Jul 14, 2020 - Economy

IMG partners with Wave.tv to distribute sports rights on social

Animated illustration of a WiFi icon with various sports balls as the bottom dot.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Global entertainment giant IMG Media is partnering up to give social media sports video company Wave.tv broad access to its sports licensing rights, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: The deal speaks to a new generation of sports programming for younger people on social media who are avid sports fans but don't like sitting through long games on traditional TV.

  • "The value of original programming utilizing the highlight and the long tail archive is rapidly increasing, to both the fan and media ecosystem at large," says Brian Verne, co-founder and CEO, WAVE.tv.
  • "For fans they’re pure entertainment, for leagues and rights holders they’re seen as the vital bridge to increasing fandom amongst Gen Z and Millennials."

Driving the news: Wave.tv, which is home to dozens of sports shows across platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube, will be able to access a broad range of IMG's licensed sports rights to use for its shows, including Euroleague Basketball and World’s Strongest Man.

  • The partnership includes an overarching contract allowing Wave.tv to access IMG's owned content on a case-by-case basis, as well as individual contracts that include specific licensing agreements depending on the sport.
  • The companies will split the ad revenue that Wave.tv makes by airing these shows on social platforms.
  • "This partnership was born out of our initial success working together," says Rebecca Levin, Director of Media at IMG. "WAVE.tv’s media brands engage millions of fans by sharing memorable sporting moments in a fresh and entertaining way."

The big picture: Over the last few years, a new crop of digitally-native sports media companies have popped up to create sports shows for younger generations of sports fans that aren't interested in watching hours-long coverage of games on live TV.

  • Overtime, a sports media company that produces shows for social media, has experienced record engagement during the coronavirus pandemic, in part because its sports shows don't rely on streaming straight games, but rather commentary, highlights and culture around sports. Zachary Weiner, Co-Founder and President of Overtime, says the company has gained 10 million social followers during COVID.
  • Bleacher Report's House of Highlights is another breakout brand doing sports coverage on social media. House of Highlights had 51 of the top 100 branded content posts on Instagram in 2019. It's the #2 sports publisher on YouTube, averaging 100 million views per month and has over 24 million followers across across all platforms, including a giant following on TikTok.

Be smart: Among all of the players we've spoken to in social sports media, format is universally deemed critical.

  • "The most important thing is to find young people where they are, on social media. The second is format," says Weiner. "A lot of legacy companies reformat their TV content for digital. We create on digital and social right off the bat."

What's next: Wave.tv is expanding to accommodate the flurry of new content rights deals, says Verne. It plans to hire 12-20 additional full-time employees to add to its existing 42 employees this quarter.

  • "When you break our business down into a sum of its parts, it is really quite simple. Fandom + Formats + IP = new hit programming," says Verne.
Go deeper