An interview with Sarah Milburn, Head of Tennis DAZN, OTT Sports Streaming and Head of Production WTA Media, the home of women’s tennis globally.
London, UK – January 12, 2021 When Fifa shared some record breaking statistics, including 433 million views, 82 million video views and 2 million new followers, Imagen was inspired to interview some of the key professionals working in women’s sports to see what they perceived as the key drivers fuelling this growth. Since the publication of that report, it’s clear that a lot has happened to disrupt the industry. Sadly, we’re not pointing to any trailblazing innovators, but instead a trailblazing virus that abruptly halted all live sports events. In light of that we’re keen to explore what this means to sports fans and to broadcasters: from challenges to tackle, trends in the new play book and even opportunities to score in a new socially-distanced world.
As part of a follow-up series to this report, we’re asking industry leaders in the world of women’s sports what their experience has been since the ban on live events, what trends they’ve seen and how they’ve been adapting their use of content and content management technology for fan engagement.
Sarah Milburn, Head of Tennis DAZN, OTT Sports Streaming and Head of Production WTA Media, the home of women’s tennis globally, talks candidly about the challenges faced in 2020 propelling women’s sports. WTA Media is attached to DAZN, selling international rights to sports footage – mainly combat sports – to linear broadcasters, and the newly created media hub is set to propel combat sports to reach a new audience. While the challenges are too big not to acknowledge, Sarah hopes it’s the opportunities born from adversity that will be the legacy of this year and will pave the way for others to follow suit.
The reality of Covid-19 has been the human impact, often limited, reduced resources and practical challenges to working together in teams. How has the WTA been affected?
With many of the team on furlough, the team was drastically reduced. This is where the intuitiveness of the technology we relied on was really tested. It’s really just been a few other line managers and myself. Like the majority of sports and media organisations, before we could look forward we needed to ensure we were still standing; we went into survival mode.
Find out more about how how the DAZN and WTA adapted to the technical broadcasting and content management challenges of Covid-19 here.
How did you go about filling the gap in content, despite the cancellation of live events?
Whilst we’d used Imagen’s platform as our hub for securely storing and accessing both live and archived content previously, now more than ever we needed to understand how to rely on the portal to use archived content to engage with fans. With only a few team members not furloughed, and all of us working remotely from home, we were able to edit directly without the support of post production staff thanks to the technology we already had in place. It meant that we were able to keep the bare bones, at least, of the content machine running. For example, to fill the gap in the schedule of the live events that were planned to take place, we relied on the archived content in the hub.
To create new content we used our access to players; it’s something we definitely continue to do more of as live events and audiences make a return. We used zoom to talk to players about their favourite matches, their insights and more. We’d often wrap around new original content with archived content to create longer form features, which has worked well.
How have you found the impact of Covid-19 impact women’s sports in particular?
There has definitely been a sense of frustration that the heightened appetite for live women’s sport simply doesn’t appear to be acknowledged. When live matches did start to make a return, there was no coverage on the news so many fans simply weren’t aware of its return. Traditional broadcasters didn’t seem to acknowledge the comeback of women’s sports post Covid-19 immediately but, since the first few weeks of the tour re-starting, audience figures were up and engagement across media has risen, which is great to see. It’s possible that there was just a lot of trepidation and hesitation over committing to the live events at first. The industry didn’t want to celebrate its return if it was too short lived, but to have been able to run successful events and broadcast them for the last four months has been an incredible achievement by everyone at the WTA.
Are there any opportunities for women in sport that have arisen, since the overturn of the typical status quo?
Women’s sports has always had to look for alternative routes to reach a wider audience, so with any disruption comes opportunity and women’s sports have been flexing their muscles in innovation since we first elbowed our way in. If leaders in women’s sports weren’t tenacious, the WTA wouldn’t exist.
Overall, however, tennis has led the way in equality in sports, so we haven’t seen much of a difference in the repercussions of covid’s cancellation of live events. In comparison to football, where funding is fundamentally biased towards men’s football – where men’s football is positioned as the generic norm – women’s tennis benefits from relatively even support. The appetite for women’s sports has continued to grow and, although there’s been a gap since the first lockdown in the mainstream broadcasting schedules, we expect this growth will whet the appetites of broadcasters and investors.
The way we watch tennis has fundamentally shifted since the pandemic, Traditionally, tennis’s audience has been women between the ages of 40 and 65, but the shift to online viewing has shifted the viewing age down so we’re now engaging with a younger audience and, hopefully, inviting the next generation of fans to the sport. It’s now easier than ever to watch on a second screen from the home office while people work remotely from their home offices/ kitchen tables or sheds, so watch time will likely increase. The only caveat is whether or not live events will continue to take place!
Imagen is an intuitive video management platform that enables sports organisations, media companies and enterprise organisations to intelligently manage their video content with enhanced functionality, control and insight. Imagen is being used by global organisations to manage and distribute their expanding video and media libraries, enabling fast, easy, secure and controlled access to content through its highly customisable platform.
Imagen’s customers include Major League Baseball, William Morris Beverly Hills, the English Premier League, Women’s Tennis Association, Reuters, BBC and IMG. Find out more here.