Blood, sweat and tears
Emotion is just the ticket for Eurosport: Eurosport’s reach may extend further than any other pan-European TV channel, but chief executive Laurent-Eric Le Lay wants to add emotion to its mix in the run-up to London 2012.
For sheer reach, few television channels extend anything like as far as Eurosport. It is watched in 123 million homes across 59 countries. Indeed, Eurosport has had more viewers than any other pan-European channel in each of the last 14 years.
With 13.2 million people watching every week, it leads its nearest competitor, MTV, by more than 1 million.
According to Eurosport chief executive Laurent-Eric Le Lay, the brand benefits from the pervasive and perennial appeal of sport among Europeans. It is an arena where they share more in common than in any other aspect of culture, he claims: emotion and passion.
“All Europeans share the same passion for sports, even if you have some differences country by country. For many sports events we have this kind of European culture that helps us to market the concept of Eurosport all over the Continent.”
For us the atmosphere around sport, and Eurosport, is emotion. We would like to take advantage of that, and try to make our on-air look play on the concept of emotion
To build on these impressive figures and further develop the Eurosport brand, Le Lay has a strategy. “As a channel that broadcasts 120 sports, Eurosport has two goals,” he explains. “The first is to have more people watching Eurosport, but for that to happen we have to market every sport we broadcast. We are also trying to broadcast more live sport because that will always create an emotion.”
But when the audience is so broad-based and the broadcast content so diverse, creating an emotional connection is a tricky task, even if sport is perhaps one of the easier ways to achieve it.
Eurosport’s channels have common feeds across a large number of countries, and commentary in 20 different languages is often added in studios remote from the event itself. As a result, there is a danger of making the action seem remote to the viewer. Similarly, one consequence of making the on-air branding uniform across all markets is that it might appear corporate or uninspiring - not especially suited to any of its markets, but instead a European import into all of them.
The channel has developed new idents to be shown between programmes in an attempt to dispel any such negative perceptions. These idents, which will make their debut on 4 April, will depict the viewer within the action, with each execution designed to evoke a specific feeling associated with sport, such as surprise, anger or joy. The Eurosport logo has also been tweaked and updated.
Le Lay explains: “The logo is so well known all over Europe that the concept of changing everything was not the best idea. The idea was to modernise it a little bit, and also to create a different atmosphere. For us the atmosphere around sport, and Eurosport, is emotion.
“We would like to take advantage of that, and try to make our on-air look play on the concept of emotion. It plays on the fact that when you watch sport you are part of it, and this action transfers emotions.”
The London Olympics in 2012 offers Eurosport the ideal opportunity to discover whether its plans will bear fruit. Although the channel does not fight for the most expensive rights to cover the most popular competitions in each country, and it would not wrestle with Sky Sports to buy England’s top football, cricket or rugby matches, it does hold rights to the Olympic Games and will be the only commercial broadcaster in the UK to show London 2012 (see below).
Le Lay says: “Sky Sports positions itself as a pure premium channel. It is true that it broadcasts live premium sports like Premier League football, but that is not our strategy. We do not compete for these kinds of rights. Viewers in England know that they will not find the Premier League on Eurosport, but they will find a lot of other different sports.”
24-hour Olympic coverage
Eurosport might not compete with national broadcasters and premium channels for the rights to cover the biggest events in a given country, yet it does show one of the biggest worldwide - the Olympic Games. It was the first to broadcast the Olympics 24 hours a day, which it began doing in Barcelona in 1992. It will do the same at London 2012, and will be the only commercial broadcaster to show the pictures in the UK.
London 2012 has already caught the imagination of the British public, but although Eurosport has extensive experience of the Olympics and pan-European interests to serve, according to chief executive Laurent-Eric Le Lay the company has not become blasé about this quadrennial “fête du sport”.
“It is never just another Olympics,” he says. “It is always a very special moment, and our goal is always to do something new for each Olympic Games.”
A European Games always holds particular appeal for audiences on this side of the world, says Le Lay. One reason is that time differences will be smaller than when it is held on other continents, meaning viewers are able to see more of the events during the day. Eurosport’s approach to covering the Olympics is different from those of the national broadcasters within each country, he adds.
A channel like Eurosport is very important to the IOC because for many Olympic sports, Eurosport is the only channel that broadcasts their European and world championships
While the likes of the BBC will generally cover each sport from the angle of the national athletes, Eurosport covers the Games based on the event it has decided to feature. It means that if, for example, the channel decides to cover swimming, it will usually stick with that event whatever happens. A national channel, meanwhile, might change focus because an athlete of that nationality has a chance of a medal elsewhere. It gives Eurosport a point of difference that is of interest to both advertisers and viewers, Le Lay argues.
As an official broadcaster of London 2012, Eurosport will take advantage of its right to use its association with the Games in its own marketing. This will begin in the summer.
