I know people are generally considerate enough to wait until December or January before letting go of their observations on the trends of the day. However, if my local Wyevale garden center can start their Christmas promotions in August, I’m ready to start early with my thoughts on current #SportsBiz themes. So this is it.
1. Player as a platform.
Players’ professional sports careers tend to be short, so they have to look for ways to make money outside and beyond their gaming services. For decades, of course, athletes have bonded with brands and increased that income with sponsored money.
But now the player is really starting to emerge as a platform. Social media helps them cultivate and connect with their own followers, outside of any club or employer they may have. It also provides brands with new platforms that they can promote themselves from – and pay the player for that privilege.
Separately, entrepreneurship and investment allow players to have their say and benefit from the businesses of tomorrow. Additionally, athletes from Colin Kaepernick to Marcus Rashford are using their platforms to promote social justice and drive change – things they care about. My friend Adam Whyte, CEO of the Edge influencer management platform, says that “the creators are the new bus stops and billboards” and it seems to me that is also true for the top athletes. level, whether for their own causes or those of others.
We hear a lot about greenwashing and sportswashing these days. Like laundering in the case of money laundering, “laundering” here refers to attempts to improve the image of a brand, company or country by generating an association with something healthy. So washing is the laundering of a reputation.
The concept of sports washing is by no means new and one of the earliest high profile examples is Hitler’s attempt to use the 1936 Berlin Olympics to present the Nazi regime to the world in a positive light. The recent takeover of Newcastle United, the 1976 World Cup in Argentina and the 2018 World Cup in Russia are all examples of events that have sparked allegations of sports washing.
“Greenwashing” is a more recent expression. Because of the influence they have on their fans and supporters, sports organizations have a unique opportunity to be a force for good in the battle against climate change. To take a few examples of motorsport, Williams F1 recently announced a goal of net zero by 2030 and signed the United Nations Climate Sport Action Framework. Meanwhile, Mercedes GP has apparently already reached net zero status. My partner Jody MacDonald wrote a nice little blog about sustainability issues in sport here.
While a net zero commitment is undeniably a good thing, such commitments remain, for the time being, without formal oversight or regulation. But that is starting to change. Increasingly, the focus is on how an organization achieves net zero, not just when. For example, does it intend to focus heavily on offsetting rather than reducing emissions? The Competition and Markets Authority published its “Green Claims Code” and warned companies that they have until the New Year to ensure their environmental claims comply with the law. It will therefore become a legal obligation, rather than just a banana peel of public relations, for organizations to ensure that their claims are correct and can be justified, and to avoid allegations of greenwashing.
There is no doubt that we will see the emergence of other types of washing in the years to come.
3. NFT and social tokens.
They are everywhere right now. The hype – and with it some of the negative comments – will eventually set in as these new technologies are well and truly here to stay. NFTs have practical applications far beyond their use as simple digital collectibles and will continue to impact industries from ticketing to games and beyond. Teams and athletes are also now engaging with social tokens to attract and benefit from their followers. These tokens can be used to provide benefits to fans, such as access to limited content or “money can’t buy” experiences. These concepts are not new, but it is the ease of “exchangeability” of tokens that distinguishes them from simple loyalty point-type programs. Tokens and NFTs are liquid and can be bought or sold, creating new savings and including new stores of value.
The financial benefits of athletes trading NFTs have already been demonstrated by the early runners of the NFT wave – four-time Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski made around $ 1.6 million in ETH from earlier NFT “drop” This year. The NBA Top Shots, which I spoke about here, have comfortably recorded over £ 500million in sales in the roughly 18 months since its launch.
However, beyond the world’s top athletes and sports organizations, NFTs could offer junior athletes a way to fund what can be a financially difficult start to their careers. The capital required to start and maintain a professional career in tennis or golf or dare we say – motorsport – can be very high. The price of equipment, travel, coaching and accommodation around the world add up quickly. Hitting and selling NFTs is a way for young athletes to try and monetize their names and images and fund the start of their careers. While traders may view NFTs issued by junior athletes as a high risk investment, they may also see significant high end opportunities.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in America has adopted an interim policy allowing college athletes for the first time to earn money from their names, images and likenesses. The policy change is an attempt to help college athletes fund their young careers. A number of these athletes have already expressed an interest in NFT as an avenue to explore. Despite the myriad of other applications of NFT technology, don’t be surprised to see this fundraising method take off.
At the recent leaders’ conference at Twickenham Stadium, a few top sports affairs podcasts like Unofficial Partner and Sport Unlocked were recorded in front of a live audience. We are also seeing that athletes can boost or extend their careers by broadcasting their own podcasts, as illustrated by Peter Crouch. And we see examples of some whose names are made, or supported, mainly through the podcast. Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan are good examples, even if they don’t belong to the sport.
So audio is booming. The interesting thing to watch out for will be whether the podcast format will continue to dominate or if new formats may emerge or start to dominate. For example, will community interest-based live audio content platforms – like Clubhouse – grow or fade? Or, does the allure of on-demand podcasts mean they will remain the audio weapon of choice for the foreseeable future? And what role does traditional radio play in all of this?
5. New sports.
In the last decade or so, the new sport format has emerged: taking an existing sport and fine-tuning it (usually, by shortening it or reducing the number of players). It hasn’t all been a success, but think of The Hundred, Twenty20, 3X3 and GolfSixes basketball.
Taking cricket as an example, English cricket was recently described by the Financial Times as a “sleepwalker through a population crisis”. Spectators of this sport generally come from a middle aged and male background. The Hundred, a newly created format for 100-ball team-faced cricket, was largely intended as a response to diversifying the UK cricket audience.
While the new tournament was not without its flaws, the attention it has paid to women’s cricket is undeniably impressive. It was reported that 1.6 million people attended the opening night – a record for a women’s cricket match. The participation in the women’s final of over 17,000 people also broke a record (set on the tournament’s opening night) for the highest attendance of all national women’s cricket matches around the world. While the number of tickets purchased by women throughout the tournament was still low (21%) and there is still a long way to go in terms of equal pay between women and men, The Hundred has shown that fine-tuning existing sports can be of great benefit to the survival of a sport.
New formats like this certainly offer opportunities, but what about some of the newer (or less revolutionary) sports?
Padel is one, a racquet sport already reasonably established in Spain, Italy and some countries in Central and South America, but little known in the UK. Pickleball is another – a sort of mix of tennis, table tennis and badminton that gained a lot of ground in the United States during the Covid lockdowns. The endorsements from Leonardo DiCaprio and George and Amal Clooney didn’t hurt at all.
Or what about kabbadi, the very old and very popular sport on the Indian subcontinent which the FT says sometimes outshines Indian cricket tryouts in terms of audience and can surpass the Cup there? of the football world. Could it turn into widespread Western adoption?
Keep an eye out for new and emerging sports. Could any of them break through into the mainstream consciousness?