Discovery Communications had grand ambitions when it bought Eurosport in 2015, but as the company beefed up the network’s sports content with major events like the Olympic Games, it also needed to change perceptions about a brand that was seen as irrelevant and out of touch.
To help combat that, the new Eurosport team has created a number of clever promos over the past year—some featuring new star commentators like John McEnroe, others putting new spins on iconic sports events—that are helping “shock” audiences into realizing how much the network has evolved, said Eurosport CEO Peter Hutton. Already, linear ratings are up 28 percent this year.
When it launched in 1989, Eurosport was “one service trying to serve all of Europe,” Hutton said. But over time, “it was never really invested in.” That changed when Discovery, which first invested in the network in 2012, bought it outright in 2015. The company’s two networks reach 95 countries in Europe, Asia and Australia, and it also has a thriving direct-to-consumer business.
Discovery’s challenge was to make Eurosport “more relevant to an audience,” Hutton said, buy buying more premium rights to major events like the Olympics (beginning with the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and stretching to 2024), the U.S. Open and injecting the network with personality.
Prior to Discovery’s ownership, Eurosport would normally “get the sort of commentators that are available 250 days of the year. … They’re not necessarily the world’s best commentators,” said Hutton, who spoke with reporters Wednesday in New York.
He made a splash by hiring John McEnroe in 2015 as a commentator for Eurosport’s U.S. Open coverage.
“What we did was go out and say, ‘What’s the talent that’s going to shock people? What will take people to a place that Eurosport has never been before?’ And signing up McEnroe as the face of our tennis was a really good example,” he said.
Ahead of this year’s U.S. Open, Eurosport shot a promo featuring McEnroe, who visits a barbershop and asks for “something special for the U.S. Open.” The barber gives him cuts from iconic tennis stars like Bjorn Borg and Andre Agassi before he settles on a familiar look, which McEnroe deems “a winning haircut.”
Olympic legends square off
The McEnroe spot is the latest example of Eurosport using promos to help change perceptions of the musty brand and increase viewers.
“One of the big challenges for every sports broadcaster is how do you win a new spectator for an event? Because people preach to the converted,” Hutton said. “We have to find ways of getting new audiences to the things that we take real pride in.”
Eurosport’s solution was to invest in short-form video content that had the potential to go viral and show its potential viewers “that this old brand Eurosport that has been around for 30 years has really changed,” Hutton said. “It’s quite difficult to change the perception of a brand that people have grown up with, because they think they know you.”
The network rolled out a series of explainer spots, which Hutton said are “trying to make sport more accessible to people and explain what’s the different between this athlete and another athlete.”
One spot, which breaks down how Usain Bolt was able to defeat Tyson Gay in the men’s 100-meters at the 2009 World Championships, has 23 million views and counting. Those people “have watched it, seen the Eurosport logo and identified us with something that’s really a top-end production,” Hutton said.
Not only do they “explain something really simply,” but because the video relies on graphics and music, it “really works for a lot of different markets at the same time. It genuinely shows you something here that you didn’t see before,” said Hutton, who plans to have 20 in rotation by the end of next year.
As it prepares to kick off its Winter Olympics coverage in February, Eurosport is taking an innovative approach to its early Olympics promos, using its Olympics archive access to create Race of Legends promos allowing star athletes from several eras to compete alongside one another. One Race of Legends promo features a 100-meter butterfly race between Michael Phelps (2008), Mark Spitz (1972) and Michael Gross (1984).
The Olympic spots—another pits Usain Bolt (2012), Carl Lewis (1984) and Jesse Owens (1936) against one another in the 100—play up “the progression of sports and talent, but it also associates it with great moments from when you were growing up watching it,” Hutton said. “It’s being reminded of how important the Olympics is, and was, at those moments.”
Four spots have aired already, with around 15 more in the pipeline.
Eurosport hopes the spots will help separate them from the promotional efforts of other sports networks, which take “the easy option” and run promos featuring the same highlights over and over.
“Sports TV is not necessarily hugely creative,” Hutton said. “If you can genuinely add value and make people love that sport more, then you’re getting in the right space.” That way, he added, “your brand is always associated with the premium stuff.”