The digital platform is at the forefront of expanding how fans experience sports.
Zach Leonsis recalls sneaking out of his bedroom past his bedtime to watch Washington Capitals games in his family’s living room. He remembers the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998 and how those games “totally captured” his imagination. As the son of Monumental Sports Founder Ted Leonsis (whose teams include the Capitals, the Mystics and the Wizards), it’s not surprising that Zach is a die-hard sports fan. “It seems I’ve been with Monumental Sports all my life,” Zach says. “I grew up around the teams and at this point, they feel like a second family to me.”
Now Leonsis is senior vice president of strategic initiatives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment and general manager of Monumental Sports Network, the very first over-the-top, direct-to-consumer regional sports network ever, co-owned by NBC Sports Group. The subscription-based product launched in 2016 allows members to experience live events on every device, view original and on-demand programming and get exclusive access to players and coaches, such as meet and greet happy hours where they get served drinks by Caps players. A recent refresh ensures access to 24/7 livestream of games (professional and high school leagues) and Network shows online and through mobile and streaming devices. Membership packages start as low as $6.99 a month.
“Last year we streamed nearly 400 live games and this upcoming season we plan to stream well over 500 live games,” Leonsis explains. “We deliver all of this content through multi- platform applications and digital channels, including the web, mobile web and tablet web, but also apps on iOs, Android, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Xbox and Chromecast. We felt a significant need to do this because of the changing demographics of media consumption behavior of our specific region.”
In a way, Washington is the perfect place to launch such a product.
“One of the advantages we have is that we’re a particularly young community,” Leonsis says. “Thirty-five percent of our community is made up of Millennials and Gen Z customers, who are more likely to cut the cord and no longer sign up for cable.”
The way fans experience sports is definitely changing. In 2016, Netflix subscriptions officially surpassed the number of cable- subscribed homes in the United States. Sports entertainment categories like eSports (organized multiplayer video game competitions) are growing in popularity, and virtual reality technology is only going to become more refined as the technology progresses.
Monumental Sports Network has brought virtual reality in-house, streaming games that give customers the feeling of being in a live arena. Leonsis is also excited about AR (augmented reality), and about a new partnership with Kiswe Mobile that puts users in control of how they view a game, in a choose-your-own-adventure style broadcast.
“When people watch live games on television, it’s really a one-way conversation. There’s a producer and a truck saying, ‘go to camera one, now go to camera three.’ We give that power to our subscribers,” Leonsis says. Members are given the power to rewind, to clip highlights and save them for future use, to tweet them out or post them to social media accounts for their friends, family and followers to enjoy. “We really think that there’s a lot of inner activities that can come from watching a game on a mobile experience where touch is very much a part of the engagement within the app, so I would expect more and more interactivity within our video player to come.
“We felt like we couldn’t keep our head in the sand,” Leonsis continues. “We wanted to be innovative, progressive and really try to get ahead of new consumer trends and behaviors.”
This story appeared in Washington Life Magazine’s November issue “Tech 25” feature.