The Power of Sport to Bring Us Together Through Challenging Times
Ben Stokes' incredible performance to help England win the Cricket World Cup.
The nailbiting Netball World Cup Final
Tiger Woods’ winning round at The Masters.
And that winning goal from Vincent Kompany.
We were spoiled for sporting choice in 2019. Great memories with friends and family; unforgettable moments you had to share on social media.
Then think back to the start of 2020. Most of us were expecting Liverpool to win the Premier League title earlier in the calendar year than any club has done before, and we were all dreaming of the summer of sport ahead. How long ago that feels now.
The global pandemic’s abrupt and devastating impact has been felt across the world and we’re now in the critical phase of coping with its lasting effects.
I know the impact has been felt deeply by the sports industry, at so many levels. We have an unknown journey ahead of us, but it’s promising to see the path become clearer with the return of football, golf, F1 and cricket in the last month.
While we and our customers relish the return of sport, we understand the importance of working with the industry to ensure there is no immediate jeopardy. The safety of the athletes, our Sky colleagues and all those working to bring sport back, is our number one priority. And we can assure our dedicated teams that we are taking all the necessary steps to comply with government guidelines on testing and social distancing.
It’s under these conditions that our remote production facilities are proving indispensable, with only limited personnel needing to work onsite in line with protocols. We’ve always pushed ourselves to be at the forefront of innovative broadcasting and technology, and we are restless in our desire to make our coverage more accessible across our channels, products and services.
The return of F1 saw us collaborate with our German and Italian colleagues to ensure minimal crew onsite in Austria while the program was produced remotely at Osterley. And our cricket team has been working on replicating that famous ‘Lord’s hum’ of crowd chatter to play during coverage of the England v West Indies Test Series. They’ve also installed ‘The Player Zone’, a room where players can be interviewed without coming into contact with a single crew member.
For the Premier League, we launched a range of brand new product features for our customers. Thanks to our partnership with EA SPORTS FIFA we’re giving viewers a ‘matchday experience’ with the option to have augmented sound on their games with Sky Sports Crowds. We understand that many of our customers are unable to meet up with their friends and family, so we introduced Sky Sports Fanzone – allowing fans to watch select matches with others in a video room and interact, influence the crowd noise you hear, and take part in polls and post predictions all while the action unfolds.
Sky Sports Recap means the end of missing out on a live moment for Sky Sports customers. Viewers can join the game at any point, quickly watch the key highlights alongside the live match and within minutes be part of the dramatic climax.
We know the capacity sport has to bring people together; its ability to boost the nation’s morale. With more than 100 games across the Premier League and EFL in six weeks, and with 25 of them on our free to air channel, Pick, even more fans can enjoy the sport they love through these difficult times.
And it shows, through lockdown, we’ve seen our highest weekly channel share - a record 12.2% - with an average 2 million fans tuning in to each live game and over 14 million people accessing our digital platforms.
But producing great sports coverage is just scratching the surface of our role in this industry. Over the last 12 years, we’ve invested £15 billion – that’s £3.5 million every day. That investment has allowed many sports organisations to build world-class facilities, develop grassroots programmes and attract great talent from around the world to grace the hallowed turfs from Anfield to Fratton Park. And beyond that, we’ve supercharged participation in netball and inspired 1.7 million Brits to get on their bikes and start cycling.
As we take these initial steps on the pathway to a return to sport, I want to reaffirm our commitment to all of our partners who we have supported through this difficult period and for the last 30 years.
I hope you are enjoying the return of live action sport, and that you share my excitement and passion for the power of sport to bring us together through tough and challenging times.
Stephen van Rooyen is Executive Vice President & Chief Executive Officer, UK & Europe, Established Markets.