Major events employ multi-layered strategies to attract new audiences
By Simon Ward at Host City 2019 in Glasgow
On-site support events, short-form media content and esports are among the tools being employed by organisers of major sports competitions and federations to appeal to young people in an evolving landscape.
Given the ageing demographic of sports viewers (a Nielsen study showed that the average age of Olympic Games watchers in USA increased from 45 to 53 between 2000 and 2016), and the desire to attract new audiences and participants, events organisers have spent considerable time and resources on analysing how to connect with the world’s youth.
As in other entertainment sectors, live experiences and digital solutions figure prominently in the strategies adopted.
The organisers of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in the English city of Birmingham are looking to capitalise on the fact that under-25s account for nearly 40 per cent of the local population, and the strong technology infrastructure in the region.
Speaking on a panel at the Host City conference in Glasgow, Ian Reid, the chief executive of Birmingham 2022, said: “Birmingham is actually the youngest [major] city in Europe and the demographic of the Commonwealth is young as well so in our sports programme we’ve got beach volleyball and 3x3 basketball.
“We’re trying to build city centre hubs that work around these sports, bringing in DJs, culture and a hugely ambitious live site programme to really resonate with a demographic that perhaps hasn’t engaged with the Commonwealth Games in terms of its sports programme in the past.”
Birmingham 2022 is also considering the youth audience as it weighs up the best media distribution strategy for the games, while esports could be part of the experience even if there will not be official competitions in the discipline.
Reid said: “Esports and the digital spaces are a real challenge for all multi-sport games. We’re out there selling exclusive rights to media content for the games to traditional broadcast channels, but if you’re under 18, you engage in sport using two-or-three minute highlights, and don’t sit down and watch a whole session of sport."
He continued: “Birmingham and the West Midlands are a 5G testbed in the UK so that technology will be in place. What we can do with that is incredible, but we need to get the balance right between how we raise commercial revenue in a traditional way, while ensuring people can engage across the event through our youth co-operation and the platforms they’re used to.
“A lot of the work we’re trying to do is looking at the esports side. It’s unlikely in the near future the Commonwealth Games will have esports medal events, but what we can do is put them on the periphery of our events using all that technology. It (Birmingham) is a city that wants to showcase its digital capability so we’ll be looking to support that and engaging with young people.”
Elsewhere, the organisers of soccer’s 2024 Uefa European Championships in Germany have been conducting a consultation process to ensure that the event is truly inclusive, building on the message of ‘United by Football’ that was central to the successful bid for the event.
Markus Stenger, the managing director of DFB Euro 2024, the subsidiary of the German soccer federation responsible for the tournament, told delegates: “We are focusing on high standards… including transparency, diversity, integrity and sustainability. This is really what we wanted to achieve so we started a big and really intensive stakeholder participation process in the bid, and we are going to continue until 2024 of course, always having in mind that we are only the junior partner of Uefa.”
With regard to connecting with, and retaining young fans, the DFB will take learnings from Euro 2020, which will involve matches in 12 cities across Europe, including Munich in Germany.
Stenger said: “Esports are on the agenda of everyone, and we want to make sure that after the Euros more and more young people go to our clubs. We’ve already started together with Uefa implementing esports tournaments – there’s going to be a Euro 2020 eFootball competition [based on the PES 2020 game].
“We can find maybe a combination of esports and traditional football but of course we have the challenge that sports associations are not typical startups so things take a bit of time.”
For many federations, engaging with young people is deemed necessary to attract new participants, as well as viewers, for their sports.
Antonio Fernandez Arimany, the secretary general of the International Triathlon Union, said: “What we are trying to do in our events, with any city or region in the world, is to encourage participation. We combine what we call the elite sport, offering opportunities to the senior faces on TV, with what we call the mass participation.”
Within this, there is a strong emphasis on gender equality, which has been a mantra of the sport since it emerged in the 1970s.
Arimany continued: “We try to attract youth to our sport, and of course we have to use social media. We are creating videos now of 15 to 20 seconds, last year they were 30 seconds… and the message is, ‘you can do it folks.’”
Sarah Lewis, the secretary general of the FIS, the international ski federation, cited her organisation’s ‘Bring Children to the Snow’ campaign, which is aimed at driving participation in snowsports among young people aged up to 14.
She said: “Over a 10-year period, there’s been more than 4 million participants, and events in 65 countries. Try naming 65 countries with mountains and snow, it expands far wider than that. Basically we’ve been working together with all of the interested parties from tourism, resorts, the national bodies, the ski industry, the ski schools and mountain railways to co-create. Everyone has got an interest in youngsters really enjoying themselves.
“It’s not necessarily at the outset about [creating] big champions. It can lead to that, but we want to get them out there having fun, with all partners involved, in this great industry.”
In terms of viewership among young people for major events, FIS has benefited from the growth and introduction into the winter Olympics of disciplines in snowboard and freestyle skiing although Lewis is leading a push for more fans to attend events, with support entertainment, fanzones and opportunities to try out the sport.
She said: “We’ve got to make the event on-site more attractive and more interesting to come to visit than to watch on the exceptional broadcast platforms that exist these days. We need to make sure that being at the live event is a unique, special experience… Within the breaks in the competition there is a fantastic platform to have an esports event or mobile gaming, and you’ve seen the type of audience that these can attract, both on-site and online.
“This is a new public, but we have carried out a lot of research through our own applications showing that 10 per cent of those [gaming] participants are interested or become interested in actually participating in the sport.”
The FIS is to launch a new mobile esports game, which will be free to download, on 9 January.