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How The Sports Industry Dominate Digital And How You Can Too

Mark Simmonds

Lead Growth Consultant

Author Image: Mark Simmonds
how can the sports industry dominate digital
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The sports industry is going big on digital right now. 

Teams and organizations alike are jumping on the technology bandwagon, finally agreeing that investing heavily in digital platforms that offer increased fan engagement and immersive experiences outweigh the risk of people not actually turning up to an event. 

For a long time, there was a feeling that giving too much away was a bad thing. That if the casual fan got what they wanted through a computer screen then the stadium (track, court etc) would be half-empty when it came to matchday. And this was bad for sponsorships. And in turn bad for sports. 

They had it the wrong way round. 

The truth is, the game (excuse the pun) has changed. With the proliferation of smartphones and social media the younger generation now expects you to give everything away. They expect it all (mostly) for free. This model of content marketing is a long way from home for those of us who were brought up in a non-digital era. Those who couldn’t adapt have already been left behind. Thankfully, the sports industry in the UK (and sports in general) has got up to speed and changed their strategies accordingly. 

london 2012 olympics digital campaign
London 2012 Olympics

It began in 2012 with the London Olympics.

They were billed as “the most digital (Olympic) games in history.”

Due to the changing nature of consumer consumption, the BBC invested heavily in its digital offering in order to avoid a “no show” from the British public. They revamped their mobile and app platforms. They offered 24 live streams – a first. They also integrated social media through Twitter visualizations and live updates for people on the go, spurring an engagement frenzy.

The results?

432 million site visits, 15 million app downloads, 66% of traffic coming directly from SEO strategies. 60% of traffic coming from mobile.

It was very smart. Very meticulous. It was a shining example of well-thought-out planning and exemplary cross-channel collaboration across a vast and mind-bogglingly complex network of constantly moving parts. 

A communications masterclass.

The only letdown was the Spice Girls reunion in the opening ceremony. 

And, guess what? We’re about to go again. With the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022. 

So – what can you, a person (presumably) not involved in the sports industry – learn from all this? Is there any golden nugget we can take away to use in our own business, as we hunt for that elusive gold medal?

There is, actually. Lots. Read on for the key takeaways.

Use Data The Right Way

We’ve all heard it by now. “Data is the new gold.” Etc etc.

But how many of us actually put that into practice?

netlfix streaming
Netflix Streaming Services

The sports industry do. Due to the changing nature of millennial media consumption the old ways of distributing content have lost a significant portion of their value. Nowadays people want to watch, pause, rewind and start again whenever they want. Oh, they’ll pay for the privilege (via subscriptions, exclusive content etc) as long as the value outweighs the fee. But the value better be 10x what was paid for it (isn’t that right, Netflix?). 

Due to mass data collection and analysis, large sports publishers and broadcasters have been able to shift gears and maintain their market position. They analyze every spec of data they have to make sure their social content is right for their audience. On the flip side, advertisers interested in the sports market utilize big data solutions to see whether audience behavior matches their consumer metrics. 

They segment their audiences and create assets that appeal to each one. For the younger generation, YouTube is where they hang out. For the older guys, Sky Sports and Soccer Saturday are still a weekly tradition. 

They know all the moves and they invest resources accordingly. Because of data. 

You can do this too (at far less expense) with the right systems in place.

Bet Big On Streaming (and video in general)

We mentioned briefly in the intro how BBC offered live streams of every event at the London 2012 Olympics. 

Now, with the widespread use of platforms such as Twitch, live-streaming has become a huge opportunity for sports organisations across the globe. 

Marketing “slice of life” content has never been easier, and people love it. 

I know what you’re going to say. 

And no, you don’t need to start live-streaming your office every day. 

Instead, you can capitalise on the live-stream effect by allocating more resources towards video production. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in. There is an audience out there that wants to know about it. Did you know that 96% of people watch videos before they purchase a product or service? Did you know that companies that use video in their marketing mix enjoy 41% more traffic from searches? 

image of sports industry update on social media
Tokyo 2020 Olympics

You don’t need an event on the scale of the Olympics or Commonwealth Games to get in on this. You just need a video camera and, preferably, someone who knows how to use it.

Bet Bigger On Social

Social media is a great leveler in business. 

And sport is winning at it. 

It’s a consumer-facing industry after all and it understands what its core audience wants. The result is a market worth over £20 billion in the UK alone. 

using social media in the digital world
Sports Industry Using Twitter

The best part is that anyone can win at social media when they know how to give value. Even the smallest team (or business) can leverage inexpensive and technically simple social platforms in order to engage new fans and strengthen ties with old ones. The rise of the influencer shows that you don’t need to be a huge organisation or have the technical proficiency of Bill Gates to get things rolling. Anybody can do it. 

If you want to take a shot at winning social you need to follow what the great sports teams do. They hire professionals, they create content people want to see, they manage their community, and they offer time-sensitive offers (a finite event) without actually selling. 

TIP: To supercharge your results combine your video efforts with your social strategy. In 2016 Twitter, for the first time ever, live-streamed the Wimbledon tennis tournament. It reached an audience of 9 million people, achieved 80.8 million video views (up 378% from the previous year) and increased commercial value for key sponsors (such as Rolex, Evian) almost 4x.

Wimbledon’s strategy: “share moments that matter.”

You can do the same. 

Experiment With Innovative Technologies 

The pace of change in the digital ecosystem is mind-blowing.

Only a few years ago we were wondering how small mobile phones could get. Now we’re watching full football matches in HD in the car (not whilst driving, I might add). 

image of ar technology in the sports indsutry
AR in Sports Industry

There is a lot to take in and a lot of opportunity. The key is to pick your battles where you think you can be most effective. 

Social has made historically expensive media options like live-streaming ridiculously inexpensive. Also, as the demand for video production has increased, the price has come down accordingly. 

The next wave of technology, however, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), is aiming to remove the final barrier between the consumer and its content. These technologies are going to allow direct contact between engaged audiences and desired products or services, helping to build stronger relationships and increase the chances of a purchase. The Internet of Things (IoT) is also making itself known, through the widespread adoption of intelligent sport equipment and wearable tracking devices. All of these mediums can provide valuable insights to where we are and where we are heading. Soon we won’t have to leave our seats at all!

Put Your Customer First

After all the talk about space-age techno gadgets and mind-blowing spectacles on a world stage it can be quite sobering to come back to this point. But, at the end of the day, this is what counts. 

All of the other things that sports does well is a direct result of the relationship it builds and maintains with its fanbase. Nobody would care about your custom Snapchat filter if they didn’t care about you in the first place. No matter how far apart we become thanks to our screens it is still people talking to people. And it always will be. 

esports industry going digital
eSports Indsutry Going Digital

A great example of championing the new and putting your customer first is the rise of eSports. Professional teams are now “signing” gamers to play in international tournaments (the first was West Ham in 2016), thereby hoping to grab a chunk of the multi-billion dollar gaming market and the eyeballs that it brings. 

What could say “we love you” more than actually bringing your customers onto your team?

This philosophy of openness and providing value first is what drives the digital world and it is rapidly transforming the way we do and interact in business. Things are becoming transparent. We’ve had enough mystery. It’s time for authenticity.

Conclusion 

Digital growth is available to all of us and the UK sports industry is a shining light of what can be achieved. When we look back at the period between 2012 and 2022 it is likely we will see a movement (towards personalisation, towards engagement on an eye-watering scale) that was only just beginning.

What industries do you think are winning at digital? What can we learn from them?

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