2020 started in style with the enigmatic Conor McGregor beating Cowboy Cerrone in under 40 seconds at UFC 246 on January 19th.
The UFC has shown its aptitude for innovation during the global pandemic and led the way for sport to return behind closed doors with three events hosted inside one week from Jacksonville, Florida in May. UFC Fight Island from Abu Dhabi was also testimony to the company’s commitment to ensure fans weren’t missing out and a total of nine events were hosted from Abu Dhabi in 2020, allowing fighters to remain active. It is an incredible achievement that this year there will be 40 events held across the year, down just two on 2019 and up one on 2018.
IMG ARENA & UFC
- This year the IMG ARENA UFC Event Centre went live with Rush Street Interactive on October 25th for UFC 254.
- The partnership between Low6 and UFC will be powered by the UFC Event Centre.
On February 29th the 25th season of Major League Soccer began and was originally planned to run until the MLS Cup on November 7th.
Major League Soccer has battled with COVID-19 all season and has done a phenomenal job to keep the show on the road. The season was halted on March 12th and a lengthy suspension ensued before the “MLS is Back Tournament” got things started again for North American Soccer, with the Portland Timbers winning the tournament.
The action continued with the regular season resuming a day later behind closed doors. The MLS regular season managed to finish just a day behind the original schedule on November 8th. The final was held on the 12th December and was won by Columbus Crew, giving them their second MLS Cup. The fate of this season has not always been certain but the resilience of the league has meant MLS 2020 has been completed in full, much to the enjoyment of fans around the world.
IMG ARENA & MLS
- Despite the troubles caused by Coronavirus, MLS streaming numbers are once again up on the previous year. Total views in 2020 were up 16% and unique views up 9% on 2019 (February 1 - November 30). A remarkable feat given the four month hiatus in action - a true demonstration of the leagues global appeal and growth.
In March, the ATP Tour announced its first virtual sports product with IMG ARENA. The sport’s first officially branded virtual product was designed to deliver players the most authentic ‘fan-first’ experience.
2020 has been a challenging year for live sport with an almost worldwide pause button being pressed in March. This has led to tremendous growth in virtual sports. As sports were grounded by COVID-19, virtual sports filled in, to give 24/7 content to bookmakers now devoid of action. The IMG ARENA virtual suite was bolstered during the period and our commitment to officialising the virtual sports space was accelerated. Official branding delivered deeper emotional connections for the player as fans discovered new ways to enjoy their favourite events.
IMG ARENA & VIRTUALS
- 2020 saw official virtual products launched across tennis, (ATP), golf (Carnoustie) & NASCAR. These products underlined our vision to create official products to drive fan engagement.
Belarusian football continued to play throughout the pandemic and this resulted in them achieving outstanding streaming results. Total views of Belarusian football were up 2039% in April 2020 compared to 2019.
Football in Belarus stood alone in choosing to continue to play through COVID-19. As league after league ground to a halt, football fans around the world turned to Belarus to get their fix of live football action. Fan groups sprung up around the world for Belarusian football and its teams. The leagues popularity boomed and the country’s strong performance against the virus suggest that the leagues decision to continue has been vindicated.
IMG ARENA & BELARUSIAN FOOTBALL
- It has been a remarkable year in Belarusian football. Unique viewers of the league were up 6.09 million on 2019 and the top viewed game between Dinamo Brest and BATE Borisov received 700,000 more views than the 2019 FA Cup Final.
IMG ARENA started the UTR Global Tennis series to help fill the content void left by the suspended ATP and WTA tours. The tournaments began on May 4th and in May we hosted a total of 228 matches.
The tournaments also provided the opportunity for players to remain active and earn prize money through the pandemic. Since matches began, IMG ARENA has put on tournaments from three different continents with the UTR Americas, Europe and Australia. The series has proved popular and will continue in 2021. The UTR Pro Series will complement the ATP and WTA tours and deliver engaging content 365 days a year.
IMG ARENA & UTR
- The months of March and April saw little to no tennis content produced due to COVID-19. Since the inception of the UTR Pro Series there have been over 4,350 matches. These matches have received over 41 million views in the past seven months (May 4th - December 4th).
The PGA Tour worked quickly and decisively to make sure that there was a swift return for golf and on June 11th the tour restarted at The Charles Schwab Invitational, won by Daniel Berger.
2020 has been a challenging year for golf and in difficult circumstances the sport has remained a ray of light for fans. Eleven tournaments were completed before the pandemic struck, cutting short The Players Championship after just one round. The PGA Tour will have managed to host a further 25 tournaments (including majors) since the sport restarted.
IMG ARENA & PGA TOUR
- The IMG ARENA Golf Event Centre was officially unveiled in October when going live with Bet365 and the response has been fantastic within the industry and beyond. We look forward to developing the product further in 2021.
The rearranged Snooker World Championship was held in July and ‘the Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan captured a remarkable 6th World Championship, seven years after his last.
