Olympian and sponsorship and marketing expert David Culbert was in Quebec City last week for the SportAccord international Convention.
He reported for us on the Australian involvement at the event and today looks at the trends sweeping through world sport.
The conference, first hosted in 2003, is owned and endorsed by the sports movement and was created by the association of summer and winter Olympic federations. It allows federations to have their annual meetings at the same time and place and also acts a commercial platform, giving the sports business industry access to world governing bodies.
David found a sense of unease among these traditional federations about the emergence of ‘pop up sports’ and the rise of kid power. He explains those and other trends to emerge from six days of discussion.
While the SportAccord convention is a meeting place for international federations and big cities looking to connect, running alongside that is a conference that allows luminaries in world sport to give their views on various trends.
There was a lot of discussion this time on “pop up sports”. Traditional sports, anchored by big international federations, aren’t very mobile or nimble in their capacity to make change.
WWE, for instance, can just make up the rules as they go along. If they want to change something they can without having the issues of an international federation and that’s a massive advantage over other sports. It’s similar with the AFL – if they want to ban the chest mark tomorrow they could – the IAAF can’t act that quickly, the UCI can’t and FINA can’t.
Pop up sports present a massive challenge for international federations. Trends and short lifecycle fads are a big issue for the Olympic family. There was discussion around what sports might be centre stage at the 2020 Games when it was pointed out that the Indian Premier League cricket tournament took just six months to get off the ground.
What is going to be popular in 2020? How could you possibly know?
The international federations are petrified about these sports and competitions. Sports and federations might make dramatic changes to their product – so much so that they are hugely popular today but gone in 15 months time.
What Red Bull is doing in sport (turning gaming into sports and promoting extreme niche sports) was mentioned often in this context. They are creating content and branding around sports that are potentially not sustainable but are great for Red Bull right now, but may be gone tomorrow. Brands are increasingly interested in connecting with those audiences.
Our company works with pole vault world champion Steve Hooker and his recent competition in a railway shed in Perth probably got more coverage than the majority of traditional appearances. But how sustainable is it, if you do it 10 times is there enough interest? Probably not, but for three times there is.
In the mid-1990s triathlon introduced the Tooheys Blue series. It involved significant changes to the format and portable pools in parking lots and was billed as the “biggest, most sensational and definitely the most exciting event in world triathlon history”. Ultimately it was good for the Tooheys brand, which sticks in the mind long after the novelty factor of the changes has vanished and the sport returned to basics.
The pop up sport du jour in Australia is the Lingerie Football League. Two matches will be played here next week, but what will we recall of that in 2020?
Youth and social media were the dominant buzz words of the convention and Nike Brand president Charlie Denson set the tone.
Denson, who gave the keynote speech, was incessant on the subject of kids and youth and his main message was: “We’re not in charge, kids are.”
“Our consumer is the 17-year-old athlete and they are online. ALL THE TIME,” Denson said. “Digital is THE way of life for our consumers and for generations to come. There is no going back to the way it used to be.
“Today’s youth won’t accept to be ‘spoken at’. They will only engage when listened to. It has to be a two-way conversation. We have to create relationships that are authentic and personal and deliver experiences young athletes want to have with our brands.”
Peter Moore, the COO of EA Sports, says 7-9 year olds determine the future of sport and stated the gaming company’s goal was to get them on the “conveyor belt” in terms of interest in sports.
There was a big debate about obesity and kids spending too much time playing video games, and his position wasgames are an entry point of sports rather than an alternative.
His argument was that you used to sit on your backside and play a video game but the connectivity of Wii and X-Box Connect has changed that and now you play on your feet. For some kid, he argued, it’s their only connection with sport. Would you prefer they are playing sport via a stand up video game or have theri bums on a couch?
Moore also talked about holographic technology in 3D. In future, you could watch a Manchester United game for example, not on a screen, but as a 3D hologram in your loungeroom.
Social media is an area where it’s obvious the revolution is still in progress. The head of Twitter sports and entertainment, Omid Ashtari, spoke about the Olympic sports and how athletes have the opportunity to take their fan base with them to an Olympics for the first time this year.
Let’s take Suzy Balogh, who won a shooting gold in 2004, as an obscure Australian example. If she did that in 2012 and tweeted before the event and immediately after winning gold, she has the potential to gain thousands and thousands of followers, and they’ll follow her as fans forever.
I think the big federations understand Twitter’s power, but are yet to harness it; although most pro sports are on the ball.
Geoff Molson is an example of how some pro sports have the social media covered from top to bottom. The scion of the famous Canadian beer company is owner and CEO of The Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team and he is an enthusiatic user of Twitter, despite admitting to fear of it when starting out. I don’t see many equivelnts to him in Australian sport.
Molson was part of a panel involving a number of owners of Major League Baseball and hockey teams and a VP of the Women’s Tennis Association. The attitude that came through was that fans now demand interaction with a franchise from the front office staff through to the players annd that it’s unsustainable for sports teams and athletes not to be accessible on Twitter.
The conclusion was that stars of the game need to tweet on the day of the game and there was debate about should they tweet during the game; at halftime or tennis players when they have a sit down between games.
That caused strong debate but the message was clear: they should definitely tweet before and after and those who do will thrive and those who don’t won’t survive.
Of course not everyone is ready for this. I can only imagine Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction if his players pulled out their device to tweet during his halftime talk.
But it was a big topic of conversation in a session called “Fan Power: Are they customers or stakeholders and who decides?”
For some Australian sports, chiefly the Olympic sports, they become too focused on shutting out the distractions on the athletes. But might a time come when athletes insist on their right to provide information direct to fans?
Olympic athletes potentially get one day in four years. Take someone like Mitchell Watt, who might have to rely on a broadcaster’s brilliantly constructed highlights package set to emotional music to build his profile. But, if in his post event interview he’s allowed to say ‘follow me on Twitter’ and starts tweeting he has the potential to get a million followers, certainly more than his current 2,000.
And, of course, it’s not just about the athletes.
I’ll be a commentator at the London Olympics and I would love to engage with viewers, especially on Foxtel which is live, and this is something I will follow up with them. If you are watching in Australia it would be great to be able to make the most of the technology that exists and engage with the commentator.
If you are asking a question that’s of wider interest – say, why is Mitchell Watt wearing long socks? – and I can answer that question immediately and make it part of the live sporting experience, then why not?
Many people will be watching this Olympics with dual screens – one to see the action and another, their phone or tablet, to engage in social media. People have shown they want to be involved, so we should make the most of that.
Image: Red Bull