TV and Web: New Opportunities for Futsal – The Italian Experiment

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World TV entertainment is changing. Digital devices and web contents are the main competitors for traditional TV. Netflix was the first one to come with films and TV series, but now we can also watch sports events. Can futsal take an advantage from these new opportunities and get the development and visibility it deserves? To answer that question, let’s analyze an interesting experiment that took place in the Italian league.

TV: an obsolete machine?

TV is a machine that has a place in most European homes. Through it, thanks to the digital evolution in the last few years, we can watch all major sporting events. Among them, we can also find futsal. Treated with disregard and superficiality by the same executives that should invest on its development, our beloved sport finds its place in the chance to improve its well deserved visibility.

Continuous technological innovation, nevertheless, could change the rules of the game. That’s right, because TV does not seem enough: not everyone can afford it, and there are also people (not few) that prefer to buy a computer or a smartphone rather than a last generation TV. To adapt to that increasing multimediality, federations of the most followed sports have moved their contents to more affordable platforms. That is why smartphone and tablet apps, as well as new dedicated sections in the most popular social networks, have born: Facebook Watch will air live games from next MLB season, YouTube TV is the official channel of Los Angeles FC (new MLS franchise), while the golf’s PGA Tour is available live on Twitter Sports.

In July 2018, DAZN platform started operating in Italy, defined as the <<the Netflix of football>> from day one by journalsts, with games from Serie A and B. Although this first year has been quite negative because of various problems in connection and sync for customers, the experiment will be repeated, as it looks like it’s the only possible path to follow in the future.

The Italian experiment

What about futsal? During this year, in Spain, the LNFS has divided the broadcasts among the app LaLiga4Sports, state TV (Teledeporte) and some local channels (IB3, Esport3, etc.). In Italy, the president Andrea Montemurro wanted to take advantage of digital innovation as a response to the lack of accessibility among the main sport channels. What can you do to improve the visibility of one of the most important leagues in Europe?

Montemurro came up with an idea that, for the moment, could be revolutionaty: first national division, live exclusively… on Facebook. From this intuition, PMG Sport Futsal was born, a Facebook page that airs every game for each one of the 12 teams in Serie A. Despite an uncertain start because of connection problems in the first broadcasts, the data of the season that have been collected (available in the Appendix: Data section at the end of this article) reflect an unpredictable success. A winning bet made by the transalpine president, that also got the interest from some TV channels and brought to agreements and to placement in mass media that had never been seen before. Down below, we show you the analisys of that data.

Acqua&Sapone & Pesaro in the final of Coppa Italia 2018
(image: divisionecalcioa5.it)
A season between TV and Facebook

Generally, in futsal more than in football, the main events are the cups because of their weekly format and the uniqueness of the competition. The Coppa Italia always attracts thousands of fans in the most prestigious arenas of the country. A singularity of the Italian national cup is how close many categories are. The male, female and U-19 competitions usually are played in close dates and in distant places. This year, the three of them were played in the same weekend and shared four cities and stadiums: while semifinals and finals were played in Faenza’s PalaCattani, quarterfinals were played among PalaBigi of Reggio Emilia and the two PalaSport of Loiano and Cavezzo.

In addition to a completely full arena for the finals, there was a live broadcast by Sky Sport Uno for the semifinals and final of the male tournament. Of course, not every Italian fan could use satellite TV to watch the games. How did they solve the problem and get everyone to enjoy the show of the finals?

Here is where PMG Sport Futsal come into play: as in the Serie A season, the Facebook page shared the whole female and U-19 tournament and the male quarterfinals.

Competing against a broadcasting giant is not easy, particularly for the lack of economical and technical resources. However, the analized data show a different story. Although the average audience from 8 to 10 PM is (for now) impossible to reach (a culture of futsal as a sport by itself is still missing), the number of viewers (around 60.000) that watched the final game between Acqua&Sapone and Pesaro outnumbered the average in March 2019 in the same time and channel (about 50.000) and the average in the same time of the broadcast of the game of Sky Sport 24 (36.000 more or less).

