Fracturing of live sport audiences spells trouble for everyone, society included
A Campaign UK article ‘Game changer: the shifting dynamics of football advertising’ written by a contributor at Nielsen in the UK, examines the dynamics around the recent Women’s World Cup, where brands invested heavily and audiences spiked. It contains some interesting implications for the future of Australian sport, not least the relationship between codes, broadcasters, platforms and advertisers - and its long-term impact on the economy, society and culture. (Campaign Live).
- Women’s football in the UK (and globally) is seeing a rise in audiences, with the UK women’s team the Lionesses watched by record audiences in the 2019 World Cup.
- Sporting events, and their broadcast, have always offered brands an opportunity to get in front of engaged consumers through sponsorships, advertising and activations but the long-term trend is that the Football World Cup is in decline. The Men’s World Cup attracted £8m in ad spend from sponsors around the 2010 South Africa Tournament (as linked via the tournament logo in print and TV), while the 2018 tournament in Russia only saw £3.5m spent.
- It’s crucial for brands to understand involvement in sporting events, through sponsorship or advertising, should always be complemented with creatively strong advertising campaigns that tap into the emotion of fans.
Fragmentation and the knock-on impact on the cost of sports rights could have far reaching societal consequences that go way beyond media.
We're heading towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the Rugby World Cup is about to kick off, we’re in the midst of the Ashes, AFL finals are looming, Melbourne Cup is on the horizon and the Australian Open is back in January. In Australia, sport is the fabric of society – yet we often forget that aspect of the debate around sport and focus on the media side.
Sport is undergoing a massive shift when it comes to broadcast, streaming platforms, rights negotiations, and beyond and that all has a huge impact on how accessible it is, or isn’t, for Australians.
We know that the last round of sports rights negations saw significant rise in the price tag for broadcasters. Concurrently we saw a decline in some audiences as there is a destabilisation of linear TV audiences. There is a risk that clients end up paying more to reach fewer people and there’s a real question around whether the price of sports rights will rise to a point where broadcasters just won’t be able to pay – this has a massive, and underestimated impact on society.
In recent years telcos like Optus have moved in on the English Premier League, which has been a success story – but not without its major problems. Digital subscription platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Google have also dipped a toe in locally and globally. Amazon has rights to tennis and Premier League in the UK and NFL in the US, while Google has access to major League baseball.
The increase of platforms now playing in the space also serves to fragment audiences further. The issue isn’t that competition is a bad thing, it’s about the danger of sports falling off Free-To-Air TV. If broadcasters can’t afford the rights, it means sports will be split across more platforms, and simply put, people won’t be able to watch them.
Australians shouldn’t be penalised if they can’t afford multiple subscription packages to follow sports codes. That to me is a fundamental and very real social debate. Sport is for everyone – and if everyone can’t access it, it becomes elitist. Anti-siphoning is often a dirty word, but it makes sense and is there to protect audiences and make sure that every Australian can watch sport.
In the UK, we saw cricket fall off FTA TV 15 years ago. This year the UK men’s team averaged just 550,000 viewers during the World Cup. No one can watch. (And looking at the fourth test results perhaps the quality of the team itself has been affected!) We don’t want that in Australia.
Broadcasters need sport as part of their offering – and society needs them to have it as well.
There are knock on effects. Clubs are impacted by sports rights decisions, and it’s the fans that are affected. Clubs still need to recoup cash from somewhere, so we see ticket prices go up, which affects attendance at live games, and when attendance goes down, it leads to fewer people playing sports, and so the impact spirals.
It’s harder for brands to ‘own’ sports sponsorship properties over fragmented platforms, which can impact their commercial outcomes but also their ability to support communities at this grass roots level. Brands’ support of sports codes and broadcast through sponsorship and advertising pours money into sports at a grass roots level. It helps kids watch and play sports from a young age, encourages involvement, and being active, they learn the rules of teamwork and socialisation – it’s a positive impact on communities and if that fragments Australia has bigger problems than sports rights negotiations.
We talk about fragmentation in media in commercial terms, often without bringing the impact on society into the debate but the ecosystem of sport runs through culture, health and community. Commercial is just one aspect.