Let’s play the sports marketing cliché game!

I wrote this piece for the Unofficial Partner blog, but thought I’d share it here as well because it’s quite fun and hopefully useful too.

Sport loves a cliché, Brian. And, at the end of the day, sports marketing is no different. 

In fact, quite a lot of the discourse and strategic thinking that surrounds the business of sport seems to be built on some assumptions, theories and ‘facts’ that are trotted out on a daily basis.

As someone who likes to use actual data as a starting point for developing any kind of strategy, I thought it might be interesting to stress-test some of these clichés and see if they hold true. Can they do it on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke, so to speak? 

So here goes, with the massive caveat that looking at data on a global level is interesting, but it’s always more useful to drill down into specific markets and audience segments…

Cliché 1: Gen Z has a short attention span

Putting aside the fact that targeting an entire generation of people based on nothing more than an ill-defined age grouping is pretty dubious…here’s a chart showing the % of global 16-24s spending at least two hours per day on various media types. 

They are clearly less likely than older people to be spending a lot of time on linear TV (although still 24%) or radio, but plenty are spending at least two hours each day on their mobiles and laptops, and for many it’s 4+ hours daily. 

Also, 49% of global 16-24s have an interest in gaming, and 62% (outside of China) use Netflix. Neither of these things are exactly known for being snackable content. 

Verdict: Not for me, Clive. Young people may be less likely to sit through a full 90 minutes of Burnley v Everton (no offence) but if the content is engaging enough they will happily immerse themselves in it for hours on end. 

Cliché 2: Man Utd has over a billion fans

Kantar did some research in 2019 (commissioned by the club) that suggested United had 1.1 billion fans and followers, and the club still uses this number.

This was based on a survey of 54,000 people in 39 countries and then extrapolated to match the global population. As Kantar said at the time “There are limitations in extrapolating survey results to a larger population. As a result, our number of followers and fans may be significantly less or significantly more than the extrapolated survey results.”

Looking at the last four quarters of GWI data, 392m people admit to having some level of interest in the club. Of these, 137m support Man Utd as their main club, 156m as their secondary club and 100m have “an interest”. 

This data only covers 16-64 year olds in the most developed countries (representing about 2.6bn people) so with a global population of 7.9 billion, we *could* extrapolate that to say that almost 1.2bn people follow Man Utd. But, we’d then be including babies and toddlers the world over. 

If I was a sponsor, I’d probably only be interested in people living in the more developed countries with a reasonable level of affinity with the club rather than a passing interest (it depends on the brand and their objectives), so I think a more realistic and meaningful number is going to be closer to 300m. Still quite a lot. 

Verdict: I’ve seen them given. It’s possible to make the case for 1bn followers, but it really feels like a stretch to claim that 14% of the entire world supports one football club. FYI, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool all have more global followers, according to GWI. 

Cliché 3: People want brands to make the world a better place

This one does seem to be supported by the data. When global sports fans on GWI are asked “which of these things do you want brands to do?”, being eco-friendly ranks #1 and being socially responsible #3. Support for local suppliers and charities is also important to 30% of fans. 

Sports fans do also want other, more individualistic, things from brands, but it seems quite clear that doing the right thing is going to be a winning strategy. 

Verdict: Clearly over the line. At a global level, people do want brands to be socially responsible, with the environment at the top of the list. 

Cliché 4: Young people don’t watch TV anymore; it’s all about streaming

With the big screen on the living room wall increasingly being a smart, connected device (67% penetration and rising in the UK), the distinction between “TV” and “streaming” is disappearing. It’s all just content, with the main question being whether it’s watched live or on-demand. 

The data does show a clear trend away from the TV set as the primary device used to watch “TV content”: 78% of 55-64s use a TV, dropping to 67% of 16-24s, with those younger audiences more likely to be using a phone, tablet or laptop.

97% of 16-24s regularly watch on-demand or streamed content. This is slightly higher than the older age groups, but even among 55-64s, that figure is 83%, showing how ubiquitous streaming has become. 

Live TV consumption is pretty consistent for all age groups at around 86-88%. The only real distinction is that the younger age groups are more likely to be streaming than watching live. 

Verdict: Game of two halves. Yes, younger people are less likely to be using a TV set and yes, they are more likely to be watching on-demand than live. But 87% of 16-24s still watch live TV content (sport is a big part of that) so it’s a bit early to assume that “traditional TV” is on the way out. 

Cliché 5: Esports is the future

Globally, 20% of people have an interest in esports, putting it on a par with board games and dance, and some way behind watching sport, at 33%.

Unsurprisingly, that interest is weighted towards the younger audiences: 27% of 16-24s and 23% of 25-34s (vs just 7% of 55-54s) are into esports.

Even among 16-24s, esports has a similar level of interest as handicrafts and theatre. Playing sport is well ahead at 43% and the top interest is music, at 62%. 

Gaming does have a much higher level of interest: 37% of people globally and 49% of 16-24s.  

24% of 16-24s have watched an esports tournament and 29% have watched a live gaming stream. Interestingly, both of these have been pretty static over the last two years of GWI research, although analysts are predicting global revenues to grow by 15% annually over the next five years. 

Looking just at 16-24 males, gaming is the joint top interest (alongside music) at 58%, with esports at 36%.  

Global 16-24s: Which of these things are you interested in?

Verdict: The kid’s got a bright future. Among the general population, esports is still a fairly niche interest, but when you focus in on the young male audience in particular, it becomes much bigger, and gaming is huge. Expect both of these to continue gaining traction in years to come. 

If you’d like to stress-test any clichés or assumptions, or simply use some solid data to understand your audience better, before developing a coherent strategy, drop me a line.

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