In our fragmented world where we are always plugged in and constantly scrolling from platform to platform, sport almost uniquely retains the power to unite a global audience with universal passion. As the public’s desire for access to their favourite sports, teams, and athletes continues to flourish, the media landscape continues to develop to meet insatiable demand.
With each new development, the fans are brought even closer to the action and have even more opportunity for engagement. The further the world gets away from taking in sports through hours of real-time game footage, the more the industry moves into a new era – one trophy emoji at a time.
This transition from passive spectatorship to interactive relationships has changed the public’s expectations and forced the industry to evolve. These developments require the sports industry, brands, and media to be more nuanced and multi-layered than ever before. They need to be constantly on the pulse, constantly switched on, and constantly pushing the boundaries of fan entertainment.
A moving target
Despite the increasingly fragmented media landscape, major sporting moments still manage to garner huge attention through traditional mediums. TV remains the most popular medium, with 94% of fans globally and 95% in Britain using it to regularly watch sport. Around half of the world’s population tuned into TV broadcasts of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, according to the International Olympic Committee, including close to 80% of US homes.
But even though TV still dominates, the sports marketing industry is under pressure to engage younger fans and future-proof its media strategy. According to the 2016 Nielsen Total Audience Report, US adults aged 18-24 spend 20 hours of the 57 hours they spend per week consuming media on their smartphones, and only 15.5 hours watching TV. This means that 2016 was the first year that consumption on mobile devices surpassed television across any demographic.
The shift in consumption patterns extends to sports fans, especially younger ones, who are increasingly consuming sport in new ways, such as streaming on their mobile or following live feeds on social media. In a recent EVS Global Fan Survey, 75% of 18 to 25 year olds said that their smartphone was their preferred method of viewing sport news and content, compared to 34% of those aged 45 and above. Of sports content currently consumed on mobile devices, sports news is the most consulted media at 60%, while 49% of people watch match highlights and 41% watch live streams.
Although in 2017 the core fans of traditional sports under the age of 25 make up less than 20% of the market, the industry cannot afford to be out of touch with this mobile audience and needs to explore new and interesting ways to engage them.
Sports organisations can derive huge benefits from direct relationships with fans, but it is not a one-way street – fans have demands too. Their first is that they want to see the human side of sports – whether that is getting to meet or interact with their favourite players or simply seeing them in another context. Social media has helped humanise athletes, allowing sports people from around the world to answer questions, share fan content or unveil intimate aspects of their world.
According to Copa 90’s James Kirkham the attraction is in its unpolished authenticity. “Snapchat, for example, brings with it an authenticity previously unseen,” he says. “It is raw and real and absolutely of the moment, so the perfect contrast to overly stage-managed or manicured content as previously existed. For Generation Z, authenticity is the number one demand.” A great example of this is the ‘Everything but Football Football show’ series MOFILM has created for Chevrolet, which facilitated direct fan-player interaction, by pulling pranks on some of Manchester United’s most esteemed players.
The second expectation that fans now have is that they want unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes activities that were normally limited to a handful of people – from videos of training, snaps of team meals and insights into changing room chats. Social media is the natural home for this kind of content, allowing exclusive access to these activities all year round, even in the off-season. It attracts dedicated audiences who keep coming back. A branded example comes from furniture brand and Olympic sponsor DFS, who provided an intimate sneak peek into the real lives of gold medal winners Adam Peaty, Laura Trott and Max Whitlock with a behind-the-scenes makeover of their homes.
Social media also allows fans to be co-creators of content and conversations. User-generated content has proved a successful way to make people feel even more involved, amplifying the message and simultaneously creating content for the brand or team to help meet their voracious content demands. For instance, Liverpool FC called on fans to design match day images and submit them to be used across the club’s social platforms for every game of the 2016-17 campaign. By offering exclusive content, being human and letting fans co-create the sport’s identity, the industry can increase fan loyalty that has a lasting impact on business success.
Teaming with influence
As younger audiences move from YouTube to Instagram to Snapchat and back again, there’s a grassroots movement in the sports industry that is following them, realising their needs, grasping the opportunity and diving head first into delivering engaging content in a fresh, innovative way that feels a lot more 2017 than a FIFA scandal or a multi-million pound trade deal.
This movement has seen the birth of the “influencer team”. These teams are born on social media, star a handful of ordinary people and thrive off a dedicated fan base that shares every video, buys merchandise and purchases tickets to watch them compete in real life. These teams have grasped the influencer revolution with both hands, cleverly using the ripple effect of collaborations to rapidly grow their audiences and reinvent the way sport operates.
The power of influencer teams is clear when you look at the rising success of Hashtag United. Started by Spencer Owen, a football YouTuber and FIFA gaming champion, Hashtag United is a real-life football team comprising of his friends, which plays other teams of fellow YouTubers, brand teams, former players and Premier League staff teams in a brand new league they created to mimic online FIFA gaming. Sounds pretty run-of-the-mill right? Wrong.
It’s off the pitch Hashtag United really comes alive, posting vlogs, full 90-minute games, behind-the-scenes footage, player awards, eSports championships and general banter on social media. They have a combined social following of 5.4 million people and achieve between 500k-1 million views per video. Brands are lapping up the opportunity to get a slice of the pie. Hashtag United has completed brand campaigns with Umbro, EE, Barclays and Chevrolet.
What we can learn from Hashtag United is that engaging, always-on online content and relatable, real players can have an unprecedented impact on the way audiences are engaging in sports, whilst simultaneously changing the face of sport as we know it.
The sports market is not only pushing innovations in media and technology, but also being pulled in many different directions in order to keep up to date with intensifying audience demands and changing viewing habits. As media continues to fragment and younger audiences grow to become fans with increasing purchasing power, teams and brands need to innovate, experiment and push the boundaries of sports content in order to continue to deliver authentic, engaging and relatable stories.
To see the recent work MOFILM has made to bring sports brands to life, check out our reel below:Back