Sports Fans Going With the ‘Flo’

Despite their own challenges, networks such as ESPN and FS1 still dominate the mainstream TV sports scene. But a new wave of over-the-top-driven sports services continue to cut in on how consumers, including younger ones, get their fix of events and sports they are especially passionate about.

Among that group is FloSports, a digital-only service that delivers a live and on-demand lineup that caters to more than 20 sports that have rabid followings, such as wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, jujitsu, softball, cheer, climbing, rodeo and track.

FloSports isn’t a startup: It launched in 2006 and now has about 240 employees. It tweaked its business model about four years ago, though, moving to a hybrid by delivering a sizable portion of its fare under a free, ad-based approach alongside a premium-level subscription offering that runs about $150 per year.

FloSports’s strategy has gotten some footing, and it surpassed 150,000 subscribers after adding some 60,000 paying fans over a record first quarter. FloSports raised a $21 million “B” round last fall (backers includes Discovery Communications and WWE) and has seen its social media following grow to about 2.2 million while attracting advertisers such as Quicken Loans and T-Mobile.

Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner spoke with FloSports cofounder and CEO Martin Floreani, a former college wrestler who started the company in part to give the sport more TV coverage, about its strategies and plans.

NTV: Get us up to speed on your programming strategy to stand apart in a massive OTT market.
Martin Floreani:
The first thing to note about us is that we are 100% digital and our only focus is on transforming sports media.

We also build great relationships with event rights-holders because we do two things for them — we make them more money and we build them more media equity into their events, and we do this at scale. When I say media equity, I mean we’re building more awareness, and that awareness translates into more economics around their events.

And because we have a direct-to-consumer product, we have access to way more data. We have a culture that is absolutely obsessed with testing and rapidly innovating to provide the best possible experience for our users.

NTV: OTT tends to skew young, but sports is a big market. Who is your audience? How big is it?
We just completed our best quarter ever. From a macro view, today we’re growing at a faster rate and a bigger number than ever before. In Q1, we had more than 58,000 new subscriptions. That said, 80% of our content is free, so we have tens of millions of fans that come to engage for free.

Our subscriptions are really driven by the growing fan base of the individual sports that we’re in. Each sport gives us a different view, but when you add them all together, we’re creating a massive global audience of highly passionate and engaged fans.

NTV: How many sports are you covering now?
We are in about two dozen sports and we’re averaging about one per month that we’re adding new. We’ll be at around 30 by the end of the year. We’re growing our existing sports and adding new sports that are getting a lot of traction fast. That’s why we’re so bullish about our growth speeding up.

NTV: Talk a bit about how you produce an event in terms of the crew and how the event is covered and then distributed live and also on-demand.
We really specialize in executing live video production. We can help event rightsholders deal with those logistics in terms of [producing] a live production. We take that off their hands and have a very fluid process that we’ve created over the past several years that allows us to add more events and do it in a seamless fashion.

NTV: When you produce a live event, do you send a big crew there? How do you cover it?
We have an internal logistics process that has been developed over the past several years that dynamically stores equipment all across the country. We have producers that work in-house that work with contractors across the country.

What we’re seeing is that experience is king. It’s not just about producing that content at each event, but about providing a great, magical experience for our users. Experience is really made up of three things — it is the content, but it’s also the distribution and how [viewers] receive that content linear or on-demand, and then there’s the brand. Our approach to content is to cover sports with more depth and authenticity than anyone else.

Traditional sports media covers sports in a way that is a mile wide and an inch deep, and, frankly, it just doesn’t work. We align with people’s passions, so that means coverage that is an inch wide and a mile deep.

NTV: One thing we’ve learned about OTT services is that this is more than just supplying video and content to stay connected to one’s audience. How important is the community aspect to what you’re doing?
To me, it’s huge. The way we connect to community is we create content for the top 1% of the community, the most rabid, most passionate fans. We’re constantly striving to create content that they love. We really talk up to our audience.

NTV: What platforms are you supporting now and what’s on the horizon?
Our most popular platform is Web. We also offer [the service] on Apple TV and Roku, and later this year we’ll be rolling out our dedicated mobile app.

NTV: Do you have any interest or plans to integrate your programming on MVPD platforms as cable operators and other pay TV providers continue to embrace OTT and offer that kind of content alongside their regular TV lineup?
We will continue to embrace over-the-top. If that means integrating our content into traditional linear stations, the answer is unequivocally no. We’re 100% direct to consumer today, and plan to stay that way.

We fundamentally believe that the traditional cable model is broken and it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense to a lot of consumers and it’s simply not how people want to watch. We’re focused on transforming that [experience] for sports media and delivering fans deep coverage of the sports they love.