Game day gets a makeover
Due to changing demographics and expectations, the sports industry now offers more entertainment value and viewing options.
Going to the game used to be about the thrill of competition. You’d get a dog and a drink, sit on the edge of your seat and root for your team from whistle to whistle.
Now, going to a game is an experience. During intermissions and extensive media timeouts, you can expect live entertainment and opportunities to win prizes. You’ll be encouraged to use your smartphone to share photos and comments on the Jumbotron.
“If you pay for a ticket to go to a sporting event, you’re no longer paying for a competition,” said Alfredo Sanchez, assistant professor of Journalism and Media at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “You’re paying for an experience.”
Kelly Evans, Ph.D., assistant professor of Sport Management at MSU Denver, calls it “sport-tainment,” i.e., the combination of sport and entertainment. “It’s basically taking what’s on the field and just going a step beyond that to make sure that the fans are entertained whenever there’s a lull,” Evans said.
Only 53% of Gen Zers say they identify as sports fans, compared with 69% of millennials and 63% of all adults. This shift in demographics has forced well-established leagues to adjust how they produce live games on television and in the stadium to grow the younger audience.
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Sport-tainment has largely come about because of digital media, Sanchez said. From the moment the internet became integral in sports production, he added, broadcasting companies understood that they had to offer exclusive, interesting content to draw in the millions of needed viewers.
“Media entities realize that they are no longer in the business of just providing the basic service in order to keep the attention of this highly evolved audience,” Sanchez said.
But while attendance is important, it isn’t everything. Viewers outside of the stadium represent a huge portion of the audience and potential for even more profits. In fact, the sports market is expected to reach over $800 billion globally by 2030, and all that sport-tainment revenue isn’t generated by live events alone.
Last season, for example, ESPN debuted the “ManningCast,” an alternative to “Monday Night Football,” during which former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his brother Eli watch the game, discuss it in real time and bring on guests. The show averaged 1.58 million viewers per game, while “Monday Night Football” averaged 13.5 million viewers. The highest-watched production was last Nov. 1, when the duo reached almost 2 million viewers, the most ever for an ESPN alternate telecast.
The “ManningCast” opened the door for similar alternatives in other sports. “Sunday Night Baseball” offers the “KayRod Show” with broadcaster Michael Kay and former baseball player Alex Rodriguez. The debut show accounted for about 10% of the 2 million viewers.
These types of alternate broadcasts help attract fans who aren’t necessarily interested in the game and might be more inclined to watch if their favorite player or another celebrity is going to make a guest appearance.
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Considering viewership for the National Football League is up for the third year in a row and is the highest it’s been since 2015, it’s safe to say ESPN has accepted the idea that the more ways for fans to view sports, the better.
Evans and Sanchez agree that sports viewership has ultimately changed from simply watching competition to overindulging on all types of entertainment and that it’s only going to keep heading in that direction. Sanchez says he believes this type of experimental coverage could be the start of a new way of viewing sports.
“These are attempts to provide this audience with an alternative way to tell the story,” Sanchez said. “Your audience already knows the score of the game. You need to give them something else. And I see that as just the beginning of multiple ways to approach that.”