If you think about the history of spectator sports, it’s likely that your reflection will play like a clip show of famous faces, past and present, and iconic sports moments. The images we generate are inherently human. The sport itself is ultimately a vehicle for a myriad of the age-old underdog – the David versus Goliath and of overcoming adversity.
At its heart, it is the story behind the feat of human achievement and competition which makes watching sports so compelling, and what continues to make it a form of entertainment enjoyed by communities across the world. Ultimately, it is its longevity that has led to the sports industry developing into a global multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
That isn’t to say that the exponential growth of sport is guaranteed. For sports stories to reach legend status, the storytellers at the helm must engineer relevant platforms that can bring those stories to a wide-ranging audience of fans, old and new.
We’ve witnessed an incredible pace of technology innovation in the last 20 years. As a result, fans don’t just want to watch the action on TV, or even just see stars in the flesh battle it out at the stadium or racetrack. Today’s tech-savvy fans want a complete sports experience that is augmented using digital platforms, and they want to be in control of what that experience is like. This means that sports organisations need to enable different kinds of fans – regardless of their age, gender or how long they’ve been following the sport – to experience and engage with the action in more customised, immersive and powerful ways using technology. And, as there are today more ways for fans to watch and engage with sports than ever before, it is an opportunity for sports to generate new revenue too.
This is no mean feat in our increasingly crowded digital world, where everyone is jostling for attention. As our recently commissioned report “Show Me the Money!” highlights, the digital media strategy of a sport directly impacts the number of eyeballs it can attract and maintain, and, therefore, directly impacts the bottom line too. So, what are some of the key ways for sports to tell a compelling story in the digital age?
Put fans at the heart of the story
Technology gives us new ways to weave the narrative. For example, with advancements in Ultra-HD and 360-degree video, fans can get closer to the action from the comfort of their own homes. This has already been implemented successfully by MotoGP, whose use of 360-degree video make fans feel as though they’re on the back of the bike. The NFL has also embraced this technology, equipping stadiums across the United States with cameras that bring fans “on the field” to experience the game first-hand.
Digital innovations like these are helping to not only augment the viewing experience for fans at home, but also give fans everywhere the power to create their own sports experience, in their terms. This could mean making bite-sized chunks of a competition highlights available on Facebook or giving fans a sneak peek of how their favourite sports star keeps fit off-season on Instagram. Stories like this add a new dimension to the fan experience. They are a way to strengthen the connection that existing fans have with their favourite sport, convert casual followers to die-hard supporters, and to entice new fans into the fold too.
Creating sporting legends on and off the pitch
We all love an underdog. Triumphs by unlikely players are revered on the public stage. Globally, we’ve been treated to a feast of these kinds of exciting sporting milestones, from Harry Kane winning the first World Cup penalty shoot-out against Columbia since 1996 during the World Cup in Russia, to the Philadelphia Eagles beating five-time defending champions, the New England Patriots at the Super Bowl.
The fan support behind sporting heroes doesn’t just play out on the field anymore. Fans want to be able to engage with their sporting heroes off the pitch or track and online. Lewis Hamilton and Ian Poulter are two examples of European sports personalities who are central to the narrative of their respective sports. Giving new players a presence outside the sports can draw in new fans to the sport, meaning that social media increasingly plays a role in how our sports stories develop.
Promoting local stars, whether through social media or ‘in the real world’ is the best way for a sport to establish a new fanbase in a new market too. For example, the European Tour saw an increased interest in its tournaments in China thanks to a new generation of young, talented players such as Haotong Li, leading to increased viewership and engagement online.
Personally, I’d love to see Shubhankar Sharma – who recently won the Rookie of the Year award on European Tour – help grow golf in India in a similar way too.
Using digital strategies to create opportunities for fans to make emotional connections with these stars – and those further afield – ultimately drives new revenue streams. If fans feel emotionally connected with a sport and its stars, they’re much more likely to pay to go and see live sports or watch on a live-streaming platform, as well as buy merchandise.
Developing the right digital mix
I see 2019 as the beginning of a new chapter for the sports industry. By focusing on the storytelling of sports, this year can be a defining tipping point for this market.
To succeed, sports need to develop a holistic digital strategy, leveraging the right mix of technologies and platforms that allow them to tell the most compelling sports stories in the most powerful ways.
However, while it’s important for any sport to innovate to stay relevant and grow, there’s a careful balancing act involved. As well as attracting new fans, digital strategies must also keep existing, loyal fans happy by staying true to the essence of the sport.
To find out more on this topic, read the full “Show Me the Money!” report here.