David McCourt, chairman and chief executive of telecoms and media investment firm Granahan McCourt, was the first person to be recognised for his services to business by the White House, is an award-winning entrepreneur, and has been described as a “telecoms revolutionary” by The Economist.
So when he decides to lead a hefty £8.3m investment in a fledgling enterprise — as he has recently done with digital football business Dugout — it is probably fair to say that the company in question is onto something.
Since announcing itself to the football world in 2016 as a new content platform distinctive in that it was backed by a fleet of Europe’s biggest clubs, Dugout has partnered with more than 70 teams, gathered 67m unique users and received 912m video views.
Dugout collaborates with clubs to produce exclusive, behind-the-scenes video content and documentaries only available to view on its platform where fans can like, discuss and share. It is pitched as a destination for sports fans for the 22 and a half hours of the day when there isn’t a game on.
“The way content is consumed has changed dramatically in the last few years and sports is the one thing that’s still dominated by linear TV,” McCourt tells City A.M.
“What Dugout has figured out is how to totally rethink the model. Live will probably continue to be dominated by linear TV for a while but more than 50 per cent of the sports content consumed in the world is not live.
“What Elliot [Richardson, founder of Dugout] and his team did is say ‘since everybody is going to a non-traditional, non-linear model and everyone wants to consume their content in short-form on mobile, and since sports is the dominant amount of video traffic in the world and over half of it is not a live game, let’s take that piece of the industry and totally rethink it'.
“They’ve done a better job at doing that anyone, they’re the only ones who have the biggest clubs in the world as shareholders, who took a holistic approach to rethinking the linear sports model and created a whole ecosystem not based around live.”
Football fans in the UK might be quizzical about the utility of a multi-club platform — why would a Manchester United fan be interested in videos from hated rivals Manchester City when they can watch Jesse Lingard dance or review vintage Eric Cantona clips on their club’s in-house channels?
Yet McCourt, whose brother Frank has helped revive the fortunes of Marseille since buying the French club, says Dugout has demonstrated that – beyond the tribal heartlands of the European game – many football followers around the world are less likely to limit their fandom to a single club. The UK is currently only Dugout’s third largest user base, behind Tunisia and Mexico.
“We made the investment, we built the model with a set number of users, and Elliot has surpassed what we expected in our investment thesis,” says McCourt.
“Once you start going to places like the Middle East, Africa and South America, almost all fans there are also fans of multiple football clubs. They end up following two, three, four, even five clubs.”
In order to better serve that modern, multi-team fan for both clubs and their sponsors, Dugout both embeds its content creators in specific regions and has them pool information into a collective brains trust.
“Football clubs are spending money and are making strides to try and capture a better understanding of their fans globally, the better opportunities to make the most of that, and how to produce the right content,” Dugout founder and chairman Elliot Richardson tells City A.M.
“But if you do that alone, you can’t get the reach of 77 clubs all in one place. We have digital media editors sitting inside clubs’ content teams. At noon everyday, that group of editors does a conference call to discuss best practices, what’s happening on social media, what type of content that’s working, in what territory.”
It is that spirit of cooperation in which Dugout will partner with McCourt’s ALTV — a popular streaming service in the Middle East and North Africa — to deliver growth in the Gulf and shore up its infrastructure.
“To have that tech expertise and scale that David has in his business, that was a huge part in what we needed,” says Richardson.
“You have to make sure that you can concentrate on engagement and producing fantastic content.
“Aside from that what’s exciting is that now we have the capability to really make the most of the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] operation with ALTV being really successful in the region and based in Cairo. We’re piggybacking on that.”
Further expansion is targeted in the United States, where Dugout has partnered with Major League Soccer, and Latin America. If it keeps up its initial rate of growth, £8.3m could begin to look like a pretty good bet.