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Study: Active fan content engagement set to increase over rest of decade

DFL-supported study also projects more sustainable sports production by 2030.

22 March 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • Study split over whether most audiences will consume top-tier sports content in a virtual environment
  • Greater share of sports watched on mobile devices is expected
  • Live rights will retain USP, but highlights becoming more important

More active engagement from fans, extra mobile consumption and greater sustainability initiatives are among the key findings from a German Football League (DFL) supported study on the future of media production in sports.

The study from the Center for Sports and Management (CSM) at the Otto Beisheim School of Management (WHU) features predictions and assessments from 99 experts working across the sports media industry, including in clubs, production and technology.

The contributors were asked to envision the near future of the top-tier sports product and its production up to 2030. Of the 25 projections collated by the study, there is a 69 per cent expected likelihood that audiences will prefer an active engagement over passive content consumption.

“Interactivity for users is getting more and more important, especially for younger groups,” Steffen Merkel, the DFL’s executive vice president of audiovisual rights, told SportsPro.

“This does not necessarily mean everybody wants to produce user-generated content. But in the live match situation, where football is a traditionally linear product, they want to be more able to consume specific perspectives, switch between the matches or retrieve additional information.”

The study’s respondents were split on the mass adoption of virtual reality (VR) by 2030, with a 52 per cent expected likelihood that most audiences will consume high-level sports content in a virtual environment. While the technology is expected to mature, it remains unclear whether consuming sport in such a way can compare with traditional experiences both emotionally and socially.

“I think it’s worth mentioning that some experts [in the study] mentioned the disruptive force that could come with [VR],” said Sascha Schmidt, professor and director of the CSM at WHU. “You will see that areas are kind of converging.

“So, within the fully immersive metaverse, you might not care which sport it is. It could be any other entertainment format that is mixing your experience. We see in other fields that sports, entertainment, filming, education, fashion, and music are coming closer together.

“That could culminate in this virtual space that might be disruptive to current business models as we’ve known them for decades.”

When it comes to screen preferences, the study anticipates a 64 per cent expected likelihood in most audiences consuming top-tier sports content on mobile devices. While viewers are still likely to favour big screens for live action, advancing technology means other content such as highlights could be consumed even more on mobile.

Indeed, there is a 60 per cent expected likelihood that audiences will prefer watching highlights over live events, though there was low desirability for this from the study’s contributors. Merkel also maintained live rights will be the main sell for sports properties.

“My personal conviction is live sports has always been a USP,” he said. “There’s not much content out there that has a USP when being consumed live. It’s probably breaking news, stock market data and sports.”

“Highlight clips are becoming more important and that also has implications for the production of the content,” added Schmidt.

“I get the impression that you can’t package any sport experience in highlights without losing something. Live sport is uniquely positioned to deliver an experience that you can’t just put into highlights.”

The projection with the highest desirability in the study was greater adoption of sustainable production, with a 73 per cent expected likelihood that sports content will emit 80 per cent less carbon dioxide than current levels by 2030.

The rise of remote production, partly driven by Covid-19, has already helped reduce travel to and from events, but the study acknowledges that such a large emissions reduction by the close of the decade is a challenge.

“This is an absolutely imperative goal that we have to pursue reducing emissions,” said Merkel. “It’s something that we have not only set ourselves as a goal, but that we are also challenged on by our major rights holders, such as Sky who have a corporate wide-initiative called Sky Zero where they want to be carbon neutral by 2030.

“The key thing in production and where carbon emissions are coming from is logistics. It’s not the electricity at the stadium. 90 per cent of the carbon emissions are surrounding production.

“If we want to tackle carbon emissions in media production, we have to tackle the issue of logistics by organising more efficient travel logistics or going for a more remote approach. Right now, our production company Sportcast is assessing where in the next years we can reduce carbon emissions.”

Schmidt also believes there is a “willingness” in sport to become “future ready”.

“In some areas, you don’t need to change right now but you need to be prepared,” he continued. “You need to be able to adapt to unknown changes that are coming. Being future ready means you will be able to deal better with the challenges ahead however the future might be.”

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