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Spanning the Live World of Sports

Eleven Sports, a U.K.-based sports network with operations in Europe and Asia, snapped up the distribution rights of troubled One World Sports, giving the channel access to 50 million U.S. homes through carriage agreements with Verizon Communications, AT&T, Charter Communications and others. The network, launched in 2015 by Italian financier Andrea Radrizzani, has made a splash overseas by offering big games (English Premier League and Bundesliga soccer, Formula One Racing) in small markets. Now it faces its biggest challenge yet — cracking the already crowded U.S. sports market with a mixture of niche, mainstream and nontraditional sports targeted at a millennial audience.

Eleven recently landed a deal for exclusive coverage of the Emirates Airlines T20 Cricket Tournament in the U.S., with more expected to come. Multichannel News senior finance editor Mike Farrell spoke with Anthony Bailey, senior vice president of Eleven Sports parent Aser Media and a former VP in ESPN’s Emerging Technology Group, about what brought the network to U.S. shores and its plans for the future. An edited transcript follows.

MCN:How did One World Sports catch your eye?
Anthony Bailey: Eleven has been looking to come in to the U.S. for over a year now and the plan was to do it on its own. When One World Sports showed up, the decision would be it would jump-start by us buying their distribution rights. The only thing we bought from One World Sports was their distribution rights agreements. Everything else we’ve been doing, we’ve done on our own. But getting the distribution that they had would take some time to get. It really jump-started us.

MCN:So you’re not taking on any former OWS employees or freelancers?
AB: No. This was a total asset purchase and the only assets we bought were the distribution deals.

MCN:Do you already have an employee base in the U.S., or is this something you’re trying to build up?
AB: We’re building it up as we speak. Right now, we’re using a lot of freelancers that we know here and are hopefully going to be announcing some key hires relatively shortly. But for the time being, we haven’t charted with full-timers yet.

MCN:What is the plan? What kind of programming do you have? What’s the focus?
AB: The plan has always been — when we looked to come into the U.S. — to serve the underserved. There are some niche sports we feel other guys don’t really serve. The other plan is to be youthful. You won’t see any debate on our network. We’re going to be about live sports, we’re going to be about the fan. You may actually see a six-minute show on our air, compared to a 30-minute show. We’re going to go out and get the best content that we can and deliver the sports millennials want and deliver it the way millennials want to see it. We’re out there now doing deals, we have some already; we have some MMA, boxing, soccer club stuff. We’re in the middle of signing some deals that will have a focus around the millennial.

MCN:Given the focus on millennials, are you going to concentrate on mobile delivery and OTT, the methods they usually use to watch TV?
AB: We’re working with some OTT partners who already have reach to deliver our content and we’re working with the MSOs on their OTT plans. We will definitely have mobile covered. We’re working with somebody and we’re hoping to make an announcement soon on a mobile initiative. It’s all about giving the fan the ability to get the content they want. It doesn’t even have to be a game that we have, if we can deliver other types of content around the game, that’s going to be our goal.

MCN:So is the focus going to be on live games or analysis?
AB: Live, live, live. There’s something live going on all the time that we can show in its entirety or have fun with it. There are certain sports from overseas that people here would find interesting, but poke fun at. We’re not too full of ourselves that we can’t give the millennial some ability to have fun with some content coming in.

MCN:Can you give me an example?
AB: There are sports that are big all around, like darts. I’m not sure too many people here would find it riveting enough to watch from beginning to end. But if we break it down in a way that is unique for the fan, and that they can be part of the conversation that they would come back in and watch it over and over again; that would be our goal.

MCN:So what is on the air now?
AB: The content that we have up there right now is the content that we acquired prior to closing. We have some MMA, some boxing, we have some [English Premier League team] Arsenal content up there. We have some [Atlantic Coast Conference] basketball documentaries that we purchased. We’re trying to focus on stuff that is relevant for this time of the year and start building out. We started live this week with some hockey and we’ll have some volleyball, some basketball from overseas. We’re going to start programming it with live content starting now.

MCN:A lot of that is coming from the rights you have at your overseas network?
AB: Yes. We’re working together. Of course you have to acquire new territory rights, but we’re working together with our brands across the world.

MCN:Does Eleven still has a relationship with sports rights agency MP & Silva?
AB: Our founder Andrea [Radrizzani] is still part of the board of MP & Silva; he helped start it. We have a very close relationship with MP & Silva but we have been working with other rightsholders to get some good content.

MCN:A lot of sports networks have seen subscribers dwindle and ESPN plans to use rights for sports it can’t monetize on the linear network for a direct-to-consumer offering. Is that encouraging to you?
AB: That’s what we’ve been looking at for the past couple of years. We believe you can build a business around that around the world. You have to keep your cost base down, which is something we’re very focused on, and be able to deliver good content to people when they want it, how they want it and where they want it. Seeing what the other guys are going through right now makes us excited about where we could be.