fortable streaming sports, Martin hopes, Flo
will be well-positioned as a media partner when
bigger rights deals come up.
“If we do those things better than anyone
else, yeah, we can do an NFL game,” Martin
says. “It’s not going to be next year, but it
could be happening in three years.” Mark,
seated next to his sibling, fashes a knowing
smile. “Maybe fve years,” he ofers helpfully.
MARTIN FLOREANI sits on- stage at the Times Cen- ter, a conference venue at he Manhattan headquar- ters of The New York Times, for this summer’s Hashtag Sports, an
annual conference about the future of sports
media. For three days, hundreds of executives
from ESPN, NBC, the NFL, the NHL, the NBA,
and every other league and media outlet and
sports investment group mill around, puzzling
over the changes rippling throughout the
industry. This year the buzz term is OTT,
industry shorthand for “over the top,” which
means video delivered directly to consumers
over the internet—FloSports, in other words.
Floreani, stonefaced and wearing jeans and a T-shirt in a
room full of shiny TV talent, is about as subtle as you’d expect:
“Let’s say [ESPN] had the DNA and they said, ‘You know what?
We want to disrupt ourselves. We’re gonna eat shit for three or
four years, but we’re gonna be around 10 to 15 years from
now’—I don’t even know if they would be able to do it.”
It’s no wonder that OTT is on everyone’s mind. In 2016,
Major League Baseball’s streaming service, MLB. TV, was
the fourth-most popular streaming service in the U.S., after
Netfix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, according to
research frm Parks Associates. Flo investor World Wrestling
Entertainment is ffth. Last year, Twitter streamed 10 NFL
games that also aired on TV; this year, Amazon will. Those
deals are little more than toes in the water, but the thought
of Amazon or Facebook getting serious about sports keeps
coming up among conference goers.
Or, as Floreani declares to his Hashtag audience, “when
I think about our competitors in fve, 10, 15 years, I don’t think
about ESPN or any of the traditional broadcasters. I’m think-
ing about Amazon, I’m thinking about Facebook, I’m thinking
about Google. Why? Because those companies know how to
use and drive their businesses from data.”
Either way, it’s one thing to give cheer competitions and
wrestling tournaments a big boost, and quite another to
deliver the audience and experience that the NFL demands—
not to mention have the dollars required to compete in that
realm. The Floreanis argue that they’re “eating their way
up” to larger and larger events, and that the really expensive
games won’t become available for a nearly a decade, by which
time, they say, Flo will be a much more powerful challenger—
Of course, ESPN isn’t sitting still. Its parent company,
Disney, recently spent more than $2.5 billion for a controlling
stake in BAMTech, a streaming-media company that spun
out of Major League Baseball, with the intention of using it
to start an ESPN ofering next year. CBS also announced this
summer that it plans to launch a sports-streaming service.
“FloSports will likely never beat ESPN,” admits Altounian,
FloSports’ early adviser. “But can they own [niche] sports?
Absolutely. I think they can be the 800-pound gorilla in that
market, which is a big niche. Not only are those fans passion-
ate, but they regenerate. Every year, more kids come up into
Still, one week after the Hashtag conference, FloSports
announced the launching of FloFootball, which will air mostly
semipro and high school games, seeking to build credibility
and eventually get the big games. And one week after that,
Flo announced that its 18-month-old basketball channel,
FloHoops, had nabbed the rights to the overseas tours of last
season’s top two NCAA basketball teams, the Arizona Wild-
cats and the Kansas Jayhawks, and several preseason NCAA
games. It wrested those rights from CBS.
Small steps? Sure. But they recall a diferent upstart’s rise.
In 1979, a slow-pitch softball game aired on a cable channel’s
frst night of programming. Years of bowling tournaments
and highlight reels followed. It hardly added up to something
that looked like a revolution. Until it did. Perhaps you’ve heard
of that quixotic little company. It’s called ESPN.
TOM FOS TER is an Inc. editor-at-large.
• BOUNCING SOME IDEAS AROUND
A fairly typical scene at FloSports’ headquarters, which is located
in a still-funky East Austin neighborhood in what was formerly an
automotive air-conditioning repair shop.
LEAD 44 - INC. - OC TOBER 2017
“WE WERE STARVING
TO FUND GROWTH AND IT
WASN’T WHAT WE’D SET OUT
TO CREATE.” SO THE COMPANY
TOOK A HUGE RISK.