As 2014 winds down, here are six memories to take away from the past year in sports marketing.
1. It's the Experience, Stupid
In a play on the famous "it's the economy, stupid" crafted by Bill Clinton's presidential campaign team in 1992, today's sports fan expects a technology enhanced experience when attending live events. Venues are playing catch up to have the needed infrastructure to empower fans to use their mobile devices. We are connected anywhere, anytime, and fans will not accept mediocre technology access. Simply being at a sporting event is no longer enough to create memorable customer experiences.
2. Social Sports
Speaking of technology and mobile devices, 2014 marked another year in which social media became more prominent in sports consumption. This trend was especially evident during the FIFA World Cup tournament. Sporting events represent the ultimate in live programming, and social networks like Twitter are ideal channels for letting fans gloat, complain, taunt, and talk in real time about the sports, teams, and athletes that are intertwined with their self-identity.
3. Gentrification of College Football
The long anticipated playoff system in college football has been implemented with a four-team College Football Playoff. Its first year has met all expectations so far in terms of stimulating and maintaining fan interest. The CFP may be having another effect- widening the divide between the haves (Big 5 conferences) and have nots (all other BCS conferences). The recent decision by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to drop football could be an isolated occurrence affected by many variables. Or, is it possible that other institutions that spend heavily on football with little demonstrable return might question their participation in a system that is stacked against them?
4. The Activist Athlete
In late 2014, high profile cases involving police and African-Americans in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City fueled conversations about race and equal treatment of all citizens by police. Athletes joined the discourse in a very public way, marking a departure from the practice of steering clear of political and social issues that could negatively impact an athlete's standing with sponsors or fans. Athletes have a platform from which to exert influence- will more of them decide to make their voices heard on social issues of the day?
5. Non-Competitive Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi delivered its share of memorable moments in competition, but there is an area in which the Olympic movement is seeing competition whither: Cities battling for the right to host Olympic Games. Soaring costs and tremendous demands on infrastructure have made hosting an Olympics less appealing. The IOC must make hosting a more appealing proposition for cities around the globe that have become reluctant to submit bids.
6. The Reality of Fantasy
The fantasy sports industry experienced transformation in 2014 as daily games from providers like DraftKings and FanDuel sparked new interest and participation. Innovation is a driver of growth, and the popularity of daily games should serve as a call for pro sports leagues to figure out how to build interest in their brands through daily game fantasy products.
Your willingness to take a few moments to read our take on sports business is very much appreciated. You probably read for the same reason we write- love of sports. It is a privilege to be able to share with you. Happy Holidays to you and yours, and may 2015 by your best year yet!
- Don Roy