2022 Trends that will inform sport in 2023

2022 Trends that will inform sport in 2023

Credit: AP

2022 saw a lot of change in sport. The ending of restrictions imposed by the COVID Pandemic allowed events to open back up in more meaningful aways than in 2021. This was staggered with Europe and North America removing restrictions earlier than Asia.

As a company we noticed a number of trends that we have thought we would share with you

The nature of events

Many events had to increase their reliance on public funding which means that the wants and needs of citizens need to be incorporated. Governments are moving beyond pure economic measures when considering events. Social, community and image / brand now carry far more weight. This plays out in how community engagements occur as well as increasing demand for local firms to be used in events.

Sports and organisers need to recognise they are now a tool of the city / region strategy. The buzzword “legacy” is now meaningful to stakeholders and must be part of the planning from day one, contributing to a broader community strategy.

The nature of fans - sport is just the beginning

While there are many ways to engage with existing fans, sports and events need to do more to engage with younger demographics. Currently only 23% of Gen Z (born in the late 90s through to the early 2010s) identify as sports fans as opposed to over 40% of their millennial predecessors. They are far more aware of the values of events being hosted and organisers needs to align with these to keep them engaged, particularly on social issues. The younger generation is demanding that events be linked with green, sustainability and CSR initiatives. While some may see the negative coverage of Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup as a politicised issue, indications are that values associated with groups connected with sport are much more importance to younger people. This was seen when British Cycling took on Shell as a sponsor, resulting in BC’s CEO resigning.

The nature of fan engagement has changed. Previously, a lot of the initial influence came from friends and family whereas engagement to a particular sport now comes from different avenues such as:

  • Entertainment: Formula One has driven massive follower growth through its Netflix “Drive to survive” series
  • Adventure travel: where sports are using their more extreme disciplines to create more dynamic engagement, e.g. canoeing
  • Metaverse environments: which allow some sports to increase their engagement with younger potential fans. At this stage it is still larger, better followed sports that will benefit as it develops from infancy to a more broadly utilised environment.  

The nature of data & technology

Big data has been a concept for some time but the ability to utilise data through emerging technology is improving, enhancing the availability and quality of information. This allows for better delivery of sport and events and supports better storytelling to engage fans.

Organisers need to use data to understand participants better and define what content consumers want, how and when they want it, and the acceptable price points. To do this they need to understand the borders of that activity in an environment where there is no common regulatory playing field between different geographic regions.

One point to consider for data – if you focus your efforts on “monetisation” you will miss opportunities to engage with your communities more meaningfully, reducing the strength of your ties with them. This may result in higher rates of fan churn and higher costs of re-engaging with them.

The pandemic increased the take-up speed of virtual technology for planning, such as the use of 3D virtual technology, which has reduced travel resulting in lower costs and lower environmental impacts. The same drivers have also accelerated the use of remote broadcast operations, and this can be expected to infiltrate other areas of planning and delivery.

The counter to these developments is it drives a much greater need for robust cyber security to protect data and commercial operations. Constant review is vital due to a fast-changing landscape of how secure your environment is. How porous is your website and your internal systems? Are you using all of the controls available to you? Do you have the right tools, policies, and processes in place?

For fans, sport is just the beginning

The nature of women and sport

For too long high-visibility sport has been very male-centric. The move to parity in pay, coverage, and sponsorship has accelerated in recent years reflecting a previous lack of understanding of the impact of women in the broader sport community. For instance:

  • In more community-based sports like running, women make up 6 out of 10 competitors
  • 86% of most family expenditure decisions are made by women and they are more likely to direct spending to those sports and events who best engage with them

To remain relevant, sports and events need to ensure that they aim their activities in a way that is specific to different groups, not just replicating what is already in place. Women may be more attracted to sports where they see greater inclusion, be it through mixed events or the use of mixed (or female only) officiating teams.

The nature of the workforce in sport

The sports and events industries were severely impacted by the pandemic and is some way from returning to normal levels. A straw poll at a conference towards the end of last year showed how few young people were involved in the industry on an on-going and committed basis. The percentage of under 30’s involvement was comfortably in the low single figures.

An industry that has often relied on people working long hours on short-term contracts is not well prepared for the changing nature of people’s attitudes to work. The emergence of flexible working as a norm will change interactions between employers and their staff. This will be accompanied by an expectation that the work someone is doing has real value, that it provides opportunities for education, training, and proper development pathways. People will be more reluctant to sign up to the short-term contracts with little job security and few benefits that previously existed. We should also expect that higher levels of turnover are the new norm for the foreseeable future. The organisations that plan for that will be best placed to maintain their performance and provide better stakeholder experiences.

The nature of player power

A chasm is appearing between professional competitors and players who believe that they should have a say in how their sport is run, and administrators who have previously made all the decisions themselves, providing only remuneration to the participants. Incidents such as Kylian Mbappe and the French Football Association earlier this year, and Netball Australia’s issue with their own national team over a sponsorship deal show that those who generate the public interest and commercial value in a sport are far more likely to take stands which may be at odds with the governing bodies plans. While this may be navigable for larger and more commercially successful sports, it will present a challenge for those sports with lesser followings who have fewer revenue raising sources to leverage.

Plan for success

While we can never accurately predict the future, it is possible to see trends and changing expectations in our communities - be it among participants, spectators, sponsors, funding bodies, or remote fans. Those organisations that plan in a way that takes these possibilities into account will be best placed to be the most successful moving forward.

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