2020 for World Snooker Tour has run incredibly smoothly given the circumstances the sport faced. The Tour Championship and World Championship were successfully rearranged and only the China Open fell victim to the pandemic. Judd Trump has resumed his domination this season already capturing the English Open & Northern Ireland Open. Last season he was named World Snooker Player of the Year, Fans' Player of the Year and Snooker Journalists' Player of the Year and looks on track to retain those crowns.
IMG ARENA & WORLD SNOOKER TOUR
- IMG ARENA and World Snooker Tour signed a new long term deal in November to extend our live streaming right for the betting industry. The partnership grows the existing agreement, covering a greater number of matches and tournaments.
The ATP Tour resumed on the 24th August at the Cincinnati Masters. Novak Djokovic showed that he was on top form post-pandemic after claiming victory over Milos Raonic.
2020 proved to be a very difficult year for the ATP Tour, with no tennis being played from the start of March until the end of August. 2020 was also a year of change in the world tennis rankings. Novak Djokovic replaced Rafael Nadal as world no.1, and Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev moved ahead of Roger Federer. Dominic Thiem won the US Open to claim his first Grand Slam and on the other side of the Atlantic, Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open.
IMG ARENA & ATP
- The US Open began on 31st August, just seven days after the resumption of ATP tennis. Tennis fans showed their satisfaction at the return of the sport and the US Open saw 2.26 million unique viewers and over 50 million total views of IMG ARENA live streams during the tournament..
Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champions on the 28th September. They beat the Dallas Stars 4-2 in the seven game Stanley Cup final.
The NHL 2019-20 season ran from the October 2nd 2019 to March 11th 2020 before being halted by COVID-19. The federation worked hard throughout the downtime to get the season finished and eventually agreed a deal for a special 24 team playoff tournament behind closed doors. Play started again on the 1st August and ran until the completion on 28th September.
IMG ARENA & NHL
- In February we secured rights to provide U.S. sports betting operators with live streams of select out-of-market NHL games. The deal marked a major development in the U.S. betting rights landscape, and opened a new avenue for fan engagement in the U.S.
October 1st saw the return of EuroLeague basketball. It has been a fiercely competitive season and teams are doing battle to qualify for the 2021 Final Four at the Lanxess Arena, Cologne.
2020 was a trying year for the EuroLeague as the 2019-20 season was cancelled after 28 of the 34 regular season rounds. Having explored every option, the EuroLeague made the decision to cancel the season without crowning a champion. This was an incredibly difficult decision for the league but the correct one in view of the safety of everyone involved. The restart has been fantastic and the sport is only looking forward now.
IMG ARENA & EUROLEAGUE
- IMG ARENA’s streaming statistics for the EuroLeague have been very positive since the sport resumed on October 1st. For the two months from October 1st to November 30th, the EuroLeague saw total views of 50 million, up 24% from 40.2m during the same period in 2019. Unique viewers also grew from 2.97 million to 3.54 million in the same periods. The appetite for European basketball continues to grow and we look forward to showing some exciting new projects in 2021.
Chase Elliott was crowned the 2020 NASCAR Series Champion after his victory at the Season Finale 500, at Phoenix Raceway. Driving for Hendrick Motorsports, it was their first victory in the Cup Series since 2016 and their 13th Cup Series in total.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series was the 49th season for the modern-era Cup Series. The season got underway with three races at Daytona in February. Racing continued until March 8th when COVID-19 halted proceedings. NASCAR worked furiously to get the show back on the road and quickly put in place guidance that got the sport rolling again on May 17th.
The sport has been hugely popular since its return and was used as a benchmark in COVID-19 standards for many federations. Since the restart there was 21 race days in the regular season and a further 10 in the playoffs.
IMG ARENA & NASCAR
- In May we announced our global partnership with NASCAR. Sports betting operators now have the ability to live-stream NASCAR Cup Series races. In conjunction with this, we licensed official assets from NASCAR in order to create a virtual sports betting game that replicates some of NASCAR’s most iconic tracks such as Daytona and Talladega. This deal truly made NASCAR an ‘always-on’ product and further emphasised our commitment to innovation and official virtual sports.
The European Tour has hosted 38 tournaments during the season and finished in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, won by Matt Fitzpatrick. Following his second in the tournament, Lee Westwood won the Race to Dubai.
The European Tour bounced quickly back from cancellations due to COVID-19 with the hugely successful ‘UK Swing’, which ran from the end of July through August. The six tournaments ensured European golf came back with a bang and since then the Tour has run very efficiently in geographical clusters allowing for better protection of players.
The recent announcement of a ‘strategic alliance’ with the PGA Tour will now see more collaboration between the two tours and allow for some of the best players to play on the European Tour more frequently.
IMG ARENA & EUROPEAN TOUR
- The data collection method used on the European Tour is very technical and at the 19 events we have collected low latency data for in 2020, we have installed 567 masts, 762 Green Cams, 8,400m of power cable and 50,000m of Ethernet cable. We have recorded 593,280 balls hit and among those managed to live stream four hole-in-ones!