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When we consider the sports industry as a whole, what consumers often forget is that the industry is in fact split into two main areas of focus:
- Professional sports
- Amateur sports
While the professional sporting sector is responsible for the live sports streaming which forms such a large part of modern media entertainment and covers the entertainment industry, ticketing sales, sponsorships and merchandising as well as the sports and fitness industry, it is amateur sports which bring the industry to the mass market and make participation possible.
The sports industry is very much an umbrella term which covers all the roles and responsibilities connected with the organisation and running of professional games, matches, courses and leagues – but at the same time, it also covers the provision and upkeep of traditions and regulations which oversee amateur play and crossover into the mainstream industry by tying together immersive experiences and using professional faces to market amateur sports trends.
What is the main focus of the sports industry
To put on or host any major sporting event, the industry relies on a wide variety of suppliers and organisations in order to produce, promote, advertise, and organise the event, including the relevant teams and their individual fan bases. And while this is exclusive of professional sports rather than amateur sports, the sports industry as a whole owes a great deal to professional sports in terms of the constant marketing it provides to the industry.
Without professional sports, many businesses which operate within the industry would not survive. If you break one sporting event down into its main components, for example Wimbledon or the final of the Football Premier League, all of the following businesses are needed in order to create a smooth running experience:
- Event organisers
- Merchandise producers and sellers
- Team kit providers
- Sports equipment suppliers
- Travel for players and fans
- Logistical support for hoards of fans, including security
- Souvenirs and memento’s
- Betting shops which support and provide good odds for those betting on the outcome
- Media outlets which produce and share footage of the event
The list goes on, but what this highlights is the huge value and investment which is channelled into the professional sports industry for every single mainstream game and match, with the intention of producing entertainment for fans, and creating a market in which viewers decide to turn their passion for watching sport into active involvement.
To look at the amateur sports industry, one of the main things that the industry is slowly coming to terms with is that the most popular sports in the eyes of consumers don’t cost anything to get involved in. Of course, there will always be a market for gyms and fitness centres, formal golf clubs and amateur training clubs for those looing to progress and develop their expertise in a certain sport; however, for the most part even the deals and discounts which these clubs and sport activities are shared with is not enough to draw in the consumer who wants to enjoy the freedom of sport without a fee.
To understand this, you need only look at a park on an average summer afternoon. You will see individuals and groups kicking footballs about, playing tennis and badminton on wide stretches of grass, and setting up their own rounders matches with family and friends. These examples of amateur sports may not be channelling money directly into the sports industry, but they are supporting it and bringing it to the forefront of their minds all the time – indicating that the spread of the sports industry goes far beyond the professional games and expensive clubs. It also extends into everyday life and activity.
The most popular sports in the industry
The state of professional sports is such that some of the top players in the highest ranked clubs and teams are some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. Not only are these players paid salaries for their services to the various clubs and teams that they belong to, but they also receive funding from sponsors and outside industry deals whereby they may promote sporting apparel, equipment and sporting machines, or even products outside the sporting world altogether such fragrances and other accessories. When it comes to ranking the most popular professional sports, it is easy to track and monitor the most popular judging on how widely they are streamed and enjoyed on an international level, with some of the top sports including:
- American Football
- Formula One
- and the Olympics, which is a culmination of a number of events and is entered by almost every country, with points across events all contributing towards an overall score for each country.
You may spot that this list deals almost exclusively with team sports, with the exception of tennis, which is played mainly by individual opponents, but which can also be played in teams of two. Even Formula One is very much a team sport as it combines the efforts of every member of the pit team as well as the drive in achieving a good result.
In amateur sports, the top games and sporting events which are played and enjoyed by consumers is largely the same as the above but with one main difference – the most popular sport in the amateur world is in fact fishing. The fact is that while the professional sporting world becomes a real driving force for the popularity of various mainstream sports like football and tennis, lowkey sports which are easy to take part in are in fact very popular with the average consumer – especially those with little overhead costs, which are regarded as productive, and which allow for a sense of companionship between individuals taking part in the sport together – for example gym work and fishing. Much of the focus on different amateur sports stems from schools and clubs which young people take part in, with the rise in options in recent years expanding the reach of the sports industry to wider communities and a broader demographic of consumers.
