Unlocking opportunities: College sports and niche sports leagues can score big with FAST channels

By Thomas Buffolano, The Switch

As sports fans’ habits evolve and they expand the ways they consume live content, college sports teams and niche sports leagues are discovering a game-changing new playbook: FAST channels (free ad-supported streaming television).

While the traditional rights holders for broadcasting and subsequent streaming platforms have been the predominant platforms for consumers to find Tier 1 sports content, it has been more difficult for those with smaller, but still rabid audiences to find a home for distribution and generate revenue. These have all been paid for through subscription in one form or another by the consumer. Enter FAST channels, which are narrow-casting and using a digital first strategy, foregoing subscription and yet offering an exciting opportunity for smaller sports organizations to connect with their fan bases, generate revenue, and level the playing field.

Yet, with a minefield of tools and workflows to choose from and innovations in production and delivery technology emerging by the day, launching and running a successful FAST channel without the right support can be a complicated and overwhelming process.

The economics of sports fandom

Although sports fans generally subscribe to video services — Ampere Analysis found sports fans pay for an average of 2.84 subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services compared to 2.67 for the average consumer — rising subscription fees and tightening consumer spend could limit the number of paid services fans take moving forward.

As consumers look to reduce their SVOD spending, FAST services can fill that void, providing and monetizing content, attracting more sports fans while boosting ad revenues — enabling fans that have a bond with their alma mater or favorite college program or interest in a sport outside the mainstream to easily follow them without out-of-pocket spending. It also creates an opportunity for new advertisers and sponsors looking to target those particular audiences through product integration, interactive ads and other innovative ways to directly connect with their fan base.

Some sports media companies are already embracing the FAST way of life, such as DAZN, which runs FAST channels for women’s football (soccer) and combat sports — demonstrating the ability of rising sports to build viewership in this way. FAST channels can amplify other small, specialist or local sports organizations that may not find and grow their full potential audience if trapped behind a paywall, like MTRSPRT1 for all things in motorsports. It’s a logical step for college teams and niche leagues to make, and with some key winning strategies and innovations in cloud-based production, media asset management and distribution, college and niche leagues can raise their game in the FAST market.

Understanding FAST channels

At the heart of FAST channels is content curation. For college sports programs, this can translate into a dynamic mix of livestreamed games and on-demand content, such as exclusive pre-game shows, behind-the-scenes insights, team press conferences, player interviews, and post-show reviews. Niche leagues can potentially showcase live content, along with features on the unique aspects of their sports, memorable matches, and athlete profiles to captivate their audience.

By offering diverse content, FAST channels ensure they resonate with a range of potentially interested viewers, creating a loyal and engaged fan base. Scheduling and programming play a vital role in the success of FAST channels, while dayparting allows the targeting of specific demographics at different times — ensuring the right content reaches the right audiences.


Ad integration is seamlessly woven into the programming, providing monetization opportunities for college sports and niche leagues. From traditional commercial breaks to interactive forms of advertising, programmatic advertising allows precise targeting based on individual user metrics. This targeted approach attracts a wide pool of advertisers, including local businesses, regional brands, and national sponsors.

The ability to capture a few consumer metrics at sign up greatly enhances the ability to target audiences. FAST channels open exciting avenues for generating revenue. The diverse pool of potential advertisers offers the allure of reaching passionate sports fans actively engaged with the content, allowing for tailored ads targeted at specific viewer segments. Imagine alumni receiving ads related to university merchandise or local businesses sponsoring halftime shows during live games.

Cloud-based production and playout technology

Cloud-based production tools have revolutionized content creation for sports organizations of all sizes and types. Whether it’s live game coverage, shoulder content, or highlight reels, these tools enable cost-effective production without sacrificing quality. Scalability and agility are critical advantages of cloud playout technology — enabling delivery of a local game or a more broadly distributed championship, regardless of the size of the event.

The upshot is smaller sports organizations benefit from reduced infrastructure costs, enabling them to produce and deliver near-broadcast-level content and viewer experiences — which in turn will help them build audience numbers.

FAST channels empower college sports teams and niche leagues to engage their fan bases, generate revenue, and expand their reach. By embracing new cloud-based technologies and tapping into fans’ passion, even the smallest leagues and schools can unlock unprecedented opportunities and score big in the world of FAST channels.

Thomas Buffolano, The SwitchThomas Buffolano is head of business development for college sports at The Switch.

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