Kick Off of Milán won the Coppa Italia 2019 of female futsal
(image: divisionecalcioa5.it)

However, the surprise is another: the rerun of the final on PMG Sport Futsal from 10 PM to 12 AM reached 64.677 viewers, more than Sky Sport Uno’s live coverage, as well as Sky Sport Serie A’s (23.925) and RaiSport’s (42.373). The other cup games available live on Facebook also got very good results, with an average 25.354 viewers for the male competition, 14.528 for the female and 15.262 for the U-19.

Attention and interest by PMG Sport in guaranteeing visibility to one of the most practiced sports in Italy has no match: in addition to the Serie A games, the Coppa della Divisione games, Supercoppa and the adventure of Acqua&Sapone in the Elite Round of the UEFA Futsal Champions League could be seen on that Facebook page. To the 11.332 viewers for the European competition and the 12.204 for the third national tournament, 12.366 are added for the SuperCoppa between Acqua&Sapone and Napoli.

As for the Serie A, the 12 teams got a total of a million fans in social networks, with an average of 7.771 users watching each game. These are poor data if we compare them to what TV gets every month, but they are promising, considering that it is the first year of the platform. The Scudetto playoffs, the final stage of the league, are getting 13.000 viewers only in Facebook, without counting or comparing to audiences in Sky Sport (numbers that, at this moment, cannot be quantified).

Andrea Montemurro considers himself satisfied with the job done by his team, giving a new life to a sport that in Italy was more and more ignored. <<we are a sport that exists, with its identity and dignity and, thanks to the cooperation with PMG Sport and the birth of PMG Sport Futsal, our discipline is projected into future. Numbers prove us right and encourage us to improve the quality of our services>>.

Future expectations

From a TV to many TVs, through new technologies. In a very short amount of time, the number of ways to watch a sports event and other content (like documentaries) have risen a lot.

Andrea Montemurro, president of the Divisione Calcio a 5

What will the next step be? People predict that sport, unarguable king of worldwide TV, would decide to switch from the screen of a TV to the screen of a computer also in Europe. From the cathode ray tube to the broadband. This framework is taking shape in the USA, where the professional leagues are starting to become <<independent>> in the promotion of their events.

Contents, games or seasons are not sold to TV networks, but users click directly on the webpage of their favourite sport league. Any enterprise that owns its own image rights can do it. Basketball and football leagues could air their games right in their web page. The leagues, of course, need a huge return of investment in publicity to start rejecting offers from TV networks. An objective that is quite difficult to reach for the main events, at least, in the short term.

<<Independence>> potential

Given futsal’s growing popularity in countries like Italy, where football is the bully, and considering the difficulties of selling the <<product>> to the traditional broadcasters, it is highly necessary to assess and watch the rising market: the one of producing and spreading sport events in an <<independent>> way. A new scenario where federations, clubs and players would not have to ask for permission to be part of a broadcast, selling themselves to the best offer available, but where they would be the main characters of their sport. This will lead into selling the sport directly on the internet and to guarantee a direct income to all the agents in the sport.

There are, of course, some limits that the market could impose, such as international dispositions or the enormous economical interests at stake. Naturally, possibilities of success for this kind of broadcast is intimally related to the spread of advanced hardware and the expansion of broadband network. Once these requirements are fulfilled, it would be necessary to identify which ways are the best to convince fans to leave their subscriptions to satellite broadcasts to join the web platforms.

The primary objective is to widen horizons and set the bases to the creation of a new business in media. In a virtual place, a wonderful sport, like futsal is, can dictate and create the rules. We, fans, only have to wait and dream about it.

Appendix: Data
1- Views for Cup games aired on Facebook by PMG Sport Futsal
2- Views for Serie A (regular season) games aired on Facebook by PMG Sport Futsal

Main Image: Getty Images/UEFA

Author: Valerio Scalabrelli (Twitter: @ScalabroFS)

Translation into English: Rubén Robles Alonso (in Twitter: @MrRobles21)

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