In the past few years we’ve seen a lot of sports clubs become more active in making use of their valuable video assets, either for marketing, or to add an extra revenue stream through advertising or subscriptions. As VAN has previously reported, we’re seeing a number of clubs launching OTT services as they seek to connect with their fan bases on new platforms.
One of the more interesting companies to come out of this shift in thinking is Dugout, a collaboration between many of the world’s most popular football clubs, designed to help them better package, distribute, and monetise their football content, largely through working with third-party publishers. VAN spoke with Dugout’s Co-Founder and SVP Sebastian Gray to hear how Dugout has evolved since its origins as a direct-to-consumer offering, and why getting publishers’ editorial teams on board can be important for making a success of third-party video content distribution.
New revenue streams for football clubs
Football rights deals are usually complicated, and vary between markets and leagues. But clubs generally have the rights to archive footage from their matches, once it passes its initial broadcasting rights window. They also are able to fairly easily produce content in-house which can prove very valuable, thanks to football fans’ devotion to their clubs, and hunger for content related to their favourite players.
Dugout was formed to help clubs capitalise on this opportunity. “The idea behind Dugout was to bring the football clubs together, to create new and accretive revenue streams for these football clubs, and to create another way they could engage and communicate with their fans,” said Gray.
After bringing 27 clubs on board, Dugout launched in 2016 as a B2C proposition. “Dugout initially was a destination where fans could come and experience all these clubs’ content in one destination,” said Gray, with around 2,000 videos available when it went to market.
But its first year was largely a year of data capture – finding out where fans were consuming content, watching the evolution of the digital content landscape, and figuring out customer acquisition strategies for a B2C business.
During this period, Dugout saw that it was publishers who were largely driving the narrative and fan experience around football content, but they were starved of video content. “Our approach was that if we could supply them in a compliant way with access to this rich video, we could improve the fans’ experience of that content, and could connect to a much bigger audience,” said Gray.
Working with editorial teams
In developing its B2B business and distributing content to other publishers, Gray says Dugout was wary of copying the transactional relationships that similar products often have with publishers.
“In the traditional market, the publisher tended to just buy access to a content library, or pay to license content,” said Gray. “We took a more consultative approach, not just trying to pre-empt what publishers were wanting to talk about and what their audiences were interested in.”
Dugout runs a self-service content management system which publishers can use to search for relevant video content, but also runs a sports desk which has daily conversations with publishers’ editorial teams to gauge what they are interested in. So publishers may either just search for and pull up content themselves which fits their article, or contact Dugout and request something specific for a piece they are working on.
“For example, we had a publisher recently that was writing a technical piece about [Premier League footballer] Kevin De Bruyne’s crossing skills, and they wanted to focus on three or four different moments from old matches,” said Gray. “It was all archive footage from over three years ago, so we were able to put the video together for them within an hour and send it back to them for them to embed in the article.”
This is one of the keys to success for Dugout. Similar products sometimes find that while publishers are in theory very keen to license third-party video content for their own sites, often they don’t get round to actually using it much.
But helping to create and tailor content to fit specific articles can help bridge the divide between editorial and commercial teams which sometimes exists at publishers, giving editorial staff a good incentive to add video content to their written articles.
Sandro Del-Grosso, head of digital partnerships at ESI Media, said the fact that the video content adds substantial value to the publisher’s written articles is a key selling point for Dugout. “At a time where there is an over-supply of video content and sources competing for attention; Dugouts content is refreshingly original, engaging and provides a huge back catalogue of content that is often not available elsewhere,” he said. “This helps editors find content that drives engagement and value to our users.”
Dugout’s Gray says that football in particular lends itself well to video content. Football fans often treat knowledge as a currency, and pride themselves on their deep understanding of their clubs, their history, and their tactical understanding.
“So what we see is when our publishers are writing these deep editorial pieces, they often want to reference a specific moment in a game,” said Gray. “And they could get an image to visually demonstrate their point, but with video they can show the actual moment.”
David Leonor, editorial project manager at Le Figaro-owned sports publisher Sport24 agreed that actual football footage helps flesh out Sport24’s articles. “Dugout’s content gives us the opportunity to offer our users something they’ve been asking us for a very long time, but we couldn’t provide until now : real match footage,” he said. “This is a major uplift for us, and it would be for any sports website. We believe that offering more and more videos to our users might change the way we cover sports, and football in particular.”
But Gray added that making their product easy to integrate and simple for publishers to use was also important, especially since not all publishers are looking for specific content to work as part of the article itself. “The CMS we built is very functional, effectively it’s a simple WordPress CMS connected to JW Player that lets you search and find videos under your personalised account, or filter by clubs and players and league. And then you just pick out an embed code and you can drop it on your site.”
“We say our product is like Ronseal, it does exactly what it says on the tin,” he added. “We wanted to build something that was very simple to use, but efficient and over time develop improvements in conjunction with our publisher needs. So we work with JW Player, and one of the reasons we selected them as our video supplier was because of how quickly they can deliver video content to the consumer, in terms of loading the video player and starting the video.”
Dugout currently works with over 75 publishers, and says it delivered over 1.89 billion views last year. It’s focuses now are to continue expanding its relationships with publishers, and bringing new football clubs on board – the company added it’s 100th football club just last week.
And Gray believes that many current trends in digital publishing are working in the company’s favour.
“GDPR, CCPA and other regulations have come in around data use, we’ve had things like ads.txt, sellers.json and most recently the loss of third party cookies be announced. Dugout is a young, dynamic company, without legacy infrastructure so is rapidly future proofing its business by investing in data, consumption patterns, AI, ML and the application of these technologies to deeper understand fans and the CRM opportunity for our ecosystem of Clubs and Publishers” said Gray..
“So we’ve potentially been on the right side of those changes, with more focus now on engagement and quality of content,” he added. “That’s been our focus from the start, we’ve always believed that we’re buying people’s time, so for them to watch an ad or for any time they give is, we have to give them something compelling in return.”