Broadly speaking, the fundamental principles of top-level sports haven’t changed much over the years. Strength, skill, and competitive spirit have been the bedrock of sporting endeavour since the first Olympic Games were held in Ancient Greece in 776 BC. The events themselves might have shifted (the popularity of chariot racing has dwindled, for example) but the guiding principles of sport today are much the same as they ever were.
While these fundamental principles remain constant, there have been seismic shifts in the ecosystem surrounding professional sport. Accelerated globalisation, the impact of the Internet, and a disruptive media landscape have brought sports to new audiences around the world. These shifts have helped to grow existing fanbases, to create entirely new ones, and enabled fans to engage with their favourite sports and sporting heroes in exciting new ways.
In 2019, we stand at the tipping point of the next big growth opportunity for sports, thanks to the impact of technology innovation. So, what are the major growth opportunities for global sports organisations? How do sports reach new audiences around the world? How can they broaden their appeal to attract new demographics? And how can sports convert casual viewers into passionate fans by creating more powerful fan experiences?
To answer these questions, Tata Communications commission an industry report called “Show Me the Money!”. It features expert contributions from major players in the sports ecosystem, including HSBC, Formula 1, European Tour and DAZN, who share their insights around the commercial opportunities that digital platforms offer for sports. Here are some of the key takeaways from “Show Me the Money!”
Sports need to attract new audiences to stay relevant
Every sport wants to grow its fanbase to remain popular and unearth new revenue streams. This means extending its reach outside traditional audiences. This may even mean launching entirely new formats of the sport itself, such as GolfSixes, a short-form version of golf introduced by the European Tour, which is designed to be quicker and more appealing to younger audiences. But it’s not all about attracting young fans to established sports: they must be careful not to alienate existing fans. It’s a careful balancing act of keeping existing loyal fans happy by staying true to the essence of the sport in question, and innovating through new platforms and formats to make the sport more accessible to new ones.
Fans want direct access to stars through digital platforms
The biggest sports stars are global icons, but platforms like Instagram means they’re not out of fans’ reach anymore. Furthermore, as a sport looks to expand to a new geography and establish a fanbase in a new market, promoting local stars is the best way forward. The most compelling digital strategies are about creating opportunities for fans to make emotional connections with stars – home and abroad – which will ultimately drive new revenue streams. Simply put, if fans feel emotionally connected and engaged with a sport and its stars, they are more likely to pay to see a match on a streaming platform or live at the venue, and buy merchandise, for example.
Don’t forget the importance of the live event
Digital channels can augment the live TV experience for fans who wouldn’t attend a match or race in the flesh. VR applications, for example, can add an element of excitement to the TV experience, which is a great way to get casual fans acquainted with a sport, and nurture them into the passionate fans of the future. But don’t discount the importance of venues. In the words of Mehul Kapadia, Tata Communications’ Global Head of Marketing and the Managing Director of the company’s F1 business: “As the digital fan experience gets better, the pressure is increased on venues to improve the live experience too.” This could mean anything from providing fans at an athletics event with additional data points on each competitor’s past performance and stats on their likelihood to win using an AR app, or making the simple (yet often painful!) exercise of finding and paying for food, drink and merchandise at the venue more seamless.
Focus on the platforms that best suit your sport and brand
In 2019, there are more ways for fans to watch sports and engage with their idols than ever before. Yet, there’s a risk that – in an attempt to make the most of digital platforms – sponsors, broadcasters and rights holders try to do everything, and in doing so achieve nothing. Instead, each content strategy must focus on the areas which will provide the best returns for each sport and brand, and the priority geographies where it seeks to grow. Much like the competition on the racetrack, course or pitch, there are major prizes for sports organisations that get it right: broadening their appeal amongst new audiences, expanding to new geographies, and creating more immersive fan experiences – which allow them to maximise the commercial opportunities that digital platforms bring. In short: it’s all to play for, in 2019 and beyond.
To read the full “Show Me the Money!” report, click here.