Start Earlier, Work Harder, Give Them More

The Jacksonville Jaguars recently announced plans for renovation at their home stadium, EverBank Field. Those plans include massive new video boards in each end zone, measuring 300 feet in length apiece. This is just the latest attempt by professional and college sports to offset the decline in live attendance on event days. In fact, live attendance has leveled off or declined in football, basketball and motor sports, in particular, in the last three to five years. 

Indeed, team performance, weather and a satisfying home viewing experience are contributing factors to these overall declines. However, an aspect that many in the sports business have overlooked is that there is a new segment of the population emerging as sports fans. We can refer to them as “Generation Heads Down,” or Generation HD for short. You can’t help but notice them, with eyes glued to their smartphone device wherever they go, steadfastly consumed in their own personal entertainment. This generation is hard to overlook.  

Several teams and sports properties have caught on to their “disinterest” in the live action. In fact, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has gone on record, blogging about how he wants to eliminate what he calls the “look down” moments at games. His vision for a sporting event is to make it like a wedding, where people are up dancing and creating memories that can last a lifetime.  

Cuban may be onto something with his analogy to a wedding. However, it’s going to take more than massive scoreboards with video and sound blasting at the audience to reach this emerging cohort of sports fans. However, the reality is that in order to get “eyes up” from Generation HD, sports marketers are going to have consider three important principles:

Start Earlier

It’s no longer satisfactory to start connecting with this audience when they sit down in the seat. There are enough information nodes available now that you can provide data and information relative to products and services in the area of the venue, in your city on the way to the event. You can meet Generation HD at their level of expectation, enhancing their lifestyle, and when you optimize this for their social graph and for their mobile devices, you are going to get more of their attention, and get those eyes up when you need to. 

Work Harder

Work harder at defining your offering. Don’t lose sight of the important principle of defining your product or event along the lines of the world that these consumers live in, not the one that you work in. For example, is there an incentive to pay attention to the big board, because of what a fan just saw on their personal mobile device? If your game activities are competing for the attention of Generation HD, you are likely to lose that battle. Connect them, or make them synch with your programming and those eyes may come up, and stay up longer. 

Two decades ago, automakers began to understand that, unless they could synch in car entertainment components to the personal devices of the consumer, they would lose out to those that could integrate effectively. Sports marketers may be faced with a similar dilemma in terms of the big video screens at venues. 

Give Them More

For Generation HD, it’s not “less is more,” it’s “more is more.” Generation HD wants more of a relationship with your brand, more acknowledgement of their following your brand, more transparency into your brand values, not just your product or your team roster. Crowd sourcing for their ideas is old news to Gen HD. They are going to be excited when you reach out to them, with yourideas for a way in which they can be included in your message, featured in your media or your product announcements. 

Gen HD is also among the first of the “Global Kids” raised with a wider worldview, social consciousness and values for sustainability, diversity and equality, which are important to them. Your brand’s engagement in topics like the environment and social justice are meaningful to Generation HD. Where do those issues have an ascending presence in your sports brand mission? 

Listen, learn and understand how to connect and communicate to and with the Generation HD market segment. The long-term success of your sports property, product or brand may depend on it.

2 comments about "Start Earlier, Work Harder, Give Them More".
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  1. Jim Thompson from Temple University, October 15, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.

    Thanks Marty for a very good article on connecting with HD consumers ... of any age.

    A couple of thoughts.

    The sports franchises could learn a good bit from the TV networks on engaging viewers/spectators on their screens (phones/pads) during reality shows (sports being the ultimate reality show). Efforts over the past few years have yielded great advances in how to interact with viewer/consumers during a reality show.

    On a different note, the decline in attendance at major professional sporting events is due to a few key issues. But far and away the biggest reason is price. As a result of the recession, many brands in many categories held prices or reduced them (sometimes with a commensurate reduction in features). Sports has done the opposite - continued to raise prices aggressively. Not unlike luxury brands - which is what attendance at professional sporting events has become for the vast majority of sports consumers.

  2. marty conway from Georgetown Univ, October 15, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.


    Thanks for those thoughts. On price, indeed, instead of the price of the product being driven by actual consumer response(s), such as in traditional product marketing when new product enhancements come out, or something changes in packaging, etc. rather, sports is almost simply based on player payroll. Without questions, the live sporting event is pricing priced at the outer limits of "normal". That said, certain sports, such as baseball have dozens of price categories available, so almost anyone can find a category. The NBA may be the worst of those out there, in that it has been hard to find a "value" package that is really "value" and not awful seats and a few food items.

    My experience in teaching millennials that is in terms of price, they are more prone to use a stubhub or a secondary market option, which is in turn destroying the value what is a "season ticket". I think the in game, ballpark experiences with giant video screens is awful. In a world fast becoming micro targeted, they are putting up mass messages that appeal to no one in particular. At one point in time, I used to market and sell corporate and consumer inventory in sports and I would no longer put up a massive screen, for the millions that they cost. I would spend to wire the stadium so I could micro target so any market segment can get what they want, and not these huge screens that are no longer that interesting. Bigger is NOT better for Generation HD.

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