New research from Crux Sports has shone light on the value of DAZN’s partnership with YouTube, which saw the SVOD company show all 61 UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL) matches for free on YouTube.
The four-year deal kicked off with the 2021-22 season, bringing the championship free-to-air around the world. The DAZN UWCL channel received 43 million views for the first season across 230 countries, and scored 362,000 subscribers (rising to 641,000 in the 2022-23 season).
Rebecca Smith, Founder and CEO of Crux Sports (and former New Zealand captain), conducted interviews with UWCL stakeholders, including participating teams, players and media representatives. 306 football fans (71 percent of whom identify as female) from 41 different countries also provided commentary.
The stakeholders unanimously agreed that the DAZN/YouTube partnership provided “positive value and impact” beyond the viewing figures, and that it should continue. The interviewees believed that the partnership brought more visibility to the championship, with YouTube’s profile widely thought to have helped lend credibility to the game.
“It’s also not some sketchy streaming platform or something that [fans] have never heard about,” said Alfred Groth, Head of Women’s Football at HB Køge in Denmark. “People across the whole world know YouTube. It shouldn’t be something else because it’s where people feel a little bit of safety going to. You wouldn’t expect it to be packed with viruses or anything like that.”
There were dissenting voices however, with Arsenal W.F.C. arguing that YouTube streams “naturally make it feel like a cheaper product.” The club was positive about the short-term benefits, driving traffic to its website by embedding the YouTube stream. But in the longer term, “it feels like a ‘big event’ competition like the UWCL should be shown on TV.” Arsenal also called the frequency of ads on the channel “off-putting.”
The debate reflects the divergent attitudes to YouTube within the advertising industry, though it should be noted that Arsenal was in the minority with its criticism. Most agreed that giving the UWCL a designated platform made brands “take it seriously”, having previously been ignored. And from a fan perspective, the partnership was called a “game changer” for viewers formerly reliant on illegal streams, with free access to the games eliminating the need for piracy.
But not everyone was so positive about the coverage; Arsenal disliked relying on a single feed for highlights, where filming errors meant that goals were missed entirely. The club additionally criticised the restrictive embargoes imposed by DAZN. “Waiting three days to share highlights on club channels means that the conversation has moved on by the time we’re allowed to post it.” WFC Kharkiv’s press officer Maxym Minin said the streaming company posted little and incorrect info about the Ukranian team, reaching the conclusion: “DAZN hated our club.”
In addition to the live matches, DAZN put out 14 series of shoulder content over the course of the season, including documentaries and player interviews. According to the research, 100 percent of the players expressed support for the shoulder content for increasing their exposure, while 80 percent of fans said the YouTube coverage enhanced their awareness of the clubs and players. And the surveys showed 40 percent of fans saying the YouTube streams had increased their interest in attending live matches.
The partnership has boosted interest from sponsors too, according to the interviews, with 77 percent of clubs reporting a positive impact on sponsorship interest. “Sponsors appear to be more aware of the UWCL and how they can watch it,” said Chelsea FCW executive manager Adrian Jacob.
But the perceived benefits potentially extend beyond club revenues and into participation in the sport itself. 85 percent of club respondents think the YouTube broadcast has contributed to the increase in girls playing football, although only 2 percent of fan respondents said they had started playing as a result of the YouTube channel.
And some of the feedback from both fans and clubs suggested that the partnership lacked the communication required to maximise its impact. “I think that some efforts are still missing in terms of communication (DAZN, YouTube, clubs …) to pass on the information that the matches are to be watched on Youtube,” said PSG communications manager Juliette Carouge.
That awareness is partially split by age: fans noted that those aged 13-25 are “hanging out” on YouTube already, whereas the 35+ demographic felt that a digital platform could be a barrier to entry.
For clubs and players, YouTube is seen more as a “stepping stone” for women’s football than a destination in itself. “I don’t see it as being the main platform in which women’s football lands upon when from a commercial point of view the bigger platforms for Sky/BT etc will endorse more money into the women’s game,” said Chelsea (now Tottenham) forward Bethany England.
“We don’t believe it’s a long-term solution,” Arsenal W.F.C. agreed. “Eventually the UWCL should be broadcast in the same way as the men’s Champions League.”
Overall though, the partnership was regarded as a victory, bringing visibility, viability and opportunity to the women’s championship. “DAZN and YouTube have had an incredible impact on the UWCL,” said Arsenal forward Beth Mead. “It’s created a lot of opportunities for myself obviously and a lot of other girls.”
One English fan, Ellie Bainbridge, urged the partnership to continue: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. It was never an option for me to dream as a young girl to be a footballer and this is giving girls opportunities to dream.”