Last week, I had the honor of having lunch with with Jim Flanigan. You may know Jim if you have read Forbes Magazine, the Los Angeles Times business section or his current work for the New York Times.
Over lunch, we spoke of many topics including sports. Jim has a wealth of knowledge on many subjects. The conversation made me think of change and I reflected about what has changed in the business of sport since I grew up. Here are my thoughts on the nine of the biggest changes in sports ~ some that have taken place in my lifetime and a few more we can expect in the next few years.
Biggest changes in sports over the past few years
1) Interviewing coaches during games: Ratings and TV networks have demanded more for their rights fees and have been given even greater access to coaches and players. The first sport I remember bringing this into play was the NHL. Coaches and players are always interviwed between periods and while football did it at halftime, you felt like you had more access in hockey on TV broadcasts. Now, you regularly see it in baseball and basketball. Football is still reserved for halftimes.
2) Yellow Lines on your TV screen. If you are older than 20 years old, you can remember watching football games where there was not a yellow first down line embeded in your TV screen. Today, it is used to show fans where teams need to get for a first down. Often, a blue line is used for the line of scrimmage. In the old days, just just to know simple math (+ 10 yards from line of scrimmage).
3) Monster Stadiums: I am reminded of the NCAA Final Four this year where there was a ridiculous number of people watching college basketball. In fact the 2011 tourney established several all-time attendance ecords. I believe the numbers totaled something like 76,000 fans in attendance. That wasn’t the case a few years ago, but league and venues are pushing the limit to see how many people can be squeezed into a stadium/arena.
4) Advertising: If there is a place where eyeball can see a brand, it has been placed here. Once upon a time, the boards of a hockey rink were snow white. Baseball stadiums only had distance markers dotting the walls and pre-game sports shows had commercials during, well, commercial time. As we all know the times have changed and now advertising has a more integrated look and feel.
5) Work Stoppages: I resigned my position with the Dodgers just prior to the 1994 Major League Baseball Strike. For some reason, in the last 20 years there has either been more work stoppages across all major sports or threats to stop playing games we all love. I certainly do not remember these things when I was growing up.
6) Technology: From tennis players challenging lines calls to baseball stadiums showing pitch counts and pitcher’s speeds, technology advances abound. It has given the fan more insight into each event while trying to provide the most accurate results. I do not know about you but human error is still what makes sports interesting, even if it sometimes makes me mad when it happens.
There are a number of items I think we will see in the near future as leagues, teams and sponsors look to maximize all opportunities. In no particular order….
1) Advertising advances: Two of the last places that remain untapped: Advertising on uniforms and on the field itself. Some sports like the WNBA and professional soccer leagues in Europe have already moved into placing corporate branded logos on uniforms and it is only a matter of time until a Yankees, Red Sox or Cowboys uniform has a corporate logo backing it. The field itself will be labeled, eventually. Another place I would expect further development is virtual ads on TV screens/computer screens. This can easily be changed and if its by technology on TV or computers, it would not impact the actual game.
2) Use of Social Media: We are in the infancy of this development and sports teams will certainly experiment and engage with fans in ways we have yet to see. Stay tuned….
3) New activation levels for brands associated with sports teams and organizations. As ROI, return on investment, continues to dominate marketing spend, we will see deepening programs not yet developed or implemented.