Sport is truly a blessed industry. Whatever gripes individual fans may have with their teams, they will always be the most loyal consumers on the planet. Manchester United’s Eric Cantona once remarked that a person can change their politics and even their religion, but never their favorite football team. And it’s this loyalty that marketers are looking to tap into - most sports fans are now comfortable with the level of commercialization in the industry, and growing engagement numbers are ripe for exploitation.
As technology has developed, so too has the way fans interact with sports. Mobile content, on demand video, and 24 hour reporting have completely revolutionized the industry, with fans now expecting more from their teams, broadcasters and media outlets when it comes to content. This is only heightened by the ever-escalating cost of being a fan. Since 2011, the cost of a matchday ticket has increased 13% - that’s almost double the 6.8% rise in the wider cost of living in the same time period. The most expensive English Premier League matchday ticket is Arsenal’s, at £97. And, in the US, the average New York Giants ticket stands at a huge $123.40 - the cost of watching on television has similarly risen. So, as a result, fans expect more from the entire relationship between the industry and themselves.
We’re far from a saturation point in terms of content, too. According to a report from performance communications and behavioural insight agency Canvas8 - which surveyed 500 fans - the demand for content from the average fan is fervent. Of those polled, 73% said it’s important to be able to access sporting content ‘whenever I want,’ with over half accessing content at work and a surprising 14% admitting to accessing content at a wedding or funeral. Rights holders, marketers, and sponsors must look to ‘extend the lifespan of sports beyond the live action if they are to cater to the increased appetite’ of the fans, as put by The Drum.
Perhaps the most dedicated to delivering 24-hour sports programming has been ESPN. The US giant’s television ratings are huge and, in 2006, it entered the mobile market with Mobile ESPN - a sports-centric mobile device. ‘Your phone is the dumbest f****g idea I have ever heard.’ That was Steve Jobs reaction to the product when speaking to then-ESPN president George Bodenheimer, according to These Guys Have All The Fun. The project nosedived, but the features developed for the mobile device gave ESPN an incredible head start in the mobile market of today. The company essentially built a mobile sports app before apps were a common thing.
Today, ESPN’s dedication to mobile is paying off, with close to two-thirds of the company’s UK audience consuming content via mobile. Advertisers and developers haven’t caught up with this demand, and they should, particularly within the mobile-heavy, constantly moving world of sports news. The gap between the amount of money spent on mobile and the consumption on the medium is still cavernous, and it’s likely that sports will be one of the industries quickest in plugging the gap.
Alan Fagan, ESPN’s group sales director for the EMEA region, expects greater monopolization of the market as it develops. ‘Theres lots of very good sites out there but there is going to be a bit of a shrinkage of the market. Not every site can be a destination site and [in the future] I think we’ll see the destination sites getting a higher share of the total spend.’
Marketers need to identify both which sites will become destination sites, and how best to target fans that expect round the clock coverage. Sponsors and marketers, with the data available around players and matches, are capable of creating their own content - ‘it’s not just about being the brand on the backdrop or shirt anymore,’ said Phil Barker, head of commercial acquisition for the FA. Companies have to be more active to meet the demand, and should be focused on finding a way of exploiting the incredible level of consumption that ESPN foresaw.