New sporting trends need new advertising tricks

Along with the rest of the nation, I was captivated by the Matildas, writes Ben McAuliffe. Their success with such an entertaining brand of football captured and united our nation’s attention.

As I was swept up in their spectacle, I began to question how advertisers have engaged with the explosion in popularity of different sporting formats.

The theme of promoting fast, explosive, entertaining sport to maintain audience attention is not unique but instead a trend that is transcending across the globe in countless sporting sectors.

To engage and excite fans – and attract new audiences – the traditionally more subdued sports have had to re-invent themselves to regain viewers’ attention. And advertisers should take note.

The ‘New Sport’ generation is most obvious when you consider sports that have shifted within their own formats. Take T20 Cricket versus Test Cricket; Formula 1 sprint races versus traditional races; or Rugby 7s versus Rugby Union as key examples.

As we dig deeper, it becomes clear culture has moved towards these ‘new sports’.

The phenomena of ‘new sports’ as an attention tool is not new.

World Series Cricket is one of the clear leaders in this space – go back to the ’70s when one-day cricket challenged the status quo of the five-day format, with some of the world’s top players appearing on Australian television screens, playing this new format.

Many of the changes in new sports have been accelerated by cultural moments, including the more recent introduction of social media, and the appetite for instant highlights – meaning sport has adapted again, and brands once more need to take note.

When analysing searches on YouTube it becomes evident that highlights across Cricket, Formula 1, MLB Baseball and Premier League Football have all seen a clear spike in popularity.

This is further evidenced by how boxing has become stagnant over the last two decades while the UFC has knocked out their competition in popularity, with interest in this fast-paced alternative rarely sharing the spotlight in the past decade.

It’s not surprising that the UFC has surpassed boxing as the globe’s ‘fighting sport’, evidenced by the Google Trends interest from Jan 2004 thru July 2023.

This growth can partially be attributed to the shorter time required to watch a UFC fight, accompanied by the condensed action, quickly seizing attention, and keeping a tight hold.

Despite the innovation in sport itself, we still see majority of advertisers perceive the global peak of sport advertising as a brand having a 30 second spot in the Super Bowl. Brands that have embraced these new sports have done so from a challenger mindset and clearly identified where their audience attention has shifted.

From its inception KFC has been a name partner of Australia’s T20 cricket competition, The Big Bash League (BBL), and has been innovative in its approach to capitalise from the partnership. KFC embraced more creative methods of advertising, moving away from traditional forms of media opportunities, and reaping the benefits.

An example is that the bails have been re-named to ‘Zing Bails’, aligning KFC to the conversation within the match. That’s smart brand alignment!

American football remains the United States’ most popular sport, but in recent years has seen a drop in average television viewership of the NFL’s regular season.

One of the efforts to regain viewers’ attention has been the Nickelodeon airing of NFL games. The use of graphics in the game’s broadcast was met with praise from viewers and led to CBS announcing it will also air the 2023 Super Bowl on Nickelodeon with the youth-based same format, marking the first time that a Super Bowl will include an alternate broadcast.

And it’s not only sport: Other entertainment industries, such as the music industry, have experienced these shifts in consumer consumption habits – and one might wonder why advertisers haven’t followed suit?

So, although sport and entertainment industries have experienced significant shifts in response to evolving consumer habits, we are now at a crossroads.

Those brands that maintain the status quo in advertising may deliver their ideal reach, but they may well be left behind, as the impact of these new sporting codes increases and brand opportunities grow.

Now is the time to go big or go home within these sporting codes.

Ben McAuliffe is the investment partnerships manager at Initiative



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