With 2018 consigned to the history books and Christmas packed away for another year, SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC. asked three of its very own wise men to look ahead to the likely trends in the sports industry in 2019. From the ever-closer union of sport and politics to the changing relationship between sport and gambling, and the opportunities offered by sustainability, we examine some of the stories most likely to crop up in the New Year.
Sport and politics – from invisibility to indivisibility.
Edward Willis – Sports Business and Marketing Manager
The debate about whether sport and politics should mix is never buried deep. Sport has often been a reluctant observer of global affairs, attempting to avoid comments and actions that might divide its potential audience. Only when public pressure mounts have sports businesses generally chosen to comment on geopolitics and current affairs.
The change in 2019 is likely to be that sport reaches out actively to politics, rather than waiting for politics to come to sport.
Nike took this step in September 2018, choosing knee taking Black Lives Matter campaigner and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the face of the 30th anniversary Just Do It Campaign. The results were record stock prices, and a more than 60% rise in sold out items in the days following the launch. This came despite, or perhaps because of some highly publicised, negative reaction from Trump supporters, many of whom chose to film themselves destroying their Nike products on social media.
Spurred on by Nike’s successful riding of the political rollercoaster, we can expect to see more businesses making active political statements as a way to attract ever more socially conscious consumers. Where prudent brand stewardship might once have meant staying perched firmly on the fence, millennial and gen-z consumers are increasingly demanding that brands take stands on the issues of the day.
Of course, that is not to say that sport will not find itself embroiled in debates that it might prefer to avoid. Japan’s recent withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission means a reintroduction of commercial whaling from July 2019, just three months before the country plays host to the Rugby World Cup. Ticket holders incensed by the emotive issue are already threatening boycotts on social media.
Similarly, the move into 2019 also takes us into the start of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup cycle. The four-year countdown to the Winter 2022 kick-off has already brought scrutiny to the tournament. Many of those updates focused on the broken promises to Qatar’s workforce, many of whom were drawn from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and West Africa on unfulfilled promises of high salaries in the world’s wealthiest per capita country. No doubt 2019 will hear more about some of the technological wonders being built in Qatar – by all accounts the outdoor air cooling technology promised in the bid in order to keep fans comfortable is progressing well – but it will also increase the focus on the rights and conditions of those delivering them.
Politics will continue to follow sport, but the dialogue will be more two way than ever in 2019.
Material Change – The rise and rise of sustainable sport
John Bushell – Managing Director
The demands that consumers are making of brands, teams and events are not just political, but also environmental and ethical.
Sportswear made from recycled or sustainable materials is hardly a new trend. However, it is also one that shows no signs of slowing in 2019. As part of its collaboration with environmental charity Parley For The Oceans, Adidas sold its 1 millionth pair of trainers made from recycled plastic in 2018. Nor is the appetite restricted to major multinationals. In fact, we might expect to see smaller startups gaining traction in individual markets by offering local production. In the UK for example, brands like yoga clothing company Asuno are taking CSR seriously, by linking each individual product to a charity. The effect is that consumers are as much choosing a cause to support as a product to wear. The idea of feeling good is being sold not just through the material but through the benefit to the wider world. Similarly, at the crossroads between large and small organisations, we may also see more of a merger between mass participation events and apparel. From the founder of Parkrun, apparel manufacturer Contra will enter its first full year in 2019, offering a combination of ethically sourced production and the promise that all profits go towards supporting Parkrun itself.
On the 2018 wave of our Tennis Health Check study, 45% of core consumers said that they would pay more for sustainable tennis apparel. Perhaps more revealingly, this rises rising to 58% among 16-35 year olds. Brands hoping to appeal to young buyers will do well to take note of the need to affirm their sustainable credentials.
Expect this to also reach the events world in 2019, with tournament and club merchandise perhaps ready to follow suit and push more sustainable products.
The consequence of conspicuous consumption being replaced by visible virtue in the buying of products and attending of events, may be an emboldening in 2019 as more brands feel both compelled to produce sustainable apparel but also confident to charge higher fees for those items.
Luck of the draw – Gambling’s changing relationship with sport
Richard Payne – Director, Sports Accounts
It is not just in the political and environmental sphere where the stakes are growing for sport. The relationship between sport and gambling is likely to find itself under the microscope in 2019.
December saw Britain’s biggest bookmakers promise to stop advertising during live sport itself. It comes following a Labour party proposal to ban gambling advertising during live events, a policy spawned amidst serious concerns about rises in underage betting. For broadcasters however, the move may not necessarily be bad news. For one thing, consumers are increasingly objecting to the volume of in-play adverts that in some eyes, have become a smear on sport. For example, our social monitoring tool, SMS INC. Radar, picked up loud and sustained criticism of the amount of gambling advertising featured in BT Sport’s Ashes Coverage at the start of 2018.
At the other end of the spectrum, and perhaps more influential on the global scales, 2018 saw the Supreme Court of the United States overturn a 1992 law prohibiting Sports gambling. Although it was New Jersey pushing for the reversal, multiple states are likely to seek to capitalise on the decision and bring betting to sport. In the immediate aftermath of the verdict, the NBA became the first US sports league to capitalise, engaging in a $25m relationship with casino operator MGM Resorts. Hot on their heels, the NFL has, for the first time, allowed its team owners to enter partnerships with gambling operators, opening up new sources of potential advertising revenues from operators from fantasy sites and bookmakers.
For better or worse, gambling has the potential to create tectonic shifts in the sporting landscape, reshaping everything from the sponsorship environment (sports partnership becomes a more enticing prospect for bookies if the fans can bet on the games they are watching) to even the format of professional sports. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson’s much hyped head-to-head “The Match” was as much betting spectacle as golf contest. The two players proudly spiced up the encounter with side bets, whilst live odds offered pay-per-view fans the chance to wager on the outcomes of shots.
Broadcast advances, in tandem with gambling, may come to change how we expect sport to be played, as well as how we interact with it.