Mainstream sport, as a leisure activity, is under increasing pressure on engagement levels due to two primary issues, competition for leisure time and increased financial barriers. As a result, governing bodies need to find more creative ways to attract and interact with their audiences to future-proof themselves. This blog investigates a developing trend which has the potential to secure widespread and long-term appeal.
Sky Sports and BT Sport audiences are falling as alternatives become appealing options, particularly to the younger fan. For example, global eSports revenues are expected to reach $905.6m this year, up 38.2% on 2017 (Marketing Week, 2nd May 2018) and have an audience of 600 million by 2020 (bbc.co.uk, 21st March 2017). This is a very serious threat to the sports industry (commercially) and also from a national well-being perspective.
Governing bodies are also chasing revenues to the detriment of broadening their footprint. For example, ticket prices for the England v New Zealand rugby union international this autumn will cost (face value) up to £195, and the 2019 England v Australia Cricket World Cup fixture up to £235. Whilst there will be cheaper tickets available for both series, the vast majority will cost in excess of £100. The governing bodies of the respective sports will argue that fans will be able to watch their teams play against lesser opposition for reduced ticket prices; with all due respect to Japan (rugby) and Afghanistan (cricket), these fixtures aren’t going to excite or motivate most fans. So, ticket prices are increasingly becoming a major barrier for many fans, particularly those new to the sport. However, this is unlikely to change any time soon and is not the point of this blog (we’ve ranted about this previously – see our blog from January 2016), however it may impact on the long-term sustainability of the sport.
A more competitive leisure market and greater financial barriers are creating a potential long-term issue for some mainstream sports as fan loyalty is beginning to be questioned. Sport can no longer be complacent in believing that fans will continue to support unconditionally. Therefore, governing bodies need to engage their traditional fanbase and actively target casual fans by acting like entertainment brands and offering more than just the sporting action. They are taking cues from their own players whose profiles are rising due to their increased exposure, and fans are increasingly demanding a relationship akin to the ‘traditional’ celebrity. Fans are wanting to know more about, and have greater interaction with, their heroes within both sporting and social environments. As a result, sports are having to review how they are positioned.
With fans increasingly supplementing their sports experience by watching content, whenever and wherever they please, to enhance their overall knowledge and enjoyment, stakeholders need more varied and meaningful fan interactions by blurring the boundaries between sport & entertainment. A good example of this is the recent Netflix fly-on-the-wall documentary about Juventus (First Team: Juventus). The All Blacks (arguably one of the most iconic global sports brands) are also currently in production of a similar series. Effectively executing a fantertainment strategy will ensure a greater engaged and loyal fan base who will be more inclined to create appointments to view matches, pay the ever-increasing ticket prices and, ultimately, participate in the sport.
Whilst it is in the governing bodies’ long-term interests to pursue such a strategy, it also provides an opportunity for sponsors to assist and benefit. In an increasingly competitive market for sponsorship, rights holders are under pressure to demonstrate greater value for their partners. By furnishing sponsors with the rights to provide enhanced interaction with its fans will broaden the engagement and ensure higher value is driven into the property. This will enable sponsors to deepen their credibility and demonstrate value adding credentials. In this scenario, governing bodies, sponsors and fans all win, however it requires an open-minded approach by the rights holder to embrace this broader view.
Governing bodies are going to have to work harder as more casual fans will be required to make up the lost commitment of ‘die-hard’ followers. Getting fantertainment right will help to future-proof their businesses and the long-term sustainability of their sports.