Why sport?

26th November 2017.

The weekend in question was a cracker – England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland all involved in Autumn Rugby Internationals, Southampton were at home to a struggling Everton side (I’m a long suffering Saints fan), and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the icing on the cake. 

Everything was set up for the ultimate weekend of sporting action – with Sky Sports, BT Sport and the BBC all providing the action right to my sofa. So, when my other half quizzed me on why I needed to watch all this sport – I was surprisingly perplexed as to what my answer should be. ‘Because I have to’, ‘Because I want to’,Because I need to’ were the answers at the tip of my tongue, answers akin to that of an addict.

So – it got me thinking, what is it about sport, that for so many like me, is so addictive? What brings people from all walks of life together as a single unit, a community?

UNPREDICTABILITY

At a bare minimum, sport is great content that draws in mass audiences to broadcasters ever expanding platforms. The sale of Premier League Chinese TV rights for £564m is an example of this, where the Chinese audience, without arguably any real geographic or historical allegiance to English Premier League clubs, flock to TV screens to watch the fast paced and unpredictable action of the Premier League.

In an ever‐​growing competitive media landscape, broadcasters, publishers, social media platforms and advertisers are all vying for content that draws in audiences to generate revenue. Sport remains the most stable source of exciting and unpredictable content around. Shows like the X‐​Factor are beginning to show their shelf life, with this years final drawing in a measly 4.4m viewers, the lowest since the show began in 2004. During the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, the BBC achieved a record television audience for an overseas Olympics with 45.24m people tuning in…the modern Olympics have been running since Athens 1896 — so no sign of a shelf life there.

Audiences gather to watch sporting events in the hope that they will see something unique, something memorable, something absorbing. The Olympics, Wimbledon, The Ryder Cup, The FA Cup and many more sporting events all provide this. The weekend of sporting action that I mentioned earlier had a scheduling clash –  England were playing Samoa, whilst Scotland were up against Australia at Murrayfield. Naturally, being English, my first port of call was England vs Samoa, where after just 9 minutes, England led 12–0. The result was inevitable. Boring. Dull. Predictable. I switched over to the BBC. Doddie Wear was walking onto the pitch with his 3 sons. Murrayfield rose to a former hero. The emotion was high, and the plot mesmerising. Stuart Hogg injured in the warm up, an Australian red card, a seesaw encounter with 12 tries, and ultimately a famous, record breaking victory for Scotland against Australia.

For just over 2 hours I was gripped by the emotion, the excitement, and yes the unpredictability of the action at Murrayfield. The predictability of the England v Samoa game made it dull so despite my English roots, I had little interest in the game. It’s for this same reason that we are seeing ever dwindling cricket test match attendances; statistically away teams have a mere 20% chance of actually winning a test. Graeme Swann sums this up perfectly:

Attendances in Test cricket are going down because you know who is going to win before you turn up…I’m a Newcastle fan and I turn up genuinely thinking they have a chance of winning every single game in the Premier League’.

Of course, not every sporting fixture will have a 50/​50 probability. There will always be favourites and underdogs. But sport is at its finest when the outcome is unknown and it is this unpredictability that keep audiences, broadcasters, advertisers and sports addicts like myself coming back for more.

RIVALRY

At its best, sport brings together nations, cities and people together. But in the same breath, sport can also be at its best when it divides nations, cities and people.

As I write this, I am travelling back from Australia, a sporting mad nation basking in the glory of an Ashes Test series win. As a ‘Pom’ in Australia during the Ashes, you are acutely aware of how united the country is in its desire to beat the English. Not only do the sly jabs, jokes and general ‘Pommybashing’ come from the average Australian in the bar it comes from every corner of Australian life.

The Rightsholder – Cricket Australia’s marketing messages carried the unsubtle, yet clear hashtag #BeatEngland

The Press – Where to begin…Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, no stranger to hyperbole, was the most enthusiastic declaring: “Rivalry dead: Brilliant Aussies humiliate pathetic Poms”

The Brands – Hardy’s Wine advertised: ‘Why can’t the Poms open a bottle of wine? Because they don’t have any openers’

It was Hardy’s that really grabbed my attention. At both Sydney and Melbourne Airports the advertisement was plastered all over the place on the drive into the terminals and within the terminals themselves. In bars in both cities the message was draped on the tables, bars and ceilings. And at the MCG and SCG the message was splashed across the big screen. I wonder whether at some point during the series poor Mark Stoneman, with his series average of 25.77, looked up at the stadium big screen, or at the airport advertising (he can’t have missed it!) and not only felt the pressure of facing Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon but also the weight of this sporting rivalry. Hardy’s, as a sponsor of Cricket Australia, tapped into the nations narrative and rivalry, with the right message, to the right people at exactly the right time – and I expect have reaped the rewards. Programmatic, SEO and social media advertising is lauded for being able to deliver exactly the right message, to the right person, at the right time – but Hardy’s have proven that clever sponsorship initiatives can be just as effective.

In 2019, the Ashes will take place in England, and the sporting rivalry will continue…with fans, broadcasters and brands no doubt throwing shade right back at the Australians through all channels of communication. In an interesting twist, with Hardy’s also sponsoring English Cricket, it makes you wonder what their  2019 messaging will be…

Let’s just hope we have some openers!

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