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Going global and commercial

by Liz Terry, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2012 issue 2
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue

The future growth and prosperity of the sports market will be inextricably linked to the development of TV rights and associated sponsorship in a way that will change the essence of many sports, as well as the way facilities are designed and grassroots sport is organised. This was the message from the International Herald Tribune Sports Business Summit, held recently in Istanbul, Turkey.

We're moving from a time when sports are televised only if they're telegenic, to one where they're adapting themselves to be 'televisable' in a way that's altering their fundamental nature. Delegates heard how the America's Cup sailing - originally thought to be an untelevisable sport - has adapted in two ways, firstly by rigging boats with cameras and the crew's with heart rate monitors and microphones to enable close-up camera work and secondly by the creation and marketing of a 'stadium sailing' concept - close-fought races which take place in bays with headlands. Both concepts enable spectators to enjoy the action and drama close-to.

Cricket was given as another example - the game now comes in three formats - a five-day test, a 50-over game and Twenty20 cricket. With these options up its sleeve, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for new markets to win over. Examples were given of everything from Masai Warrior Cricket (apparently spear-throwing skills are transferrable) through to breaking the Afghan market, which is seen as ripe for development. Film director Sam Mendes has even made a film about it called 'Out of the Ashes: Afghanistan and Cricket'. The ICC wants to develop more markets like Pakistan, where half the population - 550m people - are cellphone users and there are opportunities to develop lucrative sponsorship income around this technology.

Finding ways to break into new global markets was a big theme of the conference and in an excellent case study of Major League Baseball (MLB), Jim Small, VP of Asia for MLB explained how the sport targets growth by understanding what drives attendances at games. He contrasted the US - where research showed 54 per cent of 'moms' are baseball fans, make decisions about attendance and see it as entertainment, meaning actual participation in the sport isn't the main driver of attendance - with China, which MLB has targeted for growth, but where actual participation in the sport is the main factor which drives people to attend games.

As a result, MLB is getting involved with sport in schools in China with the aim of growing interest in baseball from the grassroots up, with its eye on the prize of high game-day attendances, TV rights and sponsorship riches in a market that's so huge, "if you're one in a million, there are 1,400 of you".

Small said it takes generations to create a truly global 'sports property', but you know you've made it when the passion is passed down the generations from grandparents to parents and then to children. "It's a long-term play," he concluded.

This focus on growth, change, TV rights, sponsorship, globalisation and the commercialisation of sport is coming fast and will fundamentally change the way sport and sports facility provision operates in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

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