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Deals with European football quartet drive Twitch push into traditional sports

Twitch, the Amazon-owned online streaming platform primarily associated with esports, has made its most significant move yet in ‘traditional’ sports with the creation of a standalone sports vertical on the back of a quartet of content deals with leading European football clubs.

Buoyed by what it describes as “tremendous growth” in the viewing of sports content on its platform, Twitch today (Wednesday) introduced ‘Sports’ as its own category and relaunched the twitchsports channel.

Twitch recently agreed content deals with LaLiga side Real Madrid and English Premier League outfit Arsenal, with both teams establishing channels on the platform in a bid to tap into its powerful demographic.

These two deals have been supplemented by agreements with Serie A outfit Juventus and Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain.

Having signed content deals including advertising revenue share components, the clubs will produce exclusive and interactive content to be streamed on Twitch.

US-based rights-holders the NBA, NHL, women’s soccer’s NWSL and the UFC all have a presence on Twitch through their own standalone channels but Europe-based rights-holders have been slower to strike agreements with the platform.

Last year, the Rugby Football League became the UK’s first national governing body to stream matches live on Twitch. Formula One Management also experimented with the platform in a one-race deal to stream the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix in Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

However, the four content deals now in place with leading football clubs represent Twitch’s most significant move in the European sports sector.

Previously, the sports content was housed under the ‘Sports & Fitness’ category but will now be given much more prominence by Twitch, which has been monitoring the audience uplift in athlete-led, user-generated and live streaming sports content.

Each of the four clubs has a different content plan in place with the nature of the content provided dependent on broadcast rights restrictions and which content the club holds back for its own OTT service. This could, for instance, lead to clubs holding back live rights to a friendly or age-grade match to stream it behind a paywall on its own OTT platform and opt to showcase delayed coverage on the Twitch channel.

Unlike some club videos that are already offered on established social media platforms such as Facebook or YouTube, the content on the respective Twitch channels will include live production elements with a moderator fielding questions from fans (using Twitch’s live chat function) and putting questions to guests. This lends itself to so-called ‘Watchalong’ content, which itself has become popular during the Covid-19 shutdown with broadcasters, including UK pay-television broadcaster Sky, reverting to replays of matches with interactive commentary from guests.

The clubs will be responsible for the production of the content and providing the guests.

Real Madrid’s official channel launched on Twitch four months ago to coincide with an esports competition backed by LaLiga, and a concrete content deal was signed off the back of that launch.

The LaLiga side has attracted just over 32,000 followers since its launch on Twitch, a fraction of the 5.83 million subscribers to the Real Madrid YouTube channel, which launched in 2006.

PSG’s Ligue 1 rivals Marseille recently opted to broadcast two pre-season friendly matches on their Twitch channel.

Amazon, which bought Twitch just under six years ago for $970m (€873.3m), announced last month that it its four free-to-view Premier League matches during the remainder of the 2019-20 season would also be broadcast on the platform.

When Amazon acquired the NFL’s Thursday Night Football rights in 2018, it opted to use Twitch to distribute an alternate stream, with content creators on the platform invited to provide their own commentary and to interact with the audience directly during the games via the service’s live chat functionality. A deal to show multiple weekly NBA G League games in the same way quickly followed.

Earlier this year, Twitch also secured rights to broadcast matches from the National Women’s Soccer League in its domestic US market and was also named the NWSL’s exclusive international media rights-holder in a three-year deal.

Prominent sports athletes who stream content on Twitch include Los Angeles Chargers’ Austin Ekeler, Formula 1 driver Lando Norris, and WWE stars Cesaro, Paige and Rusev.