For generations, a sport’s popularity has revolved around television rights and access. However, with the growth of connective media, the television-centered paradigm is shifting fandom and viewership into the digital space, which means fans are able to control how they engage with events, organizations, and personnel in real time.
In a move that exemplifies the transition from television to connective media, the NFL announced an experiment, “saying they would put a midseason game on a national digital platform, not on national television,” as reported by The Wall Street Journal. The NFL will stream the week seven contest between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills from London in October—an attempt to engage with fans outside of the traditional national demographic.
Similar moves are forcing teams, sports marketers and brands to take on a global approach to fandom, where the sport, not national boundaries, is the focus. How people connect with their favorite pastimes is changing drastically, and the sporting world should reimagine their target audience.
This move is creating new opportunities for sports like surfing or cricket to receive a larger viewership, after being once marginalized by television rights and considered regional instead of global.
Even though there is now a global focus causing brands to rethink the way they engage with fans, the principles of sports marketing are underlined by a common element: engagement. From the highest professional and amateur sporting levels to the most local, there is a sense that sport marketers must change their tactics to create more engagement.
For example, during March Madness, individuals who were streaming the tournament were introduced to real-time graphics that highlighted the level of engagement on social media.
Sports that embrace connected media and global fandom have unique opportunities.
While there is no consensus on how to achieve a connective media strategy in a fractured, mediated world (and there probably will never be), there is a greater emphasis on content and experiences surrounding sport—beyond the live events themselves. Fans can now choose how and when to stay connected with the sporting events and organizations of their choice, which will allow for a global audience to interact with sports on a larger scale.
In other industrial contexts, we can see similar shifts, especially in entertainment-oriented contexts like music or television. The popularity of long-tail thinking, led marketers of all kinds to find ways to reach the more nuanced micro levels of individual and community demands, creating engagement opportunities that favor experience, alignment of authentic messaging with value sets, and general ways of meeting people when and where they are.
The long tailis exemplified by iTunes, where the hits can still get downloaded regularly, but individual songs can be accessed at any time, over long periods of time, generating incremental revenue for low costs of storage. Constantly evolving content is available when and where people want it (e.g., behind-the-scenes interviews with digital apps).
This transition is causing many teams, leagues and entities to move toward an Internet-based model. For example, Red Bull, the energy drink company, became a media production company and content provider; The International Olympic Committee is examining options for post-games content and mobile broadcasting, while The National Football League’s NFL Now platform allows customized viewing preferences and live content for fans.
The prevalence of team-based programming via team Web sites and digital channels from some of the world’s largest soccer/football clubs are immensely popular.
Sports are breaking free from the restrictions of regional television models, and the shift becomes one of finding ways to market with fans, whereas previously they were marketed to or at fans.The crux of the issue is not the technological changes themselves, but the ways in which sport marketers and corporate partners can combine different platforms to fit different organizational and fan needs and wants.
Connective media is awash in opportunities to connect with sport brands, corporate brands, fellow fans, but it starts first with thinking globally about how to engage with fans. Television rights, language and location are no longer limits to how sports reach their target audience.