Following Front Runner’s sponsorship deal with the bookmaker Mr Green, we had a chat with Ryan Scarratt of niche sports channel Front Runner.
The new free to view sports channel has taken an interesting approach to broadcasting in 2017 when the bulk of similar companies are reflecting the paid subscription model. From showing ice hockey to poker and MMA it’s focused on the ‘other sports’ that don’t get the level of mainstream coverage that the likes of football and tennis enjoy.
SBC: With many replicating the Netflix model and approach, Front Runner has gone the opposite way by offering a free channel on traditional TV. Why?
Ryan: When we launched Front Runner, we wanted to offer a platform for niche sports that were struggling to get their voices heard to the wider public. Mainstream sporting events get the coverage, but there are still many others – with a massive UK following – that were getting no television airtime. For example, the Elite Ice Hockey League, poker, MMA and specialist motorsports.
TV still provides the simplest interface to get pictures in front of an audience, and it is understood whether you are aged seven or 77. Putting our service behind a paywall, for the majority of viewers, puts a barrier in the way when the fundamental principle of our channel is to be inclusive, of all sports and all fans.
So we’re really pleased to say that Front Runner is a free channel for sport fans to enjoy – and our approach is working. From day one, we’ve reached 19 million homes across the UK, niche sports are getting the broadcast hours they rightly deserve and fans are really welcoming the free television coverage. We don’t think there is a better platform out there than what we have provided, and we are working hard to expand this further.
SBC: Who’ve you looked to as inspiration for Front Runner’s sports content? Is it aimed at being a something of a crossover between Red Bull and Sky Sports?
Ryan: Again, our inspiration for launching Front Runner has always been to give niche sports the television airtime and also the recognition they rightly deserve.
A substantial element of the channel’s success so far has been down to each sport’s strong fan base who value watching the action for free. We certainly value their following because without the fans, we wouldn’t have the viewers, and they’ve all been massively supportive so far.
The channel is still very young, we only started in October and so you will see it evolve, particularly as the new seasons start from March onwards. Red Bull are using their channel as a marketing tool, they are a phenomenon and their extreme sport content is fantastic. Sky has focussed primarily on the Premiership, while we are trying to create something broader than both of these.
We think there is an opportunity to provide a marketing tool for underrepresented sports. That is our focus, we are trying to do the right thing by our content partners and their fans, so they succeed and so do we.
SBC: You’ve embraced the betting world but with an arrangement with a partner outside of the ones normally chucked at us at halftime of matches…why did you go for the sponsorship by Mr Green?
Ryan: We like partners who understand what we are trying to achieve and Mr Green recognised the opportunity to come on board early.
I personally think they are an ideal partner in terms of supporting us in what we want to achieve and also delivers us some interest from an audience that, as you say, sits outside of the norm. Mr Green is also able to reinforce themselves as a market leader by getting in front of 19 million homes each day, so I think this is working well for them too.
With all this in mind, and our plans for the future, our hope is that Mr Green will become a long term partner for Front Runner.
SBC: What are the regulations with certain partners such as bookmakers for broadcast TV channels?
Ryan: You could expect this to be a lengthy answer! In reality we haven’t found this to be a big deal.
We have very reliable partners who understand the constraints we need to impose and they follow them. Along with Front Runner, its parent company Information TV has also launched six channels in 12 months, so we know the regulatory landscape well.
SBC: There has been talk of live sporting content coming to Frontrunner.. Can you divulge any more information?
Ryan: Front Runner started broadcasting live motorsport in January with the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook race from Dubai. Moving forwards, live sport is going to be an important aspect of the channel and we will be showing the first live broadcast from the Isle of Man when we air the British Darts League next month.
We have a great history showing the live greyhound racing most evenings and we know that ‘Live’ is something our viewers want and we will try to accommodate. A lot of the seasons are going to kick off in the next month or so and we will be making more announcements about our summer schedule soon.
We’ll certainly be keeping everyone updated through our website, and our social media channels.