Future of the Sport

In 2016, a decade from now, where will the sports marketing industry be?  You might think that you could venture a confident prediction.  But, look back and your confidence is likely to plummet.   Stop for a moment, take yourself back a decade, and you will see a very different marketplace. 

Back in 1996, the internet barely existed. Few could even conceive of the idea of broadcasting sport over the internet. Even fewer could appreciate the threat that the medium might become to the main TV networks; how it could undermine the delayed broadcast of events by providing full results and details hours before the evening prime time shows.

The sports marketing world was then dominated by the super agencies – IMG, ISL and Octagon – with the rights to the major global properties locked up in long term and very profitable agreements.  Few of the sports federations had any internal marketing expertise and, as a result, nearly everything was outsourced to specialist groups. Who could have forecast that within a decade ISL would have gone bankrupt; that IMG would be taken over by an investment group, and most of the long standing senior management then resigning or being fired; and investment at Octagon under pressure due to the financial constraints of its parent, the Interpublic agency group.

Back in 1996, the major Olympic sports – athletics, swimming, gymnastics, figure skating and the like -- still maintained a strong presence on US network television and commanded respectable rights fees.  Look now and the sports which drove record TV ratings at the Olympics every four years have now practically disappeared – and can often only make it on to the network if they pay up and buy the time themselves.

Ten years ago brand management had yet to make its way into the daily sports marketing lexicon.  Merely referring to the idea of adopting the principles of consumer brand management and applyig them to building value for the Olympic rings or other sports properties, would have been cause, at least in the case of the IOC, for instant dismissal.

Other staples of the sports marketing industry have aged questionably – sometimes badly.  In 1996 the 30 second spot on network television was still the primary advertising outlet for most marketers. Now the networks’ primary and, at times, only source or revenue, seems to be in terminal decline. The market place is increasingly fragmented.  Tivo and other technology is placing ever greater control in the hands of the viewer.  Expensive commercials go unwatched.  Add in that the internet has taken over from television as the primary youth information and entertainment medium and the TV ad begins to look like an endangered species.

The names have also changed.  Some of today’s biggest and most creative sponsors were unheard of just a few years ago.  Who had ever heard of Vodafone or Samsung?

And the idea that London would win the right to stage the 2012 Olympic Games was not only a distant dream, nobody even dared think of the possibility.  The country’s track record was uninspiring. When Britain did occasionally win the right to host a major event, like the IAAF World Athletics Championships, embarrassingly it had to hand the event back, due to lack of suitable facilities and government commitment.

Now, in 2006 the world of sports marketing looks very, very different.  More is to come.  The next decade will witness the most significant changes to the sports entertainment industry since the emergence of mass television. How people consume their sport and how brands  connect with sport will change radically.  The sports scene in Britain  will change beyond all recognition.

But, how?  At the risk of being proved totally wrong, here are my predictions as where the industry will be in a decade from now.

Consumer choice

First, the viewer will be empowered as never before.  Choice will rule. Google-based search engines, connected to the screen will allow the fan to effectively watch anything in the world – when he wants, how he wants and in whatever language he wants.  Korean expats in Los Angeles will watch tae-kwon-do direct from Seoul; Aston Villa soccer supporters in Venezuela will enjoy every game as if they were sitting in the Holt End.  No matter where you are, video i-Pod communicators – or something similar -- will provide you with the goals and the highlights of your favourite team, as and when you want.

Back at home, the viewing  experience will be further transformed. For 50 years the size of televisions barely changed. In the last few years the size has tripled.  With analogue consigned to history, high definition TV will soon be standard.  Entire living room walls will transform into cinema quality live experiences.

Challenges for advertisers

Given this, challenging times lie ahead for advertisers in search of their precious consumers.  But it is not all bad news for them. I anticipate that live sport will be one of the few programming events  still able to support 30 second TV commercials – thanks to being the only programming that is Tivo proof.  As a result, advertising in major sports events will increase in value. It will be one of the few ways to connect to the mass audience.

Challenges for sponsors

For sponsors, acquiring digital content will become even more important as it allows them to create custom made messaging and promotions individually targeted at their consumers, through their own media outlets.  With consumers, advertisers and sponsors feeling the winds of change, life for sports agents will also look very different. 

The traditional model of media rights, being defined by a territorial footprint, will also be challenged. New media models refuse to respect geographical boundaries and consumer of the future will demand language solutions on a global basis.

Traditional sponsor categories will be under threat. Government legislators and bureaucrats have foreclosed on the sports world’s biggest sponsor, tobacco.  Now, attention will turn to three of the next biggest sponsor categories – beer, soft drinks and fast food – as social and political groups turn up the debate on growing levels of obesity and binge drinking.  Once again some of the world’s biggest sponsors will emerge from companies that nobody has ever heard of today – from Chinese and Indian companies, for example, as they use sport to fast track development of their global brands.

Reinventing sports agencies

The sports agency world will have to re-invent itself again. The big federations and sports properties will all be directing their operations in house, but turning to an increasingly specialised group of niche agencies to help exploit media rights; develop digital offerings for sponsors; and create a true brand identity for their sport. Advertisers will look to their main advertising communications agencies to finally develop true insights and expertise on how to use sport as a marketing tool rather than simply regarding it as a board at the side of the stadium, some name recall research and access to hospitality tickets.

The hospitality industry will come under ever more increasing pressure itself from legislators, as the tax authorities start to question the value of invitations and corporate internal ethical guidelines prohibit “gifts” of this level.

The future for suits

And for the sports administrator the future holds an array of changes. The federations will have to learn the skills of brand management and marketing their sport, how to break through the cluttered market place, and connect with tomorrow’s youth, just as Coke and Pepsi do and have done. In the end, everyone is in the entertainment business, competing for the ever more precious time of consumers.

Acts of kindness

The manner in which a sponsor can help promote a sport, through their marketing resources, will at times become as important in the offering as the cheque in the bank. “Marketing in kind” will become as key part of any negotiation as “value in kind”.

The organising challenge

Organisers will have to focus their resources on creating atmosphere and ensuring capacity crowds. The atmosphere outside of the sports field, will at times be as important to create the necessary buzz and drive media attention as on the field. If there are few people and no buzz people will not switch off, they won’t even switch on.

London 2012

For the UK, ten years hence will see the nation, hopefully, basking in the warm afterglow of a triumphant Olympic Games which will have re-engaged youth, re-invigorated large areas of London, and provided a host of new lessons for the marketing industry on how to maximise the business of sport.

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