To stay in the media game, sport needs to be told differently

In an age of delinearization of media usage, sport is one of the last content to embodies the unifying force of life. How could the way it is told change?

In an age of delinearization of media usage, sport is one of the last content that embodies the unifying force of life and is able to bring together a heterogeneous audience for the same big event. But with the rise of video games, sports betting, esports, series and social networks, the competitive environment of sports among the youngest has become significantly denser, making interest in the sporting spectacle more fleeting: 60% of sports fans aged 15-24, she say “can easily replace sports with another form of entertainment” (vs. 32% of fans aged 50+)*. This new landscape also weighs on their habits and expectations when they inquire, discuss or watch a sporting event, inviting them to change the way it is told.

From a culture of expectation to one of intensity

Faced with these competing sources of adrenaline, sporting events whose dramaturgy is based on alternating between weak and strong times sometimes struggle to compete. For example, 64% of people under the age of 35 who are interested in sports say that “playing a video game gives them more pleasure than watching a large sports poster”. For example, for some of this young audience, betting on a match has become a necessary side effect to be interested in it.

To slip into the gaps of the fragmented attention of the young audience, summaries and compilations of the best moments are powerful formats for staying present in the minds of the audience and showing that sport embodies this sought-after emotional intensity. YouTube is therefore the media most cited by 15-24 year olds for their contact with sports content. Applications like “Buzzer” and “Free Ligue1” are engulfed in these practices by inviting fans to watch “almost live” (slight delay) on the key actions of a league that interests them. Or how to put a sporting event through the sieve of new intensity standards.

The “12th man” now wants to go back to the field

Three consumer trends are pushing the public towards a more active role at sporting events. The search for intensity that we have just described is the first. The second arises from the new closeness between athletes and their fans on social networks. By exposing their professional and private lives almost continuously, athletes have changed the distance the public expects to be from an event. For example, the gap between the impression of transparency given by social networks and the sudden distance of exchanges between the actors of a match (players and referees, for example) disturbs a large part of the public who expects to be more involved.

Finally, broadcasters must consider an increasingly “expert” audience, able to train themselves quickly and stimulated by a performative approach to sports news: 65% of 15-24 year olds say “they like to be able to predict what will happen next thanks to the expertise they have built up.”* For this generation, who are used to having a controller or a keyboard to hand, watching a meeting as a pure spectator becomes difficult. For example, 45% of 15 – to 24-year-olds who follow sports news, that “it would be a good idea to vote to choose which player goes on the field.”* In this spirit, Formula E offers its followers to vote for their favorite driver, so that he gets an extra performance gain during the race.

From a universal logic to a personalized and affinity approach

If sport still manages to bring large audiences together (5 of the top 10 TV viewers of 2021 were football matches), today it faces a mosaic of media use and polymorphic editorial expectations. In addition to a very clear generational break in the channels used, there is the expectation of a social and affinity dimension expressed by the youngest. “Social” because some of them value content that is proportionate to the interactions it can generate on social networks; and “affinity” because the search for individuality and belonging is a central value for this audience. More than half of those aged 15-24 say they want matches to be commented on by a streamer, an influencer they’re used to following. †

This multiplicity of ambitions calls for a rethink of media coverage of sporting events. The time may have come to move away from the traditional logic of broadcasting sports rights to allow for the proliferation of editorial proposals and distribution channels in the light of these expectations. A way to explore, among other things, on pain of becoming invisible to the eyes of the public of tomorrow.

*Source: CSA Study “Sport UX 2022” – December 2021