Tuesday 12 December 2017

Challenger Eir Sports brand nibbles away at the heels of its better-resourced competitors

Brian Quinn, operations director of Eir Sport, tells John McGee how the broadcaster is growing its customer base
Brian Quinn, operations director of Eir Sport
Brian Quinn, operations director of Eir Sport

John McGee

With the first anniversary of Eir's acquisition of Setanta Sports and its subsequent re-brand as Eir Sport approaching, the challenger broadcaster now has in excess of 200,000 customers signed up for its seven-channel line-up available across the Eir Vision TV Service, the Eir Sport app, Sky and on Vodafone TV.

As operations director with responsibility for marketing, Brian Quinn has played a key role in the development of the Setanta Sports brand, having spent nearly eight years as its marketing operations director and another three as its acquisitions director for Ireland and the UK. Prior to joining Setanta he was head of marketing communications for UPC. Following last year's acquisition of Setanta, he was appointed operations director of Eir Sport with overall responsibility for its marketing.

How has the acquisition of Setanta worked out for both companies?

"I'm very happy with how it's gone so far. It was always going to be an interesting project to put these two organisations together. They are two very different companies with two different cultures, but also two companies with complementary strengths to be leveraged. Looking back, it was a huge body of work to go from acquisition in April to a fully rebranded broadcaster in July and also launch the game-changing proposition of setting sport free.

"It's been good for both parties. It has enabled Eir to have a unique proposition but it has also given Eir Sport improved access to technology and resources that were beyond us as an owner-operated company. I'd also like to think that both companies are learning from each other.

"The Eir Sport culture has always been entrepreneurial and we have always been nimble to respond to market changes. Eir's scale, structure and platforms give us a different springboard to open up more opportunities. It's still early days as we are just nine months into the new brand, but I look forward to more developments off the back of the new relationship."

From a marketing perspective, what are the challenges you face?

"We mostly deal in 'live' content and thus some of the challenges that face other broadcasters are not as applicable to us. The vast majority of sports fans still prefer to watch live content, and social media supports live viewing. For now it is comforting to know that online viewing is supporting live sport and not cannibalising it. However, the habits of younger generations coming through may change that and we have to be ready to adapt.

"The connection with sports fans remains the most important facet for us. We can never lose sight of this and social media enables us to connect in so many powerful ways.

"In a relatively short space of time we have switched our approach so that we think social first and the more traditional media follows on from there. We are not at the stage yet where social/digital spend is ahead of our offline spend, but we are moving there. The main ethos of our social media approach is to be there at the key moments to enhance fans' enjoyment of the event."

As a challenger brand, how difficult is it to compete with bigger and better resourced companies like Sky?

"There's no denying it's a fiercely competitive market, but we are very clear on our business strategy and we know the type of content that appeals to our audiences. We have a great distribution deal with BT Sport which brings five channels to our pack, including the newly launched BoxNation channel. We also complement this UK and international content by investing more in Irish sport. We will broadcast 23 live Allianz League GAA games this year, including five triple-headers. It is difficult to see any other broadcaster committing like this. And it's not just GAA, our League of Ireland coverage, our schools rugby and our recent coverage of Dundalk's European adventure shows that we are very dedicated to Irish sport."

How has the advertising industry greeted the establishment of Eir Sport?

"The rebrand from Setanta to Eir Sport has gone very smoothly. Being a broadcaster and leveraging our strong social media following helped ease the transition. From an advertising perspective, being traditionally a premium TV operator, we have always worked off a small share. Audience numbers are not our key metric like many of the channels who trade advertising in this market. What we do offer is a relatively low-cost way of getting a brand into live sport that has a passionate following. Invariably our sport is consumed live, so fast-forwarding of ads doesn't affect our advertising clients as much as non-live TV. Sponsorship and direct sales have been strong for us since the launch."

In what direction is the sports content industry heading and what are the challenges and opportunities?

"The liberation of content is well under way and this throws up so many opportunities to more nimble platforms. Large operators may struggle with this as they try to protect traditional 'big screen' and set-top box viewing. Backing the right opportunities when you know the market is fragmenting is key. Audience measurement is also out of step with viewing habits in this market. Piracy is another challenge for all broadcasters, but particularly those who invest heavily in rights and production.

"It was a challenge faced by the music industry and whilst it hasn't gone away, it is clear that business models have adapted."

Sunday Indo Business

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