Two Things To Think About In This ‘Summer Of Discontent’

In his July, 2016 column, SLRG’s Jon Last talks about how sports marketers can break through during our “summer of discontent.”

It’s MLB All-Star Tuesday, the unofficial middle of summer. Those figurative “dog days” are before us, and with the NBA and NHL on hiatus, NFL training camps still a few weeks away, MLB’s playoff push and a questionably compelling Olympics still a month or so away, the mindset of our sports fan customers may be fertile ground for those who can truly capture attention. But what will it take to resonate, here on the back nine of a year that has certainly been fraught with a barrage of often sensationalistic and negative news from within and outside of sports?

Our research affords us the opportunity to take more than just an anecdotal look at what’s on the minds of those we all try to reach through sports. As clichéd as it may sound, we are in somewhat unprecedented times. Here are two themes that I’m paying particular attention to as the summer heats up.

1. Escape the Divisiveness and Celebrate Through Sports

It’s easy to get caught up in the 24/7 news cycle, and our research continues to show that, despite the proliferation of new media platforms, our collective appetite for information is insatiable. Consumers are spending more time across multiple channels, seeking to digest a never-ending conga line of bite-sized morsels. That begets this “Look at Me” era of participatory journalism, and a never-ending quest to out-sensationalize each other with the biggest scoop, the latest dirt and the most outlandish attempt at garnering attention. It cuts across both politics and sports with incessant commentary, haters hating and boasters boasting.

But our research also shows that those who talk the loudest may only be a vocal minority. People are tired of the polarization at the same time that they are less tolerant of opposing viewpoints. There are only so many superlatives that can be thrown out in rapid succession before skepticism overtakes receptivity. This is where we sit amidst continued threats to the American way of life and what may appear to be an unprecedented divisiveness in our own country. The fires are only stoked hotter by the contentiousness of the presidential race, and the imminent national conventions that will exacerbate the battle for attention and “supersize me” tonality of the news cycle.

But sports has always been a great way to escape the divisiveness. Beyond attempts to create heroes and villains out of teams and players comes the unique opportunity to rally around a purity of competition, the joy of a day at the ballpark with friends and family, and an opportunity to find comfort and camaraderie among fellow fans and the unique community that is sports.

If the amplification of negative news reportage creates shades of gray and animosity, our actual sporting events will continue to be a platform to rally around the flag of the home team and to present a more simple reality, where within the span of a few hours, a clear cut winner can be produced, and there’s always the hope among fans of the loser, to get them the next time. For those sports marketers that hinge their messaging around this reality, the dog days of summer can be prime opportunities to build trusted fan relationships.

2. Hard Work, “Being Present” and Applauding the Journey

It’s always easy in tenuous times to look for short cuts. After all, so much of the tenor of today’s barrage of tweets and snaps, Facebook and Instagram postings can fuel a misperception that the good life is ubiquitous among everyone in our circles and eludes us. That, in turn, can create a stressful longing to seek the quick fix that outshines everyone else. Behind that façade is often an unspoken desire for a simpler time that recognizes hard work, celebrates the little victories and affords one to stop and smell the roses along the way.

Such a latent reality plays nicely into the sports marketer’s tool kit. As you watch the All-Star game tonight, think about the long and difficult journey that each of the participants took to get there. Revel in the fact that so many of these players actually seem happy to be participating, and recognize that for sports marketers, these type of stories are relatively immune to negativity and strike a chord at the heart of a faith that many are seeking to be restored in this unprecedented time.