Then we have the lesser known sports which are steadily gaining more traction in the industry. Examples of these sports include triathlon and cycling, both of which are benefitting from a gradually increasing social following, especially with the rise in social media and travel meaning that both athletes and fans can travel to take part in and watch events occurring all over the world. Another factor for the growing influence of these sports is the focus on the athletes themselves, with top retail brands like Nike and Red Bull choosing to sponsor athletes in these growing sports sectors, providing them with a platform to promote both themselves and their sport.
Top retailers in the sports industry
When it comes to purchasing products in the sports industry, whether it’s workout gear for a local match, equipment for a local club, or merchandise to go and support your national team, the sports industry spans across the high street and ecommerce retail world. Some of the top retailers associated with sports products include sports specialist stores as well as marketplace and department stores:
- John Lewis
- Sports Direct
- JD Sports
- Run Active
Selecting the ideal retailer for a specific purchase will depend on the quality required and the price that the consumer is willing to pay, with the industry’s expansion into affordable and discount retailers meaning that sporting goods and pieces of equipment can be accessed by a wider and broader range of consumers.
Trends in the Sports industry
One of the leading trends across the sports industry in recent years has been the focus on technology and increasing connectivity across the industry and beyond. This not only refers to the concept of streaming live sporting events for an international audience, but also includes the rise in sports experience which are actually enhanced by technology. One very obvious example of this is the use of big screens at large sporting events in the USA, giving the captive audience access to direct and targeted advert which are selected by the teams and sponsors and which are becomingly an increasingly popular way of engaging with the audience during downtime at a big event. Without the provision of technology, these kinds of interactions would not be possible.
Another step forward in the sports industry thanks to technology comes in the form of virtual reality and augmented reality, which allow consumers to use their smartphones to become a part of the action. Live streaming is already a big part of the industry, but with smartphones growing more capable with regards to their technologies, users will soon be able to transport themselves to the game play through virtual reality and enjoy it as if they were in the stands. This is similar to the way in which sporting events have been replicated for virtual gaming and video games, again playing on the consumer desire to replicate and become a part of the games that they admire, and play alongside the professionals that they look up to. Fifa is one such game which has achieved monumental success over the last few years, capturing the imaginations of millions of players by letting consumers put themselves into the shoes of their favourite football players, and into the team uniforms of their top teams, and play as one of the team.
Another trend which is especially prominent in big sporting events and occasions like the Superbowl and the Olympics is the partnership between the sports industry and other industries – namely the music world, as these largescale international events bring in entertainers and music artists to entertain the audience during the breaks and drive a new demographic of viewer towards the sporting event; engaging the fans of the music artist as well as sporting fans. Similarly, taking the basic concept of the sports industry and inputting it into the entertainment industry requires a large shift in the way that sports events are approached, hosted and covered – with media outlets like Sky Sports and NBC selecting big names in the sporting and entertainment worlds to host and provide commentary on games and matches in order to rile up and drive further engagement between the viewer or consumer and the sport.
Betting is a huge part of the sports industry which has always had a slightly dodgy history, but which is becoming increasingly regarded as a high brow way of interacting with and showing involvement in the sporting industry. Team wins and individual points are huge business in the betting world of the sports industry, with betting shops around the world offering different odds to those who are willing to bet on anything from likely outcomes to completely random and uncertain possibilities. While betting in its simplest form is nothing new, the rise in available data and sporting analytics means that experts in the field are able to keep on top of potential outcomes and assess the likelihood of various outcomes – thus allowing them to provide accurate odds based on facts and numerical data. Of course, this rise in the trend around betting comes with its own trappings and challenges, namely the potential for corruption and bribery affecting game play on the part of players – something which must always be internally monitored by the industry through compliance and regulations, as well as adequate safeguarding for teams and players.
And finally, we have the growth of women’s sports as something which should be receiving the same international recognition that men’s sport enjoys. At the moment, women’s players across a series of sports are barely known at all, and mainstream media is only likely to stream the footage from a woman’s match or game if there is no men’s play to rival it. Tennis is one of the most advanced sports with regards to the importance and prominence of women in sport, with Wimbledon giving men and women the same platforms on which to showcase their game play. However, many other sports are behind and need to take big steps in bringing women’s sport to the forefront of the industry.