The University of Northampton played host to the 3rd Annual Future of Sport conference on Wednesday 12th June, attracting an array of delegates from the top of the sponsorship, digital and media industries.
The conference was kicked off by hosts the University of Northampton affirming their commitment to sport, confirming short sponsorship deals with local Aviva Premiership rugby team Northampton Saints, League 2 football team Northampton Town and Northants Cricket, before compare for the day, broadcaster Nigel Adderley introduced the days first speaker, the distinguished academic and sports marketing professional Dr Bill Sutton from the University of South Florida.
The future is already here – we just don’t know it yet
Suttons keynote focused on new developments in the American market, and what sports marketing might look like in 2025.
In a whistlestop tour of what the future will bring, Dr Sutton covered a range of topics from the worlds largest 2nd screen – the 60 yard 1080p HDTV at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, through to Tampa Bay Lightning’s jersey 2.0 – team jerseys that enabled you to unlock discounts at local retailers.
Almost all of the innovations indicated in Sutton’s presentation were in direct response to challenges the industry faces today. Shortening attention spans, falling stadium attendances, increased fragmentation of sports broadcasting and the need for viewers to feel a part of the game mean inventive updates to parts of the industry that are considered tried and tested today.
According to Sutton, the game, whatever it may be, needs to become more than the sum of its parts. Sports franchises need to evolve to entertainment franchises. And they need to adapt to the changing behaviour of the fans, or risk becoming irrelevant. Fans today are used to playing, not watching. The gaming generations from the mid-thirties through to young teens are used to being in the game, and the proliferation of highlight packages and digital distribution makes it easier to consume the game without having to watch the full match. Add this to the portability of devices and increasing bandwidth of mobile broadband, and these compressed sports viewing becomes easier to fit into busy lifestyles.
This leads into the idea that consumers today want to consume what they want, when they want. In America, he secondary ticket market through providers such has Stub Hub has become the primary market. Fans no longer want to buy season tickets and commit to every game, when they can pick and choose the ones they want from the secondary market.
Dr Sutton was followed by Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor at Plymouth University, and is an expert in the use of social media and Web 2.0 tools.
Wheeler’s presentation focused on the changing social behaviours that social media and the digital age are bringing about. In a culture where battery life has become a premium, and managing your online profile is as important as managing your personal profile, Wheeler took the audience through digital psychological nuances such as digital tribes and digital totums, and the idea or Darwikism (or survival of the fittest content).
Ultimately, Wheeler’s presentation highlighted how online users are creating new social structures by the utilization and engagement with technology, and how this should be taken into consideration when preparing content for your audience.
Focus on Emerging Markets
Adrian Stores, Managing Director of FC Sports Marketing took the time out of his busy schedule to discuss the tricky subject of how to market to emerging markets. Using his own personal experience of launching initiatives into Turkey, Stores highlighted some if the fundamental differences in the way business is conducted across the shores.
Stores firstly highlighted the importance of Turkey within emerging markets. Until now the focus has been on the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China), but with Russia and China’s success being questioned, attention is turning to the TIMBI nations – Turkey, Indonesia, Mexico, Korea and India. All five countries have relatively large populations, positive population growth rates, and are democracies.
Turkey, as it has been throughout history, is a melting pot. Where east meets west and the historic trade capital of the world, the first thing to note is that personal relations are very important to the Turks. Deals are not done with the speed as the west, and quite often past performance counts for nothing. Instead, great emphasis is placed on respect for each other and being magnificent hosts.
Any connection of sport as a religion is seriously frowned upon, and yet surprisingly for a predominantly Muslim country, there is a big demand for UK betting market in Turkey.
Professionals welcome advice from other markets where sponsorship is more developed, and it is an advantage that big brand marketing directors tend to have a UK or US education behind them. Despite this, commercial deals are heavily skewed towards an ‘up-front’ payment culture, with short shrift being given to more complex commercial deals.
Ultimately, the approach needs to fit the culture of the country. Approaching any of the emerging markets with a Western approach to business is likely to offend, miss the point and fail. Turkey is a highly patriotic country, proud of their place in history and their traditions. There is a real appetite for sports and information within the country, and real opportunities for businesses who can overcome the cultural hurdles and successfully create contacts in an exciting and vibrant marketplace.
The morning’s seminars were polished off by a trip into academia, with Professor Gayle McPherson from the University of West Scotland, looking at a framework for measuring the success of Cultural events around major events, and Claire Warwick, professor at UCL discussing how Twitter is evolving how we communicate, and questioning why organizations allow junior staff to take control of one of an organisations most powerful communications tools.
Meeting of great minds
In the afternoon sessions, the audience were treated to some excellent panel discussion debates on the subjects of sponsorship, the media, sports marketing and fan engagement.
Panels featuring the likes of Steve Martin from M&C Saatchi Sports and Entertainment, Tony Evans and Gabriel Marcotti from the Times, Andy Halliday, Team Manager of the GB Mens Olympic Hockey team and Ryan McKnight, CEO of Stockport County FC debated the key issues with industry and media peers, and engaged in a lively conversation with enraptured members of the audience.
Needless to say the breadth and depth of the discussions was extensive, and too much to be covered in this column, but all attendees could come away enlightened in some small way.
A great success
There is no doubt that the conference was a great success, and worth the visit for the practitioners and students that attended alike. The time taken out of their busy diaries of some of the sport and media industries most respected peers shows the importance placed on constructive debate and the passing of education from one group to another, and next years conference is already highly anticipated.
AARON SYED JAFFERY
MANAGING PARTNER | NINETEENEIGHTYFOUR