Industry Leaders Discuss Sports Consumption In a Changing Environment

The Future of Sports Consumption panel at the inaugural Wharton Sports Business Summit brought the leading minds in the industry together for an engaging hour-long discussion. From NFL and NBA executives to major advertisers and social media entrepreneurs, the panel delved into a wide range of issues including how to keep viewers tuned in to live sporting events, innovations in advertising, and how social media can complement traditional live television.


The mix of old and new media was on full display, as Zack Weiner C'14 (the co-founder of the highlight sharing app Overtime) and TJ Adeshola (Head of US League Partnerships, Twitter) rubbed shoulders with Bruce Lefkowitz C'87, the executive vice president at Fox. The panel was completed by two league executives, NBA SVP Melissa Brenner C'96 and NFL VP of Digital Media Business Development Blake Stuchin C'04.


All panelists agreed the media landscape has witnessed a dramatic shift during the last decade. Lefkowitz noted that “technology is the great democratizer,” and acknowledged the new advances have put more pressure on content to entice viewers. However, Lefkowitz said this new pressure was not necessarily negative, pointing out Twitter conversations help improve interest in live events. 


This sentiment was echoed by Adeshola, who views Twitter’s goal to be a complement to live television content, not a competitor. “We are not here to be a negative disruptor,” Adeshola said. “We take our partnerships [with sports leagues] very seriously.”


The changing nature of live sports was also a topic that elicited serious debate. Both the NFL and NBA are investigating ways to keep their broadcasts relevant and fresh in the digital era. 


Brenner discussed the NBA’s recent “mobile view” cameras, which allow fans watching on smartphones gain a clearer picture of the action. The NFL has started to install special event photographers that capture all aspects of games, especially those that can’t be shown during broadcast. Now fans can go on social media and glimpse pre-game tailgates and crowd reactions from celebrities and players’ family members. The intended effect, according to Stuchin, is to “inspire people on social media to turn on the TV.”


The NFL is also experimenting with streaming deals with non-traditional partners, such as Amazon and Twitter. But contrary to popular belief, fans “are not watching games on phones at the expense of TV,” Stuchin said. The NFL is still dominant, according to Stuchin, boasting “18 out of the top-20 watched shows.”
This dominance appeals to advertisers like Lefkowitz, who noted that even in a struggling television market, the NFL is relatively unscathed. “All broadcast viewership is down 15-20 percent,” Lefkowitz said. “The NFL is down 5 percent.”


Advertisers have had to adapt to the changing environment nonetheless, and Lefkowitz and Fox have recently rolled out new six second advertisements during major sporting events. These ads were debuted during the World Series and will be continued during Fox’s Thanksgiving NFL game. The new ads are a win-win according to Lefkowitz, as Fox makes money while commercial time is reduced for viewers.


In all, the sports consumption world is experiencing seismic shifts with exciting effects and constant innovation. Adeshola summed up the fast-paced nature of the industry succinctly. “The industry changes so much, we don’t necessarily have all the answers,” Adeshola said. “We test it out, and learn on a daily basis. That’s pretty damn fun.”


Max Cohen
USBC Journal Writer
Class of 2021