Spoilt for Choice

The appeal of sporting events to marketers

Sporting events provide many opportunities to brands, from sponsorship to advertising and corporate hospitality. The audience for sporting events is changing though. To some degree this is the age profile of the audience to another it is the channels they use to follow sports.

Live spectator sports

According to Mintel, a market research company, watching live spectator sports is not as common as might be expected in the UK. A recent study showed that only 24% of the adult population have watched four sports or more during the year to July 2016. 62% saw two or fewer.

With the exception of premiership football, attendances at live events and live viewing have been declining. Demographic research suggests that this has to do with income levels and time, with the affluent and older age groups spending more time attending and watching events.

The favourite sports are pretty predictable. In the central column of the following table are the most watched ones overall (at the event, on TV or via the internet) in the year to July 2016. In the right hand column are the percentage numbers for spectators at live events in the same period.

sports spectators

The Rugby World Cup was hosted in the UK during that time and one of its achievements was to grow the number of 25 to 44 year olds watching the tournament. Attracting parents of that age is a means of trying to perpetuate interest in the sport in the next generation.

The 18 to 25 year olds do not watch sports in the traditional way. They watch them online or through social broadcasting.

Although people of all ages still prefer to watch live sports on television, they are very likely to be simultaneously using mobiles for social media and their tablet or computer to look up background data.

Sports coverage and payment for viewing

GOLFERIn the UK, there has been a commercial trend to move sports coverage from free to view to pay TV and this has cost events large audience numbers. As an example, Mintel indicated that The Open Golf Tournament lost 74% of its audience when it switched to pay TV.

Clearly, not everyone wants to commit to a pay TV contract if they only want to watch an occasional match. As a result, broadcasters around the world are offering new ways of paying for sports viewing, more along the lines used in the music industry, with a credit based or single event system.

Sports and Marketing

With this plethora of options, it is not easy for marketers to find simple and effective ways to reach their audiences. TV advertising is still very effective but does not reach millennials. Social media channels and other creative means of attracting wider audiences are needed.

rugby-pixabay kaurabodenschatzEvent organisers are also aware of these issues and are increasingly¬† combining sporting events with entertainment and cultural events in order to appeal to more casual fans. Women’s sport is a great chance for brands to portray a more caring side by, for example, supporting community interests.

Corporate social responsibility is becoming more important as well and brands are expected to stand by their values and act quickly if there is any sign of misdemeanour on the part of their sport or athlete. Spectators are looking to sports federations to clean up their act and stop doping and corruption.

Fans like less official content about their sporting heroes, like fanzines and blogs. They want to be closer to their idols and have more interactive content personalised to them. This trend in effect makes the athletes into celebrities, which some take to more readily than others.

The e-sports phenomenon

Another development is eSport, now a global market of some $700 million per annum. Some 200 million regularly watch eSports and a similar number do so occasionally. As an industry it is still maturing and developing commercially along the lines of other sports.

The main participants of eSports are younger males and how they got into it is illustrated with this statistic.

  • 45% of men list sport as one of their top 5 hobbies
  • 65% of men own or have owned a game console and
  • 81% of millennials own or have owned a game console.

Big brands are realising that this is a market segment that is difficult to reach with traditional channels and are finding novel ways of entering the sport, with spokes models and sponsored teams, etc.


With more channels offering a lot of choice to spectators and marketers alike, only testing and time will tell which ones will be most successful.  A degree of experimentation will be necessary to find the most effective way to reach old and new audiences.