STEWART MISON: Seeing the Bigger Picture

stewart-mison-280x240The second big change is happening now and it is the emergence and power of digital media.

 

Stewart Mison,
Strategic Development Director for Microsoft’s Sports Business
From selling TV advertising to creating sophisticated sponsorship agreements to fund global sports content, Stewart Mison has focused on finding fresh ways of generating revenues from sports media throughout a career extending over three decades. Now, as Strategic Development Director for Microsoft’s Sports Business, he sees digital media as the key to unlocking the door to sport’s financial future.
In his first interview since taking up his new role he tells Sports Media & Finance of his excitement over the development of digital in the context of past developments and looks to the future of the industry.
How did you become involved with the sports media sector?
I joined Transworld International (TWI) which was then the television arm of Mark McCormack’s International Management Group (IMG) as Director for Sponsorship at the start of the 1990’s having previously worked in television media sales.This was the time when the TV landscape in Europe was undergoing fundamental change and an escalation in competition for sports broadcast rights. My task was to either develop and sell barter distribution

distribution opportunities or create positions for commercial partners within TWI owned programmes or rights.

Of all the changes you have witnessed over the years, which have had the greatest impact?
I think there are two.
The first is the creation of the subscription funded niche satellite and cable sports broadcasters which, to recruit and retain subscribers, needed live sports action from the marquee events and started to drive up rights fees. These new services dedicated to sport and with the luxury of more editorial hours could give more in depth coverage and analysis before, during and after an event. One of the best examples of this is the work of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp which through its subsidiaries Sky and Star changed the financial landscape in football (the Premier League investment) and in Cricket in Asia. They employed production styles they had pioneered in other markets which are now seen as the norm because they knew that editorial presentation of exclusive rights is also key is recruiting and retaining viewers and limiting churn.
In turn these editorial changes were to drive a change in how the pre-existing terrestrial networks presented sport.

The second big change is happening now and it is the emergence and power of digital media and its ability to create a personal viewing experience via smart TV and use of second screen either via a set top connection (like X Box) or through mobile digital on smart phones and tablet. I see the evolution of this will be the ability for a “One to One” engagement and dialogue with the fan. Federations, leagues and in particular football clubs can now reach out in unique ways to their global followings. In turn the data capture generated is a very powerful marketing tool that when used properly, will build new and direct long term revenue streams.

Of the roles you have had, which have given you the greatest satisfaction and why?
I get the most out of creating new routes to market. I am very proud that I was instrumental in setting up the research firm Futures Sports+Entertainment within IPG’s Media brands and I still believe that there should be a new way for the sports industry, both at the rights owner and sponsor end, to better understand the metric data values sport can provide. These metrics should be used to help define rights fees and sponsor values. Notoriously sport TV rights sales never really looked at the value of their property to a broadcaster as both a revenue generator and also an audience equity growth tool. The concept was that our clients could draw on the same level of data that a media planner would use, identify and show value and make recommendations accordingly. Likewise the same information, applied to the various sponsor touch points, and when valued, feeds into an advertiser’s media optimisation schedule.

How do you believe your current role will change the business of sport?
All of us use connected media devices in our everyday lives and that is only going to increase.
The “digital universe” doubles in size every couple of years. Personally we consume vast amounts of data. Our phones and tablets mean we are always connected and they are rightly now being considered “first screens”.

Cloud services grows at the same rate and in just a few years nearly half of all data will be in the Cloud.

Individual sports federations, leagues and clubs have, in the main, been slow to embrace the digital world. For example how many football stadiums in Europe are digitally smart and allow their fan to be connected during the game?
How many have a development plan to provide in stadium digital entertainment and engagement to the highly charged and emotive atmosphere of a football match?
Of the many tens if not hundreds of millions of fans that Europe’s leading clubs claim follow them on social media from around the world , what specific data does each club have on these fans in their CRM system other than that for season ticket holders?

The clubs can hide behind Financial Fair Play regulations inhibiting investment but the hard and very simple fact is that if Generation Z is continually disenfranchised by lack of access to their social media services or unable to connect to their mates by text within the stadium they may not bother to turn up as has been witnessed in some US sports.

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Going beyond the stadium crowd the Club is missing out on the opportunity to capture and monetise the fan base not attending the game or who live overseas.

