Reindorf’s Stadium to Relaunch as Live Interactive Channel
Reindorf’s Stadium to Relaunch as Live Interactive Channel
Jerry Reinsdorf’s Silver Chalice Ventures reacquired majority control of Stadium from Sinclair Broadcast Group (NASDAQ: SBGI) in May, and subsequently inked a multifaceted deal with Bally’s Corp (think: technology, content, distribution) that is expected to expedite the pursuit of its forward vision.
The company believes fans will pay for two or three Pay TV services, which will have most of the premium content they desire, and seek out an adjacent ad-supported solution for the remainder of the sports-related programming they will watch.
“We still think there is an opportunity to deliver something the industry needs in the core free space that supplements what people pay for,” Jason Coyle (president, Stadium) said.
He is referring to a high-end social and interactive sports viewing experience that rewards viewers for their participation and serves as the default home for fans and creators alike.
“This is how a franchise or network ultimately owns its audience instead of leasing the audience, which is the current linear RSN model,” Brooks Boyer (CEO, Silver Chalice Ventures) said.
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Stadium was amongst the first sports-centric FAST channels. The network launched as a JV between SBGI, Silver Chalice and 120 Sports back in 2017. SBGI increased its stake in Stadium in 2019 as a means of beefing up its programming slate on the collective of regional sports networks it had acquired earlier that year.
That should have meant increased exposure for the upstart digital channel.
But “the thesis was interrupted early on with COVID, and the fact we were separately capitalized; Stadium [was] under SBGI, the RSNs were under Diamond Sports Group,” Coyle said.
Once Diamond's finances came under pressure, Stadium’s role largely became to deliver as much value as possible to the RSNs and the company at large. Over time, fewer resources were dedicated to Stadium’s efforts, and portions of its team were integrated into the larger operation.
But Silver Chalice’s core thesis for a reimagined FAST experience remains.
“The sports media industry is currently challenged. It is punishingly expensive for the fans who make the whole thing go,” Coyle said. “Not just to go to a game, but to buy the bundle, local RSNs, DAZN, Apple TV+ [and every other media service with live game content].”
So, the Chicago based firm reacquired control of Stadium.
“We think with being appropriately capitalized, a good vision, and focus, we have a real shot, including being a solution for professional sports franchises finding themselves in a pinch with the evolving RSN landscape,” Coyle said.
Silver Chalice has spent the last six months rebuilding Stadium’s sales and marketing teams, negotiating distribution, and beefing up its live programming slate.
“We went from having one hour of live daily [content] to six. We’ll be at 12 [hours/day] by the end of the year,” Coyle said.
The goal is to deliver a 24-hour live viewing experience by this time next year.
“The value proposition is whenever you want to get caught up on information, or engage with live [sports content], Stadium is always going to be there,” Coyle said.
The FAST network plans to offer up a mix of ‘full stage’ content, talk shows, partner programming (think: Foul Territory, You Better You Bet, Field of 68), and sporting events.
“We’re back in the market for those live rights,” Coyle said.
But the revamped channel won’t look –or feel– anything like traditional television. The company is combining high quality video with interactive digital and social elements to create an original media viewing experience.
“Something that doesn’t exist right now. Something that is beyond television. Beyond FAST,” Coyle said. “FAST [as it currently exists] is just not a good enough business.”
The reporting remains subpar relative to linear television, and the digital channels do not own the viewer data collected (the platforms do).
Stadium’s offering is meant to be data –and creator– centric.
“You know what [the viewing experience is] supposed to [be] like. It’s not just one-way watching where you cannot participate, where there is no community,” Coyle said.
The FAST channel now has QR codes displayed on screen throughout each of its shows. The interactive links take viewers to a website (soon it will be to a revamped app) that enables inline interactivity (think: users can vote in polls, comment, chat with friends, join live programming via video calls and the graphics on screen update in real-time).
“That’s just scratching the surface in terms of the interactivity we’re going for [too],” Coyle said. “One of the things that has [emerged] in the last ten years, that is mouthwatering for an opportunity, is the scaled creator community. There are so many sports fans who just want to contribute, and there’s no place [for them] to go.”
Stadium wants to become that destination and is enticing creators to participate by rewarding them for their loyalty, avidity, and engagement.
“One of the prizes for fan creators will be a full-time job offer to move to Chicago and work in sports media on our team. Another prize will be [to award a consistently strong contributor with his or her] own show,” Coyle said.
Lower tier rewards will include exclusive merchandise, memorabilia (keep reading), and live experiences.
In theory, Stadium’s interactive rewards model should serve as a marketing vehicle that attracts fans and gets them to willingly give up their contact information.
“Having a scaled, on-platform user audience with a first party data relationship changes everything,” Coyle said. “Because over time, you can introduce supplemental non-media revenue streams –like commerce– and easily transact without leaving the media experience.”
Stadium has built an e-commerce platform to run ‘in-line’ with its programming. There are no delusions of becoming the next Fanatics. However, the company believes it can create and sell a few exclusive items during each of its shows and use those revenues to entice talent.
“And on top of that we will keep x number of the custom merchandise units to give away to our viewers as prizes as part of the rewards ecosystem,” Coyle said. “So, [the model] just aligns [all] selfish best interests.”
Stadium can, however, envision a lucrative affiliate business emerging if the platform reaches scale (think: streaming providers, sports betting operators).
“If we get the momentum and become the default home for core sports fans, and the social media home for sports creators and the people who want to follow them, there’s really no capping what can happen,” Coyle said.
While not the catalyst for the re-acquisition, Stadium should serve as a hedge for Reinsdorf in upcoming media rights negotiations. His teams’ existing RSN deals with Comcast expire next September. The digital platform gives him a place to broadcast Bulls and Blackhawks games in the event a new agreement is not reached. Stadium could also supplement a new RSN deal.
Moving some games to FAST would create “goodwill for the fans [of Chicago], after years of not seeing free games,” Coyle said. It’s also “a good reach vehicle, great promotion to your paid network and direct-to-consumer, and a [savvy] way to expand your advertising footprint.”
Remember, the Stadium studio and control rooms are already located inside the atrium adjoining the United Center, and its staff has produced thousands of live sporting events.
But Stadium isn’t just a potential part of the distribution solution for the local Chicago clubs.
The FAST network “is well positioned to play an important role for rights holders across the country seeking a modern, multiplatform distribution strategy,” Soo Kim (chairman, Bally’s Corporation) said.
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