Sports Marketing’s Biggest Storylines Still Revolve Around Fan Receptivity

A look at three major sports marketing storylines that the industry is focused on, and what we are hearing from the customer.

With football season now underway, all eyes in the sports marketing world will be riveted to a number of key storylines that, as always, will ultimately be decided by fan perceptions and behaviors.  Here’s what I’m locked into and what we’re learning.

The Lingering Impact of COVID

Certainly full stadiums are a welcome sight for sports marketers.  But our tracking research continues to raise some yellow flags, as the return to pandemic-compromised activities underwhelms a meaningful segment of fans.

The hot potato of the moment is vaccination mandates.

Half of sports fans strongly agree that they are comfortable with vaccination requirements for attendance. But only the fans of two sports (soccer and horse racing) show 60%+ strong agreement.

And just 42% of all fans surveyed in late August strongly agreed that “It is appropriate for the U.S. government to require all Americans to be vaccinated for COVID 19.”

Our data shows that nearly two thirds of sports fans are fully vaccinated, with another 16% reporting partial vaccination.  Golf fans are most likely to be vaccinated among the twelve sports tracked.

Half of all sports fans are very concerned about future potential COVID-related cancellations.  That’s up from 40% in July.  While I expect exceptionally strong initial attendance to dominate the early weeks of the football season, as we move further into the fall, all bets are off.

Speaking of Betting….

The sports advertising landscape is undergoing sea change as the battle for Americans’ sports gambling loyalties launches in earnest across football coverage.  The explosion of betting services has manifested itself in a wide array of partnerships and media buys that will inundate us this fall.

We all saw this coming, and fan behavioral research has certainly shed light on the opportunities surrounding immersive and participatory fandom.  But we are only in the formative stages of assessing fan engagement and receptivity to the various digital platforms and in-venue gaming spaces.  There’s much to be learned about what fans really want and how best to deliver it in ways that are most compelling.

Streaming’s Future Impact on Sports Revenue and Engagement

When Notre Dame football hosted Toledo this past weekend, the only way in which fans could view the game was over NBC’s Peacock streaming service.

Certainly premium pay walls for exclusive content are far from new.  But many have suggested that this game would be the first true test of whether exclusive streaming rights for mainstream sports would be a sustainable and mass revenue driver.

I don’t have to think that far back to remember the industry questioning whether the migration from broadcast to cable television was going to be viable.  I suspect a similar result here.  The questions to be answered surround the pace of adoption, and at what cost, particularly among properties that are still seeking to broaden their audience to a more casual and perhaps more price-inelastic fan base.