Just a few years ago one would have had to spend upwards of a billion dollars to launch a national sports network or national cable channel. Money alone did not guarantee distribution. Gatekeepers were everywhere. But the transition from network to networked TV is ongoing and new business models are emerging.
The New Jersey Wildcats–the top women’s soccer team in North America–are launching a global broadcast network starting this May. Over the past few years, the team has been made up of a who’s who in women’s soccer, not only from America but also from around the world. In addition to American stars Heather O’Reilly and Cat Reddick, the Wildcats roster includes international superstars like England’s Kelly Smith, considered the best player in the world; Canadian national team goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc; Chinese striker Ji Ting; Brazilian star Formiga–and the list goes on and on.
This summer every Wildcats game will be available on demand by anyone in the world who has a broadband connection by simply going to www.NJWildcats.com or Google Video. Within hours of the game finishing, a 35-minute version complete with pre-game show, first half highlights, halftime show, second half highlights, and post-game recap will be viewable and downloadable to iPods by Wildcats fans from all over the world.
Each game will have ten 30-second commercials and will be totally free to the end user. In past years the team attracted only local sponsors and advertisers but this year, by distributing games over IP Video, they will reach further. “National brands had no interest in even talking to us, let alone spending money,” Wildcats co-owner Pat Ruta says. “Today the team is sponsored by Nike and is in discussions with Coke, Lowe’s, Anheuser Busch, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Subway, Bristol Myers Squibb, Merrill Lynch, Horizon Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Canon, and many more.”
“We don’t want advertisers that just want to give us an ad and let us run it in our games,” Ruta says. “We want advertisers that we can partner with [and] that want to work together so that we can drive sales. We have three types of fans–12 million girls ages 6-20 play soccer year round. That means 11-plus million soccer moms and 11-plus million soccer dads. Our fans live in the suburbs and have lots of disposable income. Our goal is to deliver 500,000+ viewers every game.”
He might be onto something–more girls play soccer in this country than any other sport.
Ruta continues, “If we team up with POWERade vs. Gatorade or visa versa, then as a marketing partner we need to educate our 11+ million sport drink buying soccer moms not only which drink to buy, but we have to give them reasons as to why they should do that.”
What may be most interesting about this particular IP Video play is that the team has opted for an “almost free” solution. There is no cost to serve IP Video over Google and a very low cost to serve the video from the NJ Wildcat’s servers. They will “bake in” the ads (which, by definition, will have to be brand-oriented). Or, they will have to re-edit and re-encode the games to replace stale creative. That being said, it is a very, very economical solution with interesting repercussions for the broadband playout industry, private network VOD players, traditional cable, satellite and even broadcasters.
The NJ Wildcats are supposed to be the best soccer team in America, but this season, by juking the system and cleverly using a collection of free applications, they may be showing all of us how to score with narrowcasting!