Sport has always played an integral part in society, embracing all ages, demographics and geographies. But the growth of pay per view TV, aligned with the fragmentation of society has presented a challenge for sport – how do you embrace those who have begun to drift from watching sport, the very same individuals who will be your future audience.
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- Sport was the great uniter, and can be again, but it has lost its way
- Sport has set up a number of exclusions as it has grown commercially. They have impacted younger audiences
- The fragmentation of society has given sport an opportunity to digitally democratise the sporting experience.
- Sport can lead the way, again, in unifying us through democratised experiences
About Enda Lynch
Enda Lynch, Head of Enterprise with Munster Rugby, is a commercial and sponsorship veteran with some of Ireland’s leading brands. Enda’s current role oversees a new business venture for Munster Rugby, the High-Performance Leadership programme, in partnership with University of Limerick.
Previously Enda was Head of Commercial & Marketing with Munster Rugby overseeing all revenue generation and marketing for the organisation for over five years. Prior to that, he was a sponsorship expert, working across a number of sponsorships such as the Irish Rugby team sponsorship, The O2, GAA All-Stars, Ferrari team sponsorship, Champions League etc. for brands both domestically and internationally for over 12 years including O2, Vodafone and Digicel.
Contacting Enda Lynch:
You can connect with Enda on LinkedIn.
By Enda Lynch.
As it was: Sport 1.0
Sport was a highlight, in every sense of the word. It was an occasion for all ages, all backgrounds. Mos of us never got to experience the big sports occasions in person. But from gathering around the wireless to colour TV, it didn’t stop us experiencing it for free on RTE or BBC, and then heading into the back garden to play our own Olympics, FA Cup Final, All Ireland final, Wimbledon, you name it. And come Tour De France time, the road was closed off with a few blocks of wood and coats and with the neighbours, you did 50 laps of the park in the middle of the estate you lived on.
Sport wasn’t a religious experience. But where religion assumed an authoritative role, sport provided a more social role, helping define communities emotions together. Through recessions, booms, moments of national crisis and celebration, sport was the common thread that pulled the parts together.
Sport was a collective experience, it was a society defining experience. Access was universal, the experience, the highs and lows of local, national and international events were key moments which dotted the year.
And this has been counter to other live or media related events, such as major TV shows, elections, national events etc. Despite ending 37 years ago, MASH’s final episode remains the most watched non sports event in US history, and the ONLY non-sports event in the top 30!
Sport was the great unifier on a regular basis, for all age groups, genders and demographics – free to air, free to experience, free at home.
As this chart shows, as the population of the US expanded, so did viewership of the Super Bowl to its current peak of 114m in 2015, the biggest televised sports event in the world. It has dipped, then grown again, and has seen some of its largest growth since the advent of digital sports streaming. It is free to air and a shared experience for the wider US community, with social media making it impossible to ‘avoid’ results etc. The wider sharing of the experience on a ‘second screen’ has actually grown the number of people watching free to air sport live.
As it is: Sport 2.0
Free to air sport has given way to a blended experience, substantially weighted to pay per view or paywall sport. As sport has grown into a commercial industry, it has found a very willing and engaged paymaster – satellite and private TV companies, who have funded never decreasing TV deals with all major sports in all markets.
But this has seen a substantial shrinking of the viewing audience.
- The Southampton vs. Manchester City Premier League game in July 2020 was broadcast free to air on the BBC due to the pandemic, and an agreement being reached that they broadcast games of secondary popularity once Sky and BT had taken their pick of games.
- Liverpool, with their best season in 30 years had all bar one game on PPV TV.
Liverpool Average PPV TV viewership: 1.8m.
Thought sport is widely digitally available, it is spread across countless platforms, from Sky to BT, to Amazon, to Premier Sports, Eir Sport, OTT broadcasting platforms which make it financially impossible for the vast majority of people to access more than one or two platforms and thus a small percentage of sports experiences in total.
As demonstrated in the above chart, based on TV viewership data from a Irish province’s make or break European Cup game in January 2019 against an English team which was on PPV in Ireland and Free to Air in the UK, those watching on PPV were older. Those watching on free to air were younger.
However, in general it is worth noting that vs. national age profiles, those under the age of 34 watching live sport are half as likely to watch live sport as those aged 55 and over.
The move of much sport behind paywalls has seen younger people not move with their chosen sport in as consistent a way as older viewers, and this is consistent across sports around the world.
Younger supporters are getting updates and snippets of games on social media, but they are not engaged with the product in the traditional sense. Sport 2.0 is seeing sports organisations and sports brands not as engaged with live sport any longer. They are building community experiences elsewhere – particularly in gaming. There are over 700,000 people in Ireland who define themselves as gamers. With esports growing at a staggering rate (the 2019 World League of Legends finals had an audience of 100m watching live, Youtube and Twitch had 347m audience hours for League of Legends competition play in 2019), more and more sports organisations such as AC Milan, PSG, the New York Mets, Munster Rugby are beginning to launch teams or partnerships in this space, recognising that their brand will need to grow in this space for this demographic.
That community pull that sport had is no longer as prevalent. For many who remain passionate about sport, it has begun to replace religion as a core tenet of their lives that determines how they feel and act in many regards. Major events still have a substantial draw if they are free to air, but as demonstrated in the first graph above, this has begun to dip since 2015.
Sport 2.0 has disenfranchised its younger audience.
But, the move to pay per view has reached a peak. The democratisation of broadcast sport to win back this audience is under way.
How it will be: Sport 3.0
Sport has been on a journey to react to the ways in which society has fragmented. Where sport was, and on occasion still is the great uniter, it hasn’t adapted quickly enough to the audience no longer being in the one place at the one time.
Society 3.0 is about reimaging fragmentation as democratisation, giving people choice rather than putting a wall up. They won’t pay for everything. Aggregation of experiences is already underway and with it, allows people to then chose what they want rather than what is available or can be afforded. Where once you had Sky, Netflix and BT Sports across three separate accounts, now you get all three on Sky. Where you had a Sky Dish, an apple box and Netflix on your laptop with Now TV, you now turn on your single device and every service is available to stream.
For Sport, that aggregation is beginning in full. Companies such as Amazon (Tennis, soccer), Disney (ESPN), and Twitter (NFL) are now bringing sport to you rather than getting you to go and search and pay for the sport you want. Traditional broadcasters are embracing esports, bringing a younger audience back to them (BBC broadcasting the UK and Ireland League of Legends summer league in 2020).
They are working hard to democratise sport – you chose what you want, how much you want to pay knowing that the experience will be different depending on what you pay for, but you will have an experience of the event you want none the less.
Sport is now beginning to lead in society. It is beginning to bring people together after the digital and political fragmentation of the last 15 years by adapting the technology to meet that new community experience that younger audience live by. Sport is also becoming the communal spiritual experience in many new ways.
And leading the charge……the NBA. The only non esport which has shown growth amongst younger demographics in the US, Asia and Europe. The only sport which has registered an uptick in ‘sport I most engage with’ in Irish research. Every game is available digitally and many of the biggest are available on terrestrial, every franchise and player is actively encouraged to own their digital presence and be vocal. They take games to new communities around the world each season. They have begun to win the younger audience, on their terms.
Sport 3.0 is here to redefine how we all consume sport, on our terms.