At Microsoft we plan to work with these Federations, Leagues and Clubs to help transform their businesses and get them forward thinking and fit for the 21st century digital age. Evidence of this starting to take place can be seen with the Real Madrid Technology Partnership announced in November last year.

Many, on the revenue generating side in sport, see Microsoft as a potential candidate for a sponsorship deal. That is the wrong way to look at us. The key words are in transformation and partnership. It’s about us helping sport transform the way it goes to market, increasing Matchday fan yields which is better than any ticket price hike; building the consumer (fan) database so that the commercial income streams can grow by direct access or in giving the sponsors the direct connection. We work in helping restructure business management tools and build better performance training management for the playing staff and athletes. This is a partnership that will deliver earnings many times greater than Microsoft simply writing a sponsorship cheque.

How will the ability for (football) clubs to engage more directly with fans worldwide impact on the economics and the structure of the sport?
To put this into context, assume that a leading European Club has a claimed social media following of one hundred million. Assume that it is potentially possible to capture 10% of this global base. Over the course of a 12 month period this direct engagement is monetised (subscriptions, promotions, rev shares) by for example $1 per month.

$120 million has just been added to the revenue line. It amazes me that the C-Suite in most football club’s fail to act on this.

Unlocking this international revenue potential, and it is not exclusive just to

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$120 million has just been added to the revenue line. It amazes me that the C-Suite in most football club’s fail to act on this.

just to football but works for any sport with an international fan base is the opportunity that is relatively easy to initiate. The big question is how will sport employ this? In football the vast TV income streams has led to an escalation in the player’s wage bill. It is up to the sport to decide if this is the best use of funds in the knowledge they also afford the opportunity to improve fan facilities and make investment at the grass roots.

Can digital technologies open new sports up to new audiences or will the big sports simply grow richer faster?
It is economy of scale. Some sports enjoy huge global followings and others have a more select audience. The inherent need of a broadcaster for audience numbers to support subscription or

advertising sometimes mitigates against them carrying the small sports. That does not apply in the digital universe. Any sport can upload content either through their own site or via aggregators it depends on their business objectives but the starting point is the sport has to be digital.

Is the current method of sports rights sales / distribution sustainable in the long term?
Personally I think the big players in sales and distribution will grow digital divisions. Even in live sport – television is losing ground to digital platforms. I think there will come a point in the not too distant future where a digital platform will act to acquire exclusive content that will only be available through their platform.
We have already witnessed content exclusivity in drama with Netflix and Amazon and sport delivers huge global audiences.

Outside of live action, how do you see the creation of sport (and sports related) content / programming developing in the years to come.
If the federations and/ or clubs start the direct engagement with the fan then good and unique content is required to sustain the contact.
Content and content development is not the issue, planning and building the right Content Management Systems, utilising the best intelligent and dynamic CRM tools are core development areas.

Who has been your biggest influence on your career?
Anyone who has worked with IMG will reference McCormack. But there are a couple of others who have helped shape how I think.

My first boss in media sales – Ron Miller, showed how the London broadcaster- London Weekend Television (only available in London at weekends) could command huge revenues by changing the way advertisers bought TV media.

My other mentor is Eric Drossart who I worked for at TWI and taught me so much about the sport’s business.

What are your own sporting loves and dislikes?
I am very lucky that I have worked in a business where I can indulge my passion. Being English I follow our classic games – rugby union, cricket, motor racing and football but I have an appreciation for all great sport and if it is well presented so much the better.

I do fail to see the attraction by some federations on the use of pyrotechnics, I get frustrated with the use of painted pitch matsespecially now when the digitally capabilities offer so much more.

I like the use of graphic crates to deliver information in a user friendly way. Look at how cricket uses Hawk Eye, the Pin Wheel and thebowling map or tennis with Hawk Eye again. Mini –cams for an athlete’s eye view but I am lost as to why football has taken so long to embrace goal line technology and is still preventing the use of in game player trackers.

How do you think the sports media sector will look in, say, five years’ time – new players, new technologies, and new business practices?
I see the media sector being a very different landscape. There will be a much greater focus on digital mobile media perhaps even as the primary broadcaster maybe to the extent that what we are witnessing with print news media giving way to digital news. New technology will force the pace of change and through that new practices will emerge.

The sports world will also have a very different engagement with the fan base and my aim is to work with the many stake holders to ensure that Microsoft is at the forefront of this business transformation.