities and lifestyles of its slate of contracted stars, enabling them to share their stories with supporters through a variety of short and long-form content.
Fans will be able to access much of that content for free, but for a US$3.99 per month subscription fee will gain unlimited access to a social community where they can share what they like, vote on polls and take part in quizzes with players, who have been pinned down to five-year contracts.
Ahead of launch, OTRO Chief Executive Jeremy Dale spoke exclusively to SportsPro to explain how an ambitious plan became a reality, and to ask why the startup believes its content will make the platform a must-have for soccer fans.
What’s the story behind OTRO? What has brought you to this point?
It’s been an idea which has been going around for two or three years now. There were a few guys involved early on including Stephen Duval, Jonny Nye and Simon Oliveira, and I came in 18 months ago.
Seven or eight months ago we were three people sitting in a friend’s office, and now we’re an 80-person organisation where we’ve built the tech platform which operates on both PC and mobile app, we’ve got a content team producing a load of content, we’ve got marketing teams, finance teams, and we’re launching in nine languages in over 200 countries in the world all at one go. So it’s a pretty ambitious and audacious project, but it’s one which we’re really excited about, because we think it’s what football fans want.
Where do you see the gap in the market?
There’s billions of people on the planet who love football, and there are billions of people who love their heroes from the football world. People see what the footballers do from about 20 different camera angles while they’re on the pitch, but they don’t really know who they are as people. So what we want to show is the other side of those players’ lives.
So OTRO means ‘other’, and this is their ‘other club’. They may play for Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City or Barcelona or whatever team you want to talk about, but this is their other club. They’ve all come together to create this club for their fans, and it’s a club where they show their other side, so that’s what we’re trying to do.
Obviously now we’re in a digital world, it’s so much easier to keep in touch and see the full story, but we don’t think anyone has really invested the money to be able to tell the players’ stories in the way that we are.
So when we look at the market, some of the other competitors focus more on clubs, whereas we’re focused on the world’s top players and telling their story. We think we will succeed where others perhaps haven’t because of our scale. It’s not two or three who are sharing the burden of creating all the content; we’ve got plenty of content because we’ve got plenty of players. We’ve got the scale of the social media followers that these players have, because together it’s nearly one billion people that follow them. We’ve got the scale of launching in nine languages and over 200 countries, so we’re truly global from the very start. And we’ve got the scale of the production partners that are working with us to make interesting and engaging content, which really brings it to life.
How did you settle on a price point of US$3.99 per month?
We did a lot of detailed conjoint analysis where we researched in the different countries what the acceptable price points were, and through the model we used we were able to calculate at what price point consumers thought that the price was too cheap, and what percentage thought certain price points were too expensive.
There are always some people who think things are too cheap which can actually devalue it, then obviously a price point comes where you lose too many people because they feel it’s too expensive, so this detailed conjoint analysis allowed us to pick those price points.
Subscriptions aside, how are you planning to monetise the platform? Will there be any branded content? Do you envisage you might even sell some of your content to broadcasters?
There will be some brands on the platform. We’ve been talking to a number of companies that have expressed interest in sponsoring some of our show formats, but subscription is the primary mechanic.
There may be times when in a second or third window there is some commercial opportunities, but we’re really building this content for us on the platform in this subscription-based model.
How do you plan on driving people to the platform?
When you have footballers with 850 million social media followers, then we don’t think we’re going to struggle to get attention for this proposition, for this club that they’ve come together to create. They’re very passionate about the project, they’re passionate about this club that we’re creating together, so they will get behind it and make sure their members and fans know about it.
We’ll do some marketing as well, but quite honestly, we’ve got the power of the players, and for the first few weeks the players are going to be inviting their fans to check OTRO out, and if they want to join, they’ll come on board.
Was there much of a sell required when you were trying to attract such a star-studded line-up of players?
What struck me was that there were so many different reasons that they wanted to get involved. They want to get involved because they thought it was a fun project to be able to do all of these things. They wanted to engage more deeply with their fans. Some of them have got hundreds of hours of video of them scoring hundreds of goals, but there’s very little video of who they are as people, and they want to be able to get a balance on the legacy that they’re creating.
