A Few Things To Ruminate On In The New Year

In the January Marketing: Sports, SLRG President Jon Last speaks to a number of fan behavior trends that will impact sports marketing in the year ahead.

It’s January, and I actually succeeded in finding a little airplane time over the holidays to escape and think those deep thoughts that one is supposed to stew over when not plugged into the office 24-7. Sure, I was still contemplating the relationship between consumer insights and successful sports marketing, but these brief interludes do sometimes allow me to further connect the dots across our disparate projects and varied conversations with other folks that think about similar things on a regular basis. While far from epiphanies, here are a few quick themes that we’ll continue to think about in the year ahead:

“U” and I” Are Still the Most important Letters in “Fan Resonance” 

In sports marketing we often worry about resonating with the next generation of fans. Some suggest that there is an erosion of interest in sports, brought about by decreased attention spans, and the instant gratification promised by other, less time intensive pursuits. And while I might question the universal validity of these assertions, our research across sports as well as personal experiences continue to demonstrate that the real secret sauce of engaging a passion for a sport or property is through human, personal connections that are inherently timeless. That doesn’t mean that we should eschew the integration of digital assets or other creature comforts into the live sports experience.

To the contrary, such steps rightfully remain a priority for properties looking to add value to the live sports experience while competing with the alternative of staying on the couch. But, across both our qualitative and quantitative work, it’s remarkable to see the demonstrated impact of a personalized, face-to-face approach in building both overall satisfaction and loyalty. I’d hypothesize that for spectator sports, it’s even more critical than the on-field product. Fans need to feel connected, and there needs to be a personal relevancy between the properties they embrace and their daily lives.

Today, the morning after the College Football National Championship, is a perfect time to reinforce this, as I’ve often remarked about how college sports play so perfectly into this paradigm of connections and personal relevance. Despite the fact that collegiate sports are big business, those of us who have been to college can still relate on some level. From the professional side of the ledger, this personal connection manifests itself in the nostalgic association of “rooting for a shirt.” I’ve often remarked that allegiance to a professional team is akin to a parent child relationship. By feeling a personal connection and loyalty to my woeful Tennessee Titans, I can still pull from the reserve of positive memories, accept the current product’s flaws and justify paying to go to Nashville and watch them struggle. Marketing communication that acknowledges what the organization stands for and is honest about the present, can sustain fandom even when the on field product is not meeting aspirations.

Don’t Succumb to Millennial OCD

We’re barely through the first days of the new year, and I’m already tired of marketers’ continued obsession with all things “Millennial.” For those properties and brands that may be more skewed towards fans with “greater life experience,” all is not lost. You don’t need to attempt to maneuver a battleship around a hairpin turn to be relevant to the young and beautiful crowd. In fact, if you try to do it, you risk losing credibility, perceptions of authenticity and face the potential embarrassment of being like the 40 something who does Jello shots or crowd surfs at a concert.

Some of our recent deeper dives into the under age 35 set reveal that there are great attitudinal similarities between this cohort and the nation’s other large generational segment, the boomers, at a similar life stage. Specifically, Boomer “Me Generation” sentiments of self expression, disdain for working for “the man” and the importance of community, manifest themselves in Millennials as the “Look at Me” generation—replete with individualistic self expression through social media communities, citizen journalism, and frustrations with under employment. The big difference is the huge gap in spending power between these two generations.