The latest edition of Sport Industry Spotlight - a series of interactive, insight-driven, online panel sessions to aid those wanting to upskill in sport business - saw a panel of experts delve into the world of Cutting Edge Sport.
Each Sport Industry Spotlight session is based on a category at the Sport Industry Awards 2020, with four of the organisations shortlisted for the Cutting Edge Sport Award in association with PT Sportsuite - giving their insight into gamechanging formats, new initiatives, and the innovation that is driving the entire industry forward.
With input from Harry Horsley, Co-Founder and CEO, TRM Partners & Rugby X; Ali Russell, Chief Marketing Officer, Extreme E; Jamie Chadwick, Inaugural Champion, W Series; and Robby Ketchell, Performance Scientist, INEOS 1:59, the panel featured an array of opinions from the point of view of business and marketing as well as performance and fan engagement.
As with all Sport Industry Spotlight sessions, the subject matter was led by attendees, through a series of interactive polls and questions from the floor, and hosted by Alex Coulson, Managing Director, Sport Industry Group.
Attracting New Fans, Serving Existing Fans
Innovations in new formats and properties often come from a need to continue evolving a sport to appeal to younger generations. With this in mind, the panel discussed some of the barriers to acheiving that evolution, and how best to keep fans front of mind.
While the panel was in agreement that innovation must be rooted in tradition, INEOS’s Robby Ketchell spoke of how even in the finely-tuned performance side of the 1:59 Challenge - as well as other sports he’s involved in such as cycling - there’s still a focus on how the fan interacts with the athlete’s performance.
He said: “It’s important to always consider the impact that sports performance has on the fans, because if you don’t have the fans then you don’t have the sport. That’s also what drives it - the inspiration that you’re providing for different fans.
“That’s really what drove me during the 1:59 - the inspiration and the passion behind that and the message that ‘No Human is Limited’.
“For example, cycling is unique because it’s a lifetime sport, and a lot of people participate in cycling regardless of their age and so have that connectivity regardless of their age in terms of the performance. That’s always going across our mind: how people see performances, how they interact with data that becomes available, how we tell the story of the achievements. People get behind that because they always have their own obstacles they have to overcome.”
Horsley added: “The biggest challenge is how do you attract new fans without alienating existing fans and bringing as many of those existing fans of the sport with you.
"Rugby is an example where the traditional audience skews towards older demographics and is getting older. The challenge that many sport organisations face is how do you attract the next generation of fans whilst at the same time not alienating the core generation of fans who, for the foreseeable future, through pay TV subscriptions and through purchasing high-value tickets to matches, aren’t going anywhere. How do you balance that need to attract new fans together with keeping existing fans at least not alienated, but preferably onside.”
Making the Big Decisions
With any new sport, big decisions must be made about formats, target audiences, and other aspects which will impact the way it is consumed and enjoyed.
None more so than Extreme E, which will launch in early 2021. Not only is the series committed to creating a compelling motorsport spectacle, but it is also attempting to create awareness of the effects of climate change by racing across some of the most ecologically impacted areas of the world.
On top of that, the series will also promote gender equality, becoming the first motorsport series to feature teams fielding one male driver and one female driver who will switch seats in the car halfway through each race ensuring a genuine split.
But Extreme E’s Russell said that there have been some big decisions taken which will see the sport played out for cameras instead of in front of fans - both for logistics reasons and for impact.
He commented : “Our vision is to create Dakar meets Blue Planet on speed.”
“The cinematography is spectacular to start with and we wanted people to buy into sport for purpose, and sport which was able to communicate the size of the problem. If we look at Covid, climate change is ten times worse - and we know it’s coming.
“We decided we were going to make the best media product ever. What you’ve always got in sport is that challenge between letting the fans get as close to the pitch as the cameras and there’s always a trade-off between what happens in the stadium for the fans and what happens at home for the fan watching on TV.
“What we’ve been able to do is really concentrate on the media product. This is a first-class media product, we’re doubling the spend that we spent on Formule E in season one, we have VR, AR, drones that are getting incredibly close to the cars. We’re doing things normal sports properties can’t do because of fan safety and the environments that they’re usually working in.”
From an athlete point of view, those sorts of changes can either be inspiring or off-putting depending on the person and their opinion.
For Chadwick, who is the first-ever W Series champion and also a participant in the Extreme E Drivers' Programme, she admits she was sceptical of taking part in the sport at first, and that some of the early problems the property faced stemmed from motorsport fans comparing it to existing formats.
“A lot of athletes don’t like change,” she said. “I was one of those people, and I was admittedly hesitant about taking part in W Series because it was a completely unknown, unproven quantity. I didn’t know what the success of it was going to be, what it was going to entail. It was a dive into the deep end, and there was a lot of trust in people around me to make the decision. Fortunately it paid off, but it doesn’t always.
“I don’t think you should always try and compare everything: just because W Series is a form of motorsport, doesn’t mean you should compare to Formula 1. You shouldn't compare them, you should enjoy watching them in their own right. That’s where esports has become really interesting: you can’t compare to watching an F1 race so everyone loves it.
"With W Series I just had to go in with a fresh set of eyes and look at it with a completely new perspective and not have too many pre-existing perceptions of what it was going to be.”
Join us next week for Sport Industry Spotlight: Event of the Year to talk all things major events, fan engagement, legacy and delivery with the brains behind some of sport’s biggest recent spectacles…