Last year, our relationship with sport changed.
Changes in everything we’ve ever known, reshaped almost overnight by new dynamics, technologies and experiences.
Born from necessity, now living as normality. Some even preferential.
Here are the three important trends we’re watching closely for 2021
1. Continued rise of the virtual fan experience
Without doubt, stadiums without fans has proven the biggest challenge for sport.
As a solution, technology and innovation stepped up to bridge the fan experience and our audience engagement needs. This year we expect it to begin to augment them both.
One of the most exciting is virtual reality ticketing, where fans buy seats in immersive, VR stadiums, for rich, digital gameday experiences from anywhere in the world.
For brands, it offers exciting new commercial opportunity through sponsor content, in-app purchases, partnership interest.
Headsets at the ready!
2. Taking a stand and a metaphorical knee
One of the most striking outcomes of 2020 was the intense spotlight placed on social and cultural equality.
In sport, athletes led the way, using their platforms and immense social media pull to drive real change; Marcus Rashford’s child hunger campaign perhaps the most inspirational example.
Audiences responded and their expectations for their brands shifted, with it no longer being okay to be neutral and hide from the big issues.
Customers want their brands to have a stance, to take the metaphorical knee. And so, in 2021, having a strategy to respond authentically when it matters most should be a priority.
It’s important to be clear here – it’s not about having to vocalise an opinion, which could become commercially problematic for a variety of reasons. It’s knowing HOW you will respond, for instance by openly supporting influencers who have the credibility to engage in the discussion.
Whichever you choose, having your strategy prepared in advance, can help create closer relationships with your audience, open up new and interesting content ideas, and deliver improved customer experiences, when the next discussion happens.
3. The women’s and girls’ game
Encouragingly, it was perhaps one of the only priorities sport refused to drop during 2020. For reasons that should never have to be explained, every sport is healthier and better with a thriving women’s and girls’ game.
And in 2021, it will continue to be an area with exciting growth potential. Just look at The FA, the RFU, and the ECB committing to long-term development strategies for their women’s and girls’ games.
There are already positive signs. According to a study by Deloitte, interest in women’s sport is growing. 66% of people are now interested in at least one women’s sport. Among sports fans it’s even higher at 84%.
As a trend, it’s matched by growing viewership numbers, with rugby, football and cricket all attracting record figures in the past three years for their flagship events.
For brands, 2021 is the time to up the investment in women’s and girls’ sport.
Whether it’s quick wins such as improving representation across your brand, backing important new participation initiatives, or creating content that has the potential to reach stars of the future, there’s plenty of opportunity to – almost literally – change the game.