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Harry Hawkins: A new era of ‘fan ignition’

Harry Hawkins, content lead at data-driven sports marketing agency Two Circles, explains why media fragmentation is giving sports rights-holders the biggest opportunity ever to ignite fandom.

Harry Hawkins

Earlier this year we released an analysis of the global leisure market. The data showed that the amount of time the average person dedicates to recreational activities will increase by 16 per cent over the next decade.

Though that doesn’t mean as a global population we’ll manage to finally start playing more than we work, technological advances and growing disposable income have begun to automate and optimise our jobs, and reduce the time it’s traditionally taken to perform basic chores. And that means more time and more money to do the things we enjoy most.

But perhaps most interestingly for SportBusiness readers, our data showed that, across the same period, the number of hours spent by the average person playing, watching and following sport will increase by 34 per cent. This means as a global population not only do we have more recreational time, we’re devoting more of that time to sport – driven by a greater emphasis being placed on health and fitness, a greater supply and variety of sports media, and sport’s growing cultural relevance.

It’s great news for the sports industry – we’re about to enter an era of significant growth, and the opportunity is huge.

Historically we’ve seen only a handful of factors play a role in creating affinity for sport – visibility on TV, participation as a child, and the role of family. We’re beginning to see sport break with tradition; consumers all around the world are starting to be recruited into deeper relationships with sports properties via a multitude of different routes.

Media in particular demonstrates this point. Today, sports action is at the tip of our fingers, via streaming, in-play clips or post-match highlights, all media assets that weren’t available 20 years ago but are now accessible on any number of connected devices. And not only are these new forms of media assets commercially-valuable rights packages within a rights-holder’s media business, they are a means of recruiting and deepening the affinity of followers, fans, players and consumers.

In-play clips are perhaps the most obvious example – the perfect expression of sport for those with only a passing interest, unwilling to invest more than a few seconds to watch a sports event unfold. Clips represent rights-holders’ opportunity to cater to these individuals with a different manifestation of their core product than the one available through live long-form coverage; this represents an opportunity to change the relationship these individuals have with the sport and drive their affinity upwards over time.

Games are another example. Recent research we conducted on behalf of a client demonstrated that a smartphone game had been its single-biggest source of new followers under the age of 35 in one of its priority markets over the past 24 months. The long-term strategic value of this penetration of an increasingly-hard-to-reach audience will be felt by the rights-holder for many years to come.

Going forward, a competition’s presence in a young person’s Facebook feed could be just as impactful as its visibility on TV. Equally, a six-part, human-interest documentary that tells the story of a sports team through a new lens could drive just as much engagement as a league-winning run. The world’s new sports media diet is changing the ways in which fandom can be ignited.

Using data to track the amount of engagement these touchpoints are having with different levels of fans, in as granular detail as possible, is critical for rights-holders to be able to understand the impact and role their content is having on different audiences, enabling them to build commercial strategies off the back of it.

Everyone in the world has the propensity to be a bigger sports fan. We just need to ignite their fandom.

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