This week’s sports industry reading list

Welcome to the sports industry reading list, my regular guide to the best writing on the business of sport and the global sports industry. As always, what follows is a mix of columns, profiles and interviews from mainstream media outlets, specialist sport publications, and the sports industry trade media (very occasionally it might include one of those ’10 things you must do to improve your business’-type marketing and sponsorship pieces that can be found all over the internet, but generally I prefer good stories about the industry’s most interesting people and informed commentary about what’s actually going on rather than the ‘how-to’ guides). Anyway, to business:

This week’s sports industry must-reads

  • It’s been an interesting few days to say the least for the fast-growth fantasy daily gaming industry – it’s first real bump in the road. For some detailed background, the emergence of the sector’s dominant players – DraftKings and FanDuel – and their burgeoning relationships with America’s major leagues is the subject of this fascinating long read by The Buffalo News’ Tim Graham.
  • It’s something I’ve written about before, but in a week when competitive baking became the UK’s highest rating television show of the year – 13.4 million! – the question of what actually constitutes a sport and where sport and entertainment intersect seems particularly pertinent. On much the same theme, the Financial Times put together an excellent special report all about chess.
  • Popping into last week’s Leaders in Sport conference in London, many speakers were at pains to point out how essential it is for rights-holders and brands to be ‘authentic’ as they chase audiences, create fanbases and generate new revenue streams. It’s not a new idea of course, but with authenticity in mind it was interesting to read this punchy Daily Beast take on surfing as a potential Olympic sport by Chas Smith; at what stage does packaging up a sport for television and an event as tightly controlled and regulated as the Olympics rob that sport of the character and spirit that makes it so attractive in the first place?
  • And sticking with broadcasting, this final recommendation doesn’t even mention sport once. But to be informed about the sports industry and where it might be heading is to understand the changing dynamics of media, so Emily Nussbaum’s long read on television, advertising and product integration is, I think, a vital – and really good – piece.

That’s that, at least for this week. You can reach me via email (davidcushnan@gmail.com) and don’t forget to follow (and interact) on Twitter: @davidcushnan. Until next time.

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On Pirates, sports conferences and big (and slightly smaller) thinking

Abandoning London as the UK’s sports conference season got underway, I’ve spent the past few days in Cornwall. In between the pasties and clotted cream teams, the sea air and, marvellously, the cloudless skies, I found myself idly flicking through the local paper.

image1Now, local newspapers are generally thought to be at best under the cosh and at worst a dying breed, but The Cornishman (St. Ives and Hayle edition) seems to be holding up well – in thickness terms at least. Amid the usual fare – news, opinion pages, a big old property section, the puzzles and competitions page, with sport tucked away at the back – last week’s edition included a meaty pull-out supplement devoted to the Cornish Pirates. For the uninitiated, the Cornish Pirates are the local rugby union team. They play in the Championship, England’s second-tier, finishing eighth last season. They currently play in a 4,000-capacity stadium in Penzance, although plans are afoot to build a new arena. It’s a solid professional sports team.

The Cornishman’s supplement got me thinking a bit about fan engagement, which, not for the first year, is bound to be the hot topic at all the conferences you’ll be attending between now and Christmas – essentially, how sports teams can retain the fans they’ve got in an ultra-competitive marketplace, quenching a seemingly undiminished thirst for content, and how they can secure new followers and generate revenue from them. Over the next few weeks, you’ll hear plenty, much of it absolutely sound thinking, about the competitiveness of the marketplace, sport as a strand of entertainment, and the unlimited opportunities offered by new technologies and platforms. It’ll be an extension of my own sports industry-skewed Twitter and LinkedIn timelines, which are often clogged with links to top tips, handy advice and essential guides centred on how to maximise fan engagement through social media and digital.

But as I was reading up on the Pirates’ chances this season, I couldn’t help but wonder whether too much of this advice, and too much sports conference content, is aimed at the industry’s biggest fishes – the Premier League giants, the NFL franchises, the international federations (and, let’s be honest, the guys with the biggest budgets) – and not enough at the many professional teams, like the Pirates, operating slightly further down the food chain and working at a local and national level, rather than a local, national and international level.

Championship and lower-league football and rugby teams, perhaps even County Championship cricket teams, the vast majority of which are professional organisations, all naturally aspire to do as the big teams do: to have their own bespoke CRM solutions, to be prolific in-house content generating machines and to assemble huge and, yes, engaged social followings. You don’t have to delve too far below the top tier, however, to see the sports industry thin out pretty quickly, financially and in personnel terms.

Resources are limited, and if the reality for a club like the Cornish Pirates is that a local newspaper pull-out remains a vital and effective way of connecting properly with, and engaging a local community of fans, then should sports industry conferences not reflect that reality a little more than they currently do?

It’s only right and proper to explore and discuss what the big, wide digital world has to offer – indeed, local newspapers themselves are doing just that, trying to adapt to a forever changed media world in order to survive – and it’s clearly important to think big. But as you collect your lanyard at your sports conference of choice this autumn, or if you’ve been deemed important enough to speak at one, it might also be worth thinking just that little bit smaller as well.

This week’s sports industry reading list

After a brief hiatus, the potentially award-winning sports industry reading list is back. For the uninitiated, what follows is a compilation of the writing on the global business of sport that’s caught my eye over the past few days. It could be a particularly interesting blog post, newspaper article or longer feature – anything goes, so long as it’s good and about the sports industry. To business:

This week’s sports industry must-reads:

  • In politics and the sports industry, it’s conference season in the UK. My old friends at SportsPro were first out of the blocks last week, staging the second edition of The Brand Conference, at the Oval in London. If you weren’t there or were busy engaging in some high-level chit-chat out the back, catch-up on what you missed in this handy live blog.
  • The organisers of Tokyo 2020 last week recommended the inclusion of baseball-softball, karate, sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding on the Olympic sports programme which meant there was no place, despite another concerted effort, for squash. One of the sport’s stars, Nick Matthew, penned a column for his local newspaper, the Sheffield Star, to express his disappointment.
  • These are interesting times in Formula One, with Red Bull’s future in the sport far from certain. Both its teams, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, find themselves without an engine for the 2016 season after ditching Renault, failing to secure a deal with Mercedes and still to agree terms with Ferrari. It’s a fascinating, highly political situation and one explained brilliantly this week by the BBC’s Andrew Benson.

That’s your lot. Do get in touch if you feel the need – davidcushnan@gmail.com – and be sure to share generously on Twitter: @davidcushnan.