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Lizard brains, TV ratings and sell outs: Sports fight for consumer attention

Lizard brains, TV ratings and sell outs: Sports fight for consumer attention

By: Matthew Glendinning

29 Nov 2016
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In this month’s Sports Sponsorship Insider, we covered ambitious sponsorship moves in mixed martial arts and esports, along with somewhat less heady growth stories in more mature, mainstream sports, like football, golf and men’s tennis.

The contrasting attractions of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which aims to make even more money under the ownership of WME-IMG agency, and ELeague esports series, which will host its first major championship in the Counter Strike: Global Offensive game next year, draw a younger audience than traditional sports.

But perhaps they also connect more efficiently with the side of human nature that craves the excitement of competition. I was told by a UFC fan this week that he is drawn to the ’essence of human competition’ provided by mixed martial arts, while devotees of esports experience the same essential thrill in a format that is relevant to their always-connected lifestyle.

In fact, if product marketers are to be believed, it’s our ‘lizard brain’ – the remnant of our reptilian lineage – that is the attention gatekeeper and decision maker for our consumption habits. Violence, whether packaged in cage-fights or via a multiplayer shoot ‘em up video game, gets straight down to business with old lizard brain, whereas team sports, with their strategies and tactics, rules and regulations, require a bit more thought.

If you remove the tribal element from team sport – and let’s face it, few of us now support football clubs because they represent the locale in which we live or the community we depend on – does the reason for watching become even less compelling?

Don’t jump to conclusions

A parallel concern was recently identified in the broadcast space where my colleagues at TV Sports Markets noted that “alarm bells have been ringing on both sides of the Atlantic about falling audiences for blue riband sports properties”. Sky reported a 19-per-cent fall in Premier League audience, while ratings of the NFL’s Sunday Night Football was also down by 19 per cent on last year.

TVSM advised its readers not to jump to conclusions. Having scrutinised UK audiences for the English Premier League for almost two decades, TVSM concluded that the figures – as dramatic as they seem at first glance – can be explained by several, less dramatic variables (click here for the full article).

There is no evidence that the new sports are devouring the old in terms of live sport too. As Mark Bullingham, the recently-installed commercial director of the English Football Association pointed out in this month’s SSI, the England football team sold out all three games at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium, including a friendly international, this autumn. This for a team that had failed dismally at the Euros and for match-ups that hardly set the pulses racing.

If, as seems likely, the old and new co-exist over the long-term, the sponsorship prices of sporting assets, as revealed in Sports Sponsorship Insider, will provide a bottom-line commentary on where these sports are going.

This month, we provide the key intelligence on the following deals:

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