Le Lay says: “Of course we use the Olympic Games to promote the fact that the event is on Eurosport. The International Olympic Committee takes advantage of us also because we start our Olympics broadcasting before the Games begin. In the run-up to London 2012, we are going to make the swimming World Championships this summer part of our Olympics coverage. A channel like Eurosport is very important to the IOC because for many Olympic sports, Eurosport is the only channel that broadcasts their European and world championships.”
As many sponsors of the Olympics will already have discovered, the image of the Games is strictly controlled, both by the IOC and the organising committee of the host city - in London’s case, Locog. Le Lay admits that Eurosport has to work closely with these bodies and follow their lead when determining how the Olympic assets will be used in marketing, and how the Games itself is broadcast. He says this is understandable, however, and is one of the reasons the Olympic name retains its prestige.
“Every sport has values, and the Olympics, of course, has very strong values. But they deliver a very good product that is broadcast in HD, is very well produced and very professional with a lot of information. The Olympics is every four years, so the IOC and the Olympic organisers are right to want them to be perfect.”
It is principally its variety that gives Eurosport its unique selling point - one that is entirely different from either a premium sports channel or a national broadcaster like the BBC. Its programmes are unlikely to achieve the highest viewing figures at a given time in a given market, yet it is able to maintain a steady base of subscribers by showing competitions that cannot be watched anywhere else.
“It is our job to touch all these communities,” says Le Lay. “These communities love Eurosport because we are one of the few channels - sometimes the only channel - that broadcasts their sports. Some groups of enthusiasts can be smaller, but when you add up all the communities, it gives us a significant number of fans.”
As well as the main Eurosport channel, the group also broadcasts Eurosport 2, Eurosport HD and Eurosportnews. The number of paying subscribers to all the group’s channels increased by 5.6 million - or 7% - in 2010 compared with 2009, and subscription revenues rose by 16%.
Most of the growth is attributed to central and eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the newly served Asia-Pacific region.
However, the average programme audience decreased year on year, which was attributed to competition from other broadcasters during the FIFA World Cup.
Good news also came from advertising sales, which rose 11% in 2010 compared with 2009, contributing to operating profits of €60m for the company, which is part of the French media business TF1 Group. This is an increase of 42% year on year.
While these figures are partly the result of a recovery from the global financial crisis, they demonstrate that the Eurosport business model is a profitable one with scope for growth.
The evolution of Eurosport’s brand also carries into more tangible areas, notably its expansion across media platforms. On TV, this has included initial efforts at 3D broadcasting, where the channel created a 3D feed of the 2010 French Open tennis tournament that went live into 3,000 Panasonic stores. A wider roll-out of 3D technology is also planned, though Le Lay gives no time frame for this.
Eurosport’s online offerings are more mature, however. Since 2007, it has collaborated with Yahoo! to create a sports news site that combines the broadcaster’s content with the internet company’s technical expertise (see Q&A below).
As the web itself has evolved, so too has the site, according to Le Lay. “When we developed Eurosport.com, our goal was not to make an interactive version of the Eurosport channel,” he says. “It was to use the internet to create a new medium, based first on results, then on sports news and analysis, and now video.”
The video offering includes a subscription-based online streaming service, available on both web browsers and the Apple iPad. It is one more revenue stream Eurosport can develop in the future.
Though Le Lay claims it is not the reason for this service, in the long term it is possible that internet streaming could become a viable alternative to television channels. Le Lay, however, believes TV will remain the most important medium for Eurosport, and that it will not be replaced by any of its ancillary internet services. He says there is no effort to circumvent TV platforms and sell directly to consumers, only to give viewers more freedom to watch sport in a way that suits them. “Our job is to give more added value to our consumer year after year. It gives value to the brand. The brand of Eurosport is not only on TV now - it is a pure media sports brand for Europe.”
Le Lay will also use these new platforms to provide better targeting for advertisers. “New devices will bring us more distribution and advertising revenues. Advertisers will continue to be on the TV channel, but they love these kinds of new devices because you watch several times a day just to know what the score is at half-time and at the end of the game. For the advertisers, it is an additional opportunity to have access to their targets,” he states.
Fundamentally, Le Lay would like consumers to see Eurosport as a pan-European multimedia brand, and the broadcaster’s marketing is evolving accordingly.
It is not only happening in its branding, its adoption of new media and its moves into new world markets, it is also happening within the culture of the company, and Le Lay demands that his executives develop their skills along with the organisation (see Marketer to Marketer, below).
“Marketing is going to be more and more important. We started Eurosport by concentrating on the events we broadcast, and we have to continue to do that. But we have to take more and more care of the marketing side. We have to pay attention to our brand. We have to work on it, we have to stimulate it and we have to market it.”
CV: Laurent-Eric Le Lay
2006 Chairman and chief executive, Eurosport Group (to present)
2003 Managing director of broadcasting, Eurosport Group
2002 Deputy managing director, Eurosport France; and head of sports acquisitions, TF1 Group (to present)
1999 Head of internet development, Eurosport Group
1993 Joined the Eurosport Group. Created a sports rights sales agency and was responsible for the launch of the Spanish version of Eurosport TV
1990 Started his career at Carat TV
Marketing Week (MW): Most media companies suffered during the global financial crisis. How well have Eurosport’s finances held up?
