Last week I joined some of the brightest minds in the sports industry at London’s Twickenham Stadium, exploring the latest in innovation, disruption and consumer preferences impacting the future of sport. I had the pleasure of meeting leaders from across the industry; making some new contacts and catching up with some of 2CV’s current clients. I also got to take in some fascinating viewpoints and experiences from the likes of Dazn, Facebook, Pixar, JOE Media, Paris St Germain, FC Barcelona, West Ham United FC, Mumbai Indians and many more!
The world, and specifically the sports industry, is changing at an increasingly rapid rate – with the modernisation of content consumption, the technology disruption and transformation, all alongside the intense competition for consumers attention, time and ultimately their spend. I learnt more than can be summarised in a short piece but here are my top five learnings from what was a fantastic week:
1. There’s a classic battle of old versus new
A reoccurring theme throughout the event (and a story as old as time), was that ongoing battle between the old and traditional versus today’s new, disruptive, innovative, agile ways. Be that the traditional, well established media broadcasters going head to head with newer digitally led offerings, or the regional, national sports teams pitching up against the newer global esports teams. One truth bore out across the event – the older practitioners are learning from the new and vice versa. Newcomers are learning from the mistakes of the past and the rules of the industry and adapting them for the new digital world and its fast paced, globally connected consumers. Literally standing on the shoulders of the more experienced giants to grow rapidly and successfully into the future.
There was an interesting point raised about the future of advertising revenue in media by John Skipper, Executive Chairman at Dazn. He highlighted that the future of advertising revenue is strongest in sport compared to comedy, drama and documentary content. His thinking being that consumer tolerance for interruptions during a programme is quickly starting to wane against the backdrop of uninterrupted on demand streaming content. He went on to say that this is still an opportunity in sport content due to the ‘natural’ half time type breaks in sports. A valid point for sure and an interesting revenue challenge for many media organisations to consider.
2. Diversity – change is happening but there’s still more to do
Leaders held a private Think Tank session and evening exploring the future of a more diverse sports industry – a topic that was on almost everyone’s lips that I spoke to. After what feels like a spotlight has been turned on women in sport in the UK this summer (with the huge success of the Women’s World Cup and immense achievements of the GB female athletes in the Doha World Championships) there is great momentum for gender diversification within sporting athletes and we’ve seen a strong increase in consumer viewing for female sporting events. Yet, it was clear to see that most of the high profile, executive speakers who are leaders of the industry are not necessarily what you would call diverse. The fact that this topic is on the agenda certainly makes me feel optimistic that change is coming – not only in better representation of people from all walks of life in terms of the athletes themselves but also within the wider industry.
3. Sport as a catalyst for social change
Many of the leaders I met were from the commercial side of the industry – those focussed on the bottom line, more eyeballs on the game and spend on their products. However perhaps one of the most inspirational talks I attended was ‘Inspiring A Billion Dreams: The India Opportunity’ by Nita Ambani, otherwise known as the first lady of Indian Sport. Nita is the co-owner of the Indian Premier League cricket team, the Mumbai Indians. She is also pioneering the education and sport for all programme called ESA and is the founder of the Reliance Foundation (among her many other achievements). The foundation does some incredible work but it’s the power of sport that’s been leveraged for education and bringing people together as a community that really hit home for me. Bringing sport to the rural communities of India gives talent the opportunity to enter professional sport and to change their lives and futures. With professional leagues springing up across India right now, sport is the catalyst to change the economy – creating jobs in construction of the sporting venues, media to broadcast events, hospitality and tourism for those that come to watch sporting events live. At the end of the day, the leaders in sport are always commercially minded but it’s also important to remind ourselves of the power of sport to change lives and society for the better.
4. Esports really is the future
Aside from diversity, esports was the other hot topic of the week. For those at the cutting edge of esports through managing talent, teams and tournaments, it requires a distinct balancing act of running a commercial business whilst also creating a brand-new market. The debate of whether esports is really a ‘sport’ still exists, but when you hear those running teams talk about it you can certainly understand why they see it as a sport in its own right. The players are called athletes, they are managed professionally in the same way you’d expect a traditional athlete to be managed – they are set up with dedicated training programmes that focus on their overall health and wellbeing including nutrition, gym exercise programmes and they are supported by a sport psychologist. For those on this side of the industry, learning from traditional sport is important but so is unlocking new revenue streams to support the inevitable growth of esports in the years to come.
For the uninitiated, it’s a new world that presents new brand opportunities for marketing but also for growing their audiences. Some see esports as a natural partnership with established sports, leveraging the huge cross over between sport and esport audiences to increase fan engagement. This is why you see the likes of West Ham and Man City investing in their own FIFA esport players, teams and tournaments. For other sport teams and brands in general, esports can provide a new entry point to the brand at a younger age than other forms of marketing and is perfect to tap into the coveted younger audience many marketeers struggle to reach.
5. Knowledge really is power
Perhaps the most commonly used phrase heard at any of the panel talks or speaker responses to audience questions was ‘you have to know your audience’, like REALLY know them. No matter what the topic or angle of the question, almost all the speakers made this point. One of the best examples of this was a question put to JOE Media’s owner, Niall McGarry, asking how they make content for millennials that have such a short attention span. His response began by detailing the known facts and figures the media have picked up on over the years – that millennials love to consume short form content and hence the rise of the 30-60-second video content consumption going through the roof. This has led to the widely reported assumption that younger generations only have the capacity, inclination and drive to consume short bursts of content (as they have a shorter attention span than other generations). However, he went on to make the more valid point that this is less driven by short attention spans and is more of a function of the needs of today’s busy consumer (creating content to fill short gaps of time in consumer’s busy lives). You can see that millennials do consume long form content – think about the rise of binge-watching on streaming services and podcast consumption – younger consumers will and do consume longer form content at different times of the day and during different occasions. This is one simple demonstration of the real power of knowing your audience doesn’t stop with what they are doing but going into the context behind these data points. Knowing what your audience do, why they do it, when they do it and where they are doing it – this is the competitive advantage all leaders should keep in mind to take them into the future.