‘Women’s soccer is a blank page’: Why Spring Media and Red Bee are launching Wnited

4 November 2019 | Broadcasting & New Media
‘Women’s soccer is a blank page’: Why Spring Media and Red Bee are launching Wnited
With more than one billion viewers tuning into the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the launch of Red Bee and Spring Media’s Wnited women’s soccer OTT service could not have come at a better time. SportsPro spoke to the key players behind the new platform to discover their plans to change the game.

Images of the US national women’s soccer captain Megan Rapinoe lifting the World Cup trophy in Lyon may stir what now feel like distant memories of one of this year’s sporting highlights.

Since the close of France 2019, a tournament which saw the Americans secure their fourth title and drew more than one billion global viewers, the women’s game has made up meaningful ground in its push for an equal footing.

The tournament has rightly coaxed more conversation around the commercial opportunities within women’s soccer and now the industry is reacting. European soccer’s governing body UEFA went live with its own over-the-top (OTT) service featuring live women’s matches; while the Football Association (FA) has also launched its own free platform to air the Women’s Super League.

Whilst those platforms have regional limitations, the newly launched Wnited is the first OTT service of its kind wholly dedicated to global women’s soccer.

In creating the product, Swedish sports agency Spring Media, which distributes more than 500 hours of live sports to more than 220 global broadcasters annually, has expanded its collaboration with UK-based solutions company Red Bee Media.

While the success of this year’s Women’s World Cup justified their decision, Tobias Osmund, Spring Media’s chief executive, says the time for women’s soccer to go it alone on a streaming platform has been a long time coming.

“At Spring Media, we have worked with the top Swedish women’s football league for six years before anyone believed there was real commercial potential in women’s football,” Osmund tells SportsPro.

“During those six years, we’ve learnt a lot about how that audience works, about the sport, and how you can develop those properties. We also distribute the Mexican domestic women’s league, globally, and we have been looking into the opportunity of doing something bigger in that area.

“We also built and managed the OTT platform for the Swedish women’s team and we saw that a lot of their viewership came from outside of Sweden. That has been the starting point for us, to understand that there is commercial interest to do this on a bigger scale.”

Having previously worked with Red Bee Media on OTT projects such as Sweden International Horse Show, Osmund says that the two companies found each other at the right time and saw an opportunity they wanted to go for together.

Since coming up with the concept, Spring Media has secured media rights from two undisclosed leagues, and is also holding negotiations with several more women’s soccer properties.

In order to build out the Wnited product, which is due to go live in the first quarter of 2020, Red Bee’s head of OTT and media management Steve Russell said that Spring Media’s connections and knowledge of women’s soccer would be vital for delivery.

“It’s a partnership that we’re eager to develop, and the domain of women’s football is certainly a hot topic,” says Russell in explaining the rationale behind their partnership. “The interesting thing, from Spring’s point of view, is that they are already working with federations in these markets.

“From our point of view, we’ve invested in and built a platform that supports those markets with exactly this kind of use case in mind. It’s about reaching the fan, the consumer, and player wherever they are."

Russell continued: “From an industry point of view, there are also less legacy rights deals, [which means] the owners of leagues can now think differently about how they go to market.

“Our message coming into sports is that it’s much easier than you would expect to launch a service. And, against any metric, you can say that the audience appetite is certainly there [for women’s soccer] at the moment.

“There is a window of opportunity and it’s great for leagues and clubs to think differently about how they address content around that opportunity, rather than opting for what they have traditional done before.”

The “beauty” of OTT, Russell insists, is that its ability to reach a target audience without the infrastructure and operational costs associated with a linear operation, while also enabling sports properties to approach its rights conversations differently.

According to recent figures released by FIFA, of the record 1.12 billion Women’s World Cup viewers, 481.5 million of those were digital – more than five times the figure from four years ago.

With this in mind, Osmund says Wnited is poised to capitalise on consumer sentiment around the women’s game in the online community. The platform aims to include more than 300 live matches in its first 12 months, as well as a multitude of channels dedicated to video-on-demand (VOD) content.

“If you look at men’s football, every league that’s of commercial interest is tied up; quite often in long-term agreements with broadcasters,” Osmund continues. “When it comes to women’s football, you don’t really have that; it’s more of a [blank] page, which means it’s possible to create a product that, from a consumer point of view, is much better than having different leagues spread out on different TV channels.”

Though the intention at this time is to present a free-to-access streaming platform, by leveraging the desires of rights holders in the women’s game for coverage outside of home markets, Osmund says he hopes to see Wnited one day become the go-to women’s soccer service, as part of a paid-subscription model.

“Here, you will get the best from women’s football in one place and you can pick and choose from different leagues, producing superior offerings to the consumer,” Osmund goes on. “If you look at women’s football today, the traditional broadcasters are definitely underserving that fanbase.

“Our ambition is not to take the home country rights onto our platform, which means this will be an international platform while you can still go to a local broadcaster. However, the long-term mission is to have everything, but that of course is going to take us a while and will be a gradual process.”

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