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Sports Media: Slowed initially by pandemic, Fubo resumes growth strategy

Under the leadership of Pam Duckworth (below), Fubo Sports Network has produced original series with sports figures and plans to sign more live sport rights and talent deals in 2022.Fubo Sports Network

When I hopped on the phone last week with Pam Duckworth, the head of Fubo Sports Network, we quickly discussed whether we would talk about how her job changed during the pandemic.

“No, no, no,” she said. “Let’s talk about the good stuff.”

For Duckworth and Fubo Sports Network, that good stuff equates to a growth strategy that slowed considerably during the pandemic.

Duckworth led the launch of Fubo Sports Network as a linear ad-supported network in June 2019 with a plan to assemble live rights to niche sports combined with cutting deals with some of the top influencers in sports.

In the months after launch, Duckworth’s strategy was in its initial steps. The channel, which is available on smart TVs including Samsung TV Plus and The Roku Channel, already had picked up live rights to niche leagues pre-pandemic with properties such as Major League Wrestling and Constellation Energy League baseball.

Pam Duckworth

It also produced four original series with recognizable sports figures, such as former NBA player Gilbert Arenas (“No Chill with Gilbert Arenas”), former NFLer Terrell Owens (“Getcha Popcorn Ready with T.O. and Hatch”), former Fox Sports personality Julie Stewart-Binks (“Drinks with Binks”) and comedians Alexis Guerreros and Christian Polanco (“The Cooligans”).

All this came just nine months before the sports business shut down due to COVID.

“At the end of 2019, just as we were getting our stride, the pandemic hit,” Duckworth said. “We actually pivoted pretty quickly. The week after everything closed down, we automatically just started shooting from everyone’s home.” 

Next year, Duckworth plans to be active, signing both live sports rights and talent deals.

So far, combat sports has worked well on Fubo Sports Network. Starting in February, it will carry the “PFL Challenger Series” as part of a multiyear deal. It will co-produce the fights and use Fubo talent like Stewart-Binks on the telecast.

“We’ll have live programming on Twitch and, obviously, we’ll hit all of our social channels,” Duckworth said. “We found out that our audience right now is completely into anything having to do with fighting.”

Fubo Sports Network also holds rights to CONMEBOL South American Qatar World Cup 2022 qualifiers and games from Spanish basketball’s Liga Endesa.

Duckworth said she covets motorsports rights. She plans to continue leaning into having well-known former players host shows in order to get the voice of the athlete on the channel.

“We noticed, especially the Gilbert Arenas show, how he could bring great behind-the-scenes stories,” she said. “He lived it. He was with all these different, amazing players and he was able to tell stories that nobody had heard before.”

Duckworth is in discussions to have six to eight more athletes take on similar roles.

Last week, she announced a deal with Michael Vick for a show called “The Gaming Society” with former NFLer David Anderson. The show’s premise is that Anderson helps teach Vick how to bet on sports.

“Viewership is up 75% this year alone,” she said. “If we keep on our trajectory, it would be kind of amazing to end up on Comcast. That’s definitely a goal for us.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ and read his weekly newsletter.

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