Roku’s Joe Franzetta Is Leveraging Leagues, 3rd Party Partnerships to Create a ‘One-Stop Shop’ for Sports Content

As more sports shift from linear to streaming, a major pain point for consumers is fragmentation, or the inability to watch the content they want all in one place.

While some companies are teaming up to offer their combined sports portfolios directly through upcoming bundles like Venu Sports, they’re also leveraging partnerships with aggregation platforms like Roku, which has created a dedicated hub known as Sports Zone.

“Viewers, sports rights owners, rights holders and advertisers have found themselves in a new paradigm. And that new paradigm is exciting, but it can also be challenging because it can be hard to find the content you want to watch,” Roku Media head of sports Joe Franzetta told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View. “So Roku, understanding the position of a large platform that has partnerships with virtually all content providers, including all sports content providers, is in a really good position to be able to build an experience — really a one-stop shop — for all things sports. Being able to solve for that user problem has opened up a lot of other opportunities for us.”

In addition to leveraging its third party partner content, Roku’s Sports Zone works with sports leagues directly to bring games from the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB directly to its customers for free. It also offers sports adjacent programming, like documentaries.

“When you layer all of those things together, you have a really exciting opportunity to build an experience. And then on top of that experience, we can layer in additional personalization, features like sports betting, merchandise sales, ticket sales, food delivery, team affinity programs, whatever it might be,” he added. “There’s a lot we can do with that experience, but it’s all about building that core aggregation experience.”

Before overseeing Roku’s sports strategy, Franzetta started his professional career as a corporate attorney, where he was exposed to companies going through mergers and acquisitions or raising financing.

“I got exposed to pretty senior-level executives at a critical point in their company’s trajectory. What I learned through that process was that I really wanted to be more on the creative business-building side of it rather than as an attorney,” Franzetta reflected. “I was focused on understanding deals, framing those deals, closing those deals and then moving on to the next one. But in some respects, there wasn’t as much opportunity to feel like you’re a part of building a business. So for me, getting into the business world was more about being at the ground level, building things and continuing to stack things on top of each other.”

In 1998, he joined Sony Pictures Entertainment’s legal department, where he began to focus on the corporate development side of deal-making in the media and technology sector. He would go on to work for a series of startups in the interactive television space, including Mixed Signals Technologies, GoldPocket Interactive and Tandberg Television, the latter of which would get acquired by Swedish telecommunications firm Ericsson in 2009. By 2012, Franzetta would launch his own start-up called Motorsport Media Holdings, which would tie sports to his interest in media and technology. He would eventually move on to one of the firm’s partners, Fox Sports, where he served as vice president of business and relationships until the opportunity to join Roku came about in 2021.

Read on for more insights from Franzetta into the company’s sports strategy in our interview below.

What is your decision-making process when it comes to bringing live sports to your platform vs. shoulder programming, such as a docuseries?
I think it’s important to have a blend of all of those things. I would say the vast majority of the content on the platform is obviously third party content. So our primary focus continues to be integrating those partners and those sports into a sports experience.

We started with the large U.S.-based sports, of course, the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, etc. Then you start looking at what sorts of things can we offer on an ad- supported basis? People have subscriptions to various things. We want to make sure that they have easy access to the subscriptions that they have and to the games that are tied to those subscriptions, but we also want to offer them other content that’s contextual, like “The Rich Eisen Show,” like “Formula E,” sports-adjacent programming like the documentaries that we’re doing. So it’s really combining all of those things into one holistic experience and trying to make sure you have the right balance.

How do you view competition from sports bundles like Venu Sports? Does Roku plan to get more aggressive in bidding for live sports rights?
I think what we look at is building the best overall experience. We have already built Sports Zone and we’re already aggregating partners and we will look to continue to do that and that continues to be our primary focus because we are such a large platform, over 80 million streaming households. I think we have just about half of all broadband households in the U.S.

So we have a really unique position for any partner who wants to put together a streaming service to be able to reach a streaming audience. I think that we have a really interesting opportunity to help partners as they’re trying to grow exposure for the sports content that they’re licensing, regardless of how it’s being bundled or positioned to a consumer. We want it to all be available in one place so that consumers have that choice and it can be very easy for them and we remove the friction and the frustration of trying to find that content.

As far as what we ourselves do, we look at everything as being a part of that bigger hole. So for example, we now have a MLB Sunday Leadoff package, which is a package of Sunday morning and early Sunday afternoon baseball games with MLB. We’re providing it for free to users on an ad-supported basis. It is also part of a much larger MLB experience on our platform that we call MLB Zone. But all MLB games are available to all of our viewers, whether they are with a national package, a local package or an out-of-market package. We also have clips and highlights of every single game, we have VOD content [and] documentaries that MLB has provided … Sunday Leadoff is our premier offering that is a part of that overall package with MLB. So it’s not just looking at MLB Sunday Leadoff in a vacuum. It’s looking at MLB Sunday Leadoff as part of a much bigger experience on our platform.

How will media consolidation impact the sports ecosystem and how well-positioned is Roku to weather through that?
It’s anybody’s guess, really. There’s always industry consolidation, there’s always corporate transactions that are impacting the way things are packaged. I think Roku is very well-positioned because of our scale, because of the distribution that we have. We are an important component of any of these changes that happen within the industry. So regardless of whatever reconfiguration happens with our partners, I think we are in a good position to continue to provide viewers with a streamlined, aggregated, one-stop shop of always-available sports content. All of these partners are important partners to us, and the availability of the content they have is extremely important to our viewers and therefore important to us. We’ll just continue to build around that and iterate on the experience.

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