Discovery shows thirst for cycling and digital with Play Sports Group takeover
By Simon Ward
Discovery, the international media giant, has today stepped up its commitment to digital cycling content by acquiring a controlling stake in Play Sports Group, the UK-based company that operates various online channels dedicated to the sport.
Discovery, which already owns Eurosport, the pan-European sports broadcaster and the major home of top cycle racing, has increased its shareholding in Play Sports Group from 20 per cent to 71 per cent.
Under the deal, Play Sports Group, which now runs eight channels, including Global Cycling Network, Global Mountain Bike Network and Global Triathlon Network, providing insight on technology, training tips, tutorials and behind the scenes content, becomes a direct subsidiary of Discovery.
The offering will complement the live race coverage already available on Eurosport as Discovery looks to create what it claims will be the leading “cycling media ecosystem in the world,” combining community, content, lifestyle and events for fans of the sport, a global market valued at $50 billion.
Simon Wear, the founder and chief executive of Play Sports Group, and his team of 140, are joining what will be a new cycling-focused division at Discovery, which, through Eurosport, already holds rights to all three Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España), all five Monuments, the biggest one-day races, and the UCI World Championships.
Discovery first bought into Play Sports Group in February 2017, taking a seat on the board in the process, and contributing to a new round of funding, to which the established investor group also contributed.
Sameer Pabari, senior vice-president, business development at Eurosport who has been serving as a member of the executive board of Play Sports Group, told Sportcal: "This is really a continuation of that journey and ties into the vertical approach Discovery is taking to sport."
Last year, Play Sports Group launched five new international channels, multi-language versions, a consumer retail division and a fan club, and has been offering live racing via its YouTube channels and Facebook Watch. The range of channels now attract more than 45 million video views each month, and boast 5.7 million social followers and 3.1 million subscribers.
The platform initially launched, in the shape of Global Cycling Network, at the start of 2013, with the support of Shift Active Media, the UK-based specialist cycling media consultancy chaired by sports industry veteran Andrew Croker, and £1 million (now $1.27 million) in investment from Google.
Pabari said: "One of the nice things about this acquisition is that we've really got to know Simon and his team really well, and we're delighted that they're joining the [Discovery] family. The combination of our two businesses, and our two teams, is the best you will find in cycling."
In a statement, JB Perrette, president and chief executive of Discovery International, said: “This is another important step in Discovery’s strategy of being the global leader in brands and products that power people’s passions. I couldn’t be more excited to partner with Simon, a fantastic entrepreneur, and his terrific team to help turbo-charge the expansion and globalisation of the Play Sports Group.”
Wear added: “I am tremendously proud and excited for Play Sports Group to join the Discovery family. As a fan and community-focused business, we could not be more perfectly aligned with Discovery’s deep-rooted history in serving passionate, specialist audiences with super high-quality content.
“Since Discovery’s initial investment in PSG, we have worked closely with JB Perrette and his team and it has become increasingly clear that, as innovative direct-to-consumer businesses, we have a shared vision of how to super-serve fans’ ever-evolving needs. The combination of Discovery and Eurosport’s leading package of cycling rights, its resources, infrastructure and company philosophy, combined with Play Sports Group’s massive community of cycling fans means we have a phenomenal package. The opportunity to build a world class digital destination, in multiple languages, for cycling fans the world over is one that’s just too good to miss.”
Discovery’s additional investment in Play Sports Group forms part of a wider strategy to develop streaming services for sports with large followings.
This is demonstrated by the recent launch of GolfTV, a live and on-demand golf streaming service featuring events from USA’s PGA Tour, the European Tour and the Ladies European Tour that is intended to be the go-to digital destination for fans of the sport.
Eurosport and Eurosport Player, its direct-to-consumer OTT subscription service, already offer extensive coverage of major events including the Olympic Games, tennis’ four grand slams and men’s ATP Tour, various European soccer leagues, Six Nations rugby union, the FIS Ski World Championships, MotoGP and Formula E in various markets.
With the deal having only just been closed, plans for the future direction of Play Sports Group, including any increased Eurosport content on the channels, have still to be developed, with Pabari saying: "We're looking at that [extra content] and all sorts of other ideas... Now the hard work starts."
In the coming year, Eurosport will show more than 35 UCI World Tour events as part of a cycling output adding up to 200 days and 2,500 hours across its linear TV channels and Eurosport Player.
Pabari said: "One of the key things coursing through our organisation is serving the consumer so what we will be doing will be driven by consumer insight... The goal here is not just to take content from one place to another, but to create services and platforms to serve that community."
He added that increased digital investment, including the roll-out of GolfTV and takeover of Play Sports Group, formed part of "the process of Discovery becoming a next generation media company, while having the heritage of a broadcaster."