As former Sky Sport Managing Director Barney Francis joins the Advisory Board at sport performance marketing agency WePlay, Sport Industry Group caught up with him to chat about a new chapter in his career, the post-Covid sporting landscape, and the future of sports marketing.
With sport having now returned to stadiums across the world, but with mitigation measures put in place and few if any fans inside stadiums, organisations are currently having to adapt to an extended period of the new reality.
The knock-on effect for the industry will likely continue for some time, but Francis believes that, although the financial outcomes may be different, sport is no less loved than it was before.
“The one thing that we do know,” said Francis, “is whether we’re going to enter a recession or not, that the economics of sport have changed. But that doesn’t mean the interest in sport has changed. Sport’s role has actually increased. The challenge now is whether sport is able to capitalise on that and monetise it.
“Fans’ love for their clubs haven’t decreased: they just can’t go to the stadium or buy a pint at half time anymore. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to spend money on their beloved club anymore, they just need to know how they spend money on it.”
That uncertainty affects clubs and leagues, too, who are unable to plan for the future. It might also have a knock-on effect in the way clubs and leagues create and distribute their content, too.
Quick to create social media content, or even turn entire seasons into gripping docuseries, clubs will have to think about going even further about monetising their digital content in the future - though Francis warns that the likelihood of clubs and leagues attempting to go direct to consumer with OTT platforms may be lessened by the economic reality of the post-Covid landscape.
“Can you imagine being an Aston Villa fan at the moment, in a transfer window, and being frustrated that the reason your club can’t spend money on players is because it doesn’t know how much revenue it’s going to drive this year,” he said.
“Major sports are entering their major markets without knowing how much money they have. Businesses can’t run like that.
“So whatever the future economic model is, it is still going to require to have in its major markets, money up front. So the economics will certainly change.”
The new reality for fans is also reflected in a new reality for sports stars as well, who aren’t just adapting to new measures such as limiting team celebrations or red zones within stadiums, but who have also been attempting to provide extra content and entertainment for fans across social media channels.
Throughout the lockdown period, fans have seen into the homes of some of their favourite players while clubs have rolled out community initiatives to keep fans connected despite initially having no live sport to watch, and then being unable to attend in person.
That may have had the effect of humanising players, but it will also create extra demands on their time as they try to position themselves in a certain way not just for the benefit of their clubs and partners, but also for their own personal brands as well.
Francis, who is entering this space by joining WePlay, is keen to see clubs capitalise on their fanbases through meticulous planning rather than relying on instant reaction to outside events.
“The people that will win in this space are those who actually think rather than those who witness something happening in the world and then react very quickly on digital and social - that’s tomorrow's proverbial fish and chip paper” he said.
“The skillful ones who have a plan and a timeline of activity that they want to produce that enhances their brand."