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SPORTS MARKETING IS A HOT TOPIC THESE DAYS. AND ESPECIALLY SO AS SPORTING EVENTS CONTINUE TO GENERATE INCREASING AMOUNTS OF SPONSORSHIP INCOME

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The Premier League is famously awash with cash. Traditional sports like cycling, tennis and Rugby Union are booming like never before while pursuits like UFC, Formula E and e-sports are bringing in new fans, sponsors and revenue streams alike.

But is this all hype?

While we can acknowledge that sports marketing is a different endeavour to selling baked beans, it is egregious to assume the audience is always captive.

Yes, sports fans are more engaged and news-hungry than customers in traditional categories. And yes, they do have unusually passionate relationships with their teams. But it is wrong to view them as undemanding turnstyle fodder. Because the truth is, diehards account for a very small proportion of any sports organisation’s base.

For instance, from a survey we commissioned of 1,000 football supporters, we found only 14 per cent felt that their lives revolved around the game. And while most would never dream of switching to their local rival, almost all followed other sports (98 per cent) or foreign leagues (57 per cent) or simply had other demands on their leisure time (80 per cent). It’s simply not true to think of them as undemanding: in our survey, only 25 per cent felt understood by their club and 65 per cent felt taken for granted.

These are figures that should be worrying to any industry.

The truth is that sport conforms to the model proposed by Professor Byron Sharp, whereby light users remain key to growth. That is that most challenges require us to win over casual viewers, boost attendances among occasional followers, attract fans from new geographies or demographics, sell tickets to less popular fixtures and compete with other leisure activities for share of wallet.

While we can all celebrate the wonderful role that sport plays in people’s lives, we mustn’t assume we’re the only ones vying for their time and attention. We need to work hard to get on their radar. We need to entertain them. We need to make it easy for them to participate.

Above all, we need to avoid the complacency that comes all too easily to a multi-billion-dollar industry. Because as any athlete knows: the moment you see yourself as the favourite, you’ve lost the race.

Graeme Rutherford