Laurent-Eric Le Lay (LLL): In 2010 we had a good increase in advertising revenues, and have continued to increase our revenues on the distribution side. That growth is mainly in eastern Europe.
A financial crisis is never good and we experienced some difficulties on the advertising side, particularly in 2009, but that has now passed and the group is in a very good position.
We are all over Europe in different sports. We always have some good and bad financial news because the economic situation is never the same everywhere. For example, it is more difficult in Greece than it is in the UK. However, we are in a position to take advantage of the growing markets and that is what we have done.
MW: Since 2007, Eurosport’s online content has been provided through a website co-branded with Yahoo! What was the thinking behind this collaboration?
LLL: It is the meeting of a big internet portal, without specific expertise and know-how in sport, with a channel and brand in Eurosport that has a European expertise in sport. We decided to merge our expertise and offer pure but complete sports coverage on the internet in four markets - the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. We decided to have one common platform with the two brands, Yahoo! and Eurosport. Yahoo! does all the technical part and we do all the content.
MW: How is Eurosport’s marketing of its own products evolving to adapt to the concept of multimedia broadcasting, and how important is it to allow consumers to interact?
LLL: Marketing is something that is becoming more and more important because we are in a more competitive world; not only because now we have more than 200 TV channels everywhere in the world, but also because we have new media. You always need to have your logo and the marketing with it somewhere. It becomes more and more important but it is not only a question of money. The idea is to try and be creative.
Creating your own fan page on Facebook is a very efficient marketing tool. Brands all over the world have their own fan page.
We allow people throughout the world to pose questions to our commentators on a live basis through the internet. A stage of cycling is often three, four or five hours, so it gives us time to answer those queries. This is part of the marketing. When we develop a community online, we try to be creative.
MW: Eurosport broadcasts a large number of events that are not shown elsewhere, some of which have very specialist appeal. How does Eurosport market the events to increase its own audiences?
LLL: We have a lot of long-term partnerships with events that we broadcast on Eurosport. We market the fact that the event is broadcast on Eurosport, but the first aspect is to say that you are going to like this event. Even in winter sports, we are growing ski-jumping and biathlon in many countries. These sports were not well-known at the beginning. France used to be a country of alpine skiing.
Snooker is very popular all over Europe, and we have been the first to broadcast snooker all over the Continent. Events such as the Australian Open tennis tournament are very well-known because they are on Eurosport. When you broadcast 120 different sports, you have the capability to touch a lot of communities.
MW: What is the benefit to an advertiser of having its ad shown to the audiences of these niche sports and events?
LLL: When we broadcast sport, we broadcast some values as well. What is important to advertisers is that they have variety. They can broadcast an ad during an equestrian event; or when they want to be on winter sport, we have the capability to create something that connects with their values. When you buy Eurosport as an advertiser, you buy the channel, the ratings and the values.
Rob Reynolds, director of external relations at Bedales Schools, asks: What will be the key skills you will be looking for in Eurosport high-flyers in the next few years, and how can they be developed?
Laurent-Eric Le Lay (LLL): In marketing we have to know the basics, of course, and then we have to add something more, to add something new, to add something unique. To keep your creative energy, I think you have to open your mind. For example, when the iPad was launched a year ago, I offered an iPad to all of my executive committee.
It was not a gift. It was not to make them happy. It was a sign that I gave to them. I said: “Take this. Look at it. For me, it is going to be the future, so try to understand it. We will be obliged to be on that kind of platform.” I think it is my job to push them to go onto these new tools because the new generation is going to be born with them.
So you need to consider all the media. You need to be very flexible, you need to be reactive, you need to understand many different things. To continue to have good marketing, your brand has to be in different places. If you want to have access to this generation of digital natives you have to meet them, and to meet them you cannot only use your TV station. You have to go online, you have to be on the new devices, you have to be on Facebook, you have to be on Twitter.
Then you have to be trained in that because if you are not good the first time, young people will go somewhere else. You can destroy your brand very easily but to build it is always a long process.
Jan Kirstein, group project director at Regal Hotels International, asks: With such a wide audience, how do you market Eurosport and appeal to different cultures with the same product?
LLL: There are a lot of common things in the European culture, and sport is one of them. I do not want to say it is easy, but it is easier, because when you want to market a football game, everybody knows what football is. When you want to have a European TV concept, sport is probably one of the best themes - it is easier than news and even easier than music. What is the common music all over Europe? American music, maybe; not French music. It is the same in cinema.
Of course, in our marketing strategy we try to focus country by country with different angles, different spins. When we market the WTA tennis tour in Denmark we try to use the fact that [Danish player] Caroline Wozniacki is the number one, and she is a great player. It is easier to use Wozniacki in Denmark than in Spain. When we want to market in Spain, maybe we will use the Giro cycling tour with Alberto Contador. When we want to market the Australian Open tennis in Britain, we will use Andy Murray.