Some of them have got passionate stories they want to tell, and they’ve got strong opinions about football and the world and their career, and the role they want to play. So it’s been really interesting seeing all the different motivations that have played in, and how they’ve got a story to tell which is at the very heart of everything.
Who would you describe as your target audience? Is it the younger generation of soccer fan or just soccer fans in general?
When we’ve done our research, we think about 75 per cent of fans will be in the 18 to 34 age group, and 75 per cent of the fans will be male. We actually think that it will broaden out beyond those boundaries, and we’ll have a more balanced membership base as well as a broader age group, because of the type of content we want to produce, which is very broad in its appeal.
So I think we’ll start with the younger generation who are more savvy and familiar with social media, but we do think it will broaden out very rapidly as people start to seek those experiences.
How confident are you that you will have enough content both at launch and going forward to meet the demands of a digital fanbase?
We’re very confident – we know that we will learn as we put the content out. One of the things that I’m most excited about is the quality of our analytics system, to be able to see what pieces of content fans are enjoying the most and where they’re re-engaging and what they love, so we will use all of that information to enhance the type of content we’re creating.
But the beauty of the way in which we’re engaging with the players is because we’re filming with them every week, we can change what we create on a weekly basis – we don’t have to wait six months for the next shoot; we can start to create content that we’re seeing people engaging with and loving.
Would you say this platform is a bit like a Netflix for soccer in the way it will house different types of content?
It’ll be similar to that. I’d say think of the show formats in four levels. First you have absolute flagship experiences you’d never expect to see footballers doing. Then there’s premium content which is well-commissioned, well-executed formats. Then what we call ‘OTRO Shorts’, where we have regional film crews in all the major footballing cities around Europe filming players and creating content with them on a weekly basis. Then there is also the player-shot content, where something is going on in their life, they want to record it and they share it through our platform.
What we’re trying to make sure we’re talking about on our platform is because it is by the players for the fans, it is unprecedented access, because this is their platform, this is their club, and it’s an unfiltered natural authentic view, and that’s what we’re giving them: a way to tell their stories.
Are there any challenges you envisage having to overcome?
Yes – how are we going to cope with all the people that come to the platform and want to experience this? All joking aside, that has been a real consideration for us. They’ve got millions of social media followers, so when we announce this and put the launch video out on the internet, how many people are going to check out our site in those first few days? It’s going to be hundreds of millions. So we’ve made sure that we have all that capability, and we’ve made sure that we can create a great experience for people all around the world who want to come and be our members.
We’ve also spent a lot of time working out how we manage all the different languages, but we think we’ve found a great way to do that by getting a nice balance in terms of making it very visual while allowing the players to actually communicate with their fans all around the world.
What’s the bottom line here? How long do you think it will be before you start seeing a real return on your investment?
The reality is - as you will be able to tell from the app and from the content we’ve produced - we have invested significantly to make a great experience and also create great content. But it doesn’t take us to convert many of the billion social media followers that these players have to be able to get to a point where it’s a profitable business.
So whilst we will be watching the numbers, the most important thing for us - and our initial target - is all about are we delivering a great experience which is asking: our users happy? And if we can make sure that we’re delivering a great experience where they love the content and they keep coming back, then the numbers will look after themselves.
Where would you like to see OTRO two or three years from now?
I’d love to see the platform as being one which is loved by football fans all around the world, and it being the type of platform which, when someone wakes up in the morning or comes home from work at night, they check on a daily basis to see what new videos or content or competitions we’ve put out there.
We know that the quality of the content is going to be fundamental to us. Part of our culture is innovation, so we know that we’ve got to constantly innovate and we can’t keep putting out the same type of content all the time, so we think that our speed to innovate is going to be a core component of this, and that’s what we worked on a lot in the culture. What I’ve loved about this process is whenever we’ve gone to the players with some new ideas about innovation, they’ve embraced it.
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