In a recent article published by Rick Maese at the Washington Post, it well-articulated the current generational challenge that lies at the sports industry’s feet.
The influence of Gen Z isn’t a revelation or new news. But I wouldn’t go as far as labelling it a problem. It is merely a part of the sports industry evolution. It is an opportunity to change a system that has been so used to a way of going for years.
The logic and approach of – build it and they will come in sports, no longer works. In years to come there will not be a big enough ‘natural’ pool of sports fans to sustain ever-growing sports organisations. As Rick’s article states, senior-level, executives and owners believed that those who strayed from sport would simply return in their mid-30’s. Um, what?
For Gen Z it is the complete norm to have all-access on information and social media profiles in a matter of taps. Gen Z want entities, both business and human that reflect their own values.
Which leads me to my favourite line of the article – “humans are greater than highlights.”
Sport has landed itself within the melee of fashion, art, music, and social content. People buy people. Personality sells. Values sell. Mutual interests with another person bonds different audiences and brings groups together. New, varied audiences are now a by-product of sport.
So, what implications does this mean for sport and team organisations?
Broadcast content will change
I recognise, television rights and who owns what is a big question mark with many a legal implication. But as time goes on, this will have to adapt and change. According to Two Circles, in-play clip and short-form highlights will outgrow and lead ahead of live rights in five years. Short-form highlights will grow at a rate of 101% between 2019-2024. Live rights? They will only grow at a rate of 18.7% in that same period.
It cannot be assumed that broadcast rights will always provide with the right content that will support and generate new audiences. TalkSport’s Simon Jordan’s comment last month, about Ben Foster’s in-goal filming reflects this thinking – relying on in-game content to be left to the broadcasters.
“But what he can’t do is film footage of him in goal, because the broadcasting deals have covered all that.”
Caption: In-goal film start 5’37.
The lack of fans in the stadium serves as a huge opportunity to capture different on-pitch content. It is the ideal testing bed for new ways of operating. If nothing new is tried now, when will it?
The NBA is a prime example of learning from their Bubble broadcast experience – they will now take forward the unique camera angles and enhanced audio into next season – beginning December 22nd.
Enable better and unique access
Across the globe, social teams have been challenged with capturing the most unique access to players and their teams. Ultimately, different content and perspectives will separate those that do well at capturing a new, younger audience and those who will not.
In the case of Ben Foster – if he had not of gone ahead and placed the camera in goal. He would not have brought about the discussion of player generated content in the UK. He was able to come to an agreement with the EFL to off-set the money made from the YouTube videos to charity – which is a great compromise. But what message does this send to other footballers who potentially wish to push the creative boundaries on their own personal branded content? Or how will this challenge be met again in the future?
To encourage new audiences, some often turn to the format of the game. A relevant contributing factor, and T20 Cricket is a great example. Met with criticism at first, it is now one of the sports main selling points.
However, changing the game itself through rules and regulation will not alter audiences entirely. How you package what is on the screen will. Social highlights and easily digestible content that goes against the grain of previous content is what will capture new audiences. Albeit be through fashion, music partnerships, esport, social causes, or general more personable content.
The England Cricket Board in 2019 delivered the #ExpressYourself campaign. What was the ambition? To drive online engagement with and around the cricket team, and the players personalities. Turning around it’s ‘Downton Abbey’ vibes and resonating with 16-24-year olds.
Other examples include: Leeds United signing a partnership with Roc Nation, and the WNBA x Glossier Partnership Campaign which heavily focused on individual WNBA players as Body Heroes.
There is a certain level of flexibility and transient loyalty within fans. Fans are more likely to be invested in individuals and will follow them through their career. Jersey sales and social accounts are often indicators to the mass movement that occurs when a major signing is announced.
Alex Morgan’s move to Tottenham and various other huge international signings to the WSL opened international interest to the league. In addition to broadcast deals. Which is brilliant, it shows how global stars can influence a league – not just a team.
Another example, Tom Brady’s move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After Tom Brady’s Bucs merchandise dropped in April on Fanatics, Bucs merchandise sold more merchandise in one day than it had the previous seventeen days combined.
This is not to say that all content should be focused on the superstars, of course not. But it needs to be understood that some fans and people are purely there for that one player. Give them the satisfaction of following that player.
Change is to undoubtedly come. Content will evolve. There will be growing pains between that and the broadcasters. But as a new generation begins to influence the stats and numbers, the more executives need to listen. This is an opportunity, not a hindrance to the industry.
Other Content Examples:
Tottenham Hotspur’s Training Ground Cricket Content
It’s different, it captures players in a non-football environment. It bridges to Cricket; it shows player personalities and for some players – surprising Cricket skills!
Liverpool’s Andy Robertson – Wingmen Series with Trent Alexander-Arnold
I was so pleased to see this; Robbo and Trent are a dynamic duo. I do recommend the series, Liverpool fan or not!
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Sarah Fuller’s Mind-Blowing Stats
Sarah Fuller was the first woman to play in a Power Five game last week. This is how her social profile has grown in a matter of days. The power of athlete content and personalities.
Breaking down a historic moment.
Since Wednesday afternoon, @SarahFuller_27 has experienced 17,478% growth on Twitter and 13,300% growth on Instagram.
+ 40.3K followers on Twitter
+ 137K followers on Instagram
It doesn’t stop there. pic.twitter.com/TfdgXzSG2o
— Opendorse (@opendorse) November 30, 2020
The NFL caught Marshawn Lynch mic’d up – ready for Thanksgiving
I love @MoneyLynch pic.twitter.com/VDBL1aTWHQ
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) November 25, 2020
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