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Study: Social commerce, watch parties and moderators among 2021 digital sport trends

Seven League report says rights holders see digital as a route out of the Covid-19 crisis.

20 January 2021 Ed Dixon

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  • Broadcast re-visioning, more audio listening, DTC and platform flattening also cited as main trends
  • Rights holders have used Covid to “rethink their approach to digital”, says Seven League CEO Lewis Wiltshire

Following a year in which Covid-19 proved an accelerant for digital transformation, Seven League has released the trends it predicts will define the digital sports landscape in 2021.

The sports agency and consultancy’s Seven Digital Trends in Sport 2021 report analyses a number of topics within digital and wider sports marketing, touching on areas such as social commerce, broadcast re-versioning, and clubs going direct-to-consumer (DTC). It also dissects the anticipated rise of audio, as well as the flattening of social channels as it becomes about the network of users, more than product features.

As seen in 2020, the study says social viewing will continue to grow in 2021. According to Seven League, consumers are becoming more used to social experiences built alongside content, with new consumer tech challenging existing narrative formats.

What is less clear, though, is whether sports fans want to group together with others to enjoy a game. As a result, 2021 looks set to be a year where we discover if fans actually want to watch sports videos socially, or if they prefer to keep this behaviour to the second screen.

The report also anticipates that ecommerce will be part of a wider digital transformation journey, requiring a different set of skills to those within most sports organisations. These include product ideation, creative campaign planning, timely production and fulfilment, as well as managing product returns and refunds.

The Seven League study expects to find users turning to watch-along formats as the new second screen in place of the official presenting voice of a sport. As a result, we could be bet set to see live events re-visioned as rights holders try to make their products more relevant to younger demographics. 

While not entirely new, more DTC activity is another trend touted to emerge this year, as teams seek to carve out new forms of value, distinct from existing ticketing or membership models. This could mean experimenting with different price tiers that appeal more to international fans.

In addition, the report points out that there has been an explosion of technology that supports live interactive events, group chat and simply ‘hanging out’ together. With consumers shifting to more audio listening rather than text reading, Seven League expect sports organisations to adopt text-to-speech as part of their wider efforts in audio.

The report’s penultimate highlighted trend is ‘the great flattening’, which Seven League describes as established platforms beginning to look 'more and more like one another'. This will shift why and how sports organisations use them, potentially seeing particular platforms abandoned as rights holders evaluate the returns they are getting for their investment in each.

Finally, in order to make fan communities a success, Seven League believes that skilled moderators will need both to encourage communication and engagement, as well as ensuring that all communications and content in the community are appropriate.

This will mean employing distributed moderation teams, where members of their communities review and vote amongst themselves to determine whether users’ content is in line with rules and regulations. They will also deploy various tools to moderate user-generated content (UGC) and apply community guidelines.

“Many major sports rightsholders used the pause to rethink their approach to digital. Most saw digital as one of their best routes out of the crisis,” said Lewis Wiltshire, chief executive of Seven League and Mailman EMEA.

“Consequently, we saw several years of digital transformation squashed into just a few months. Every conversation that would have been about broadcast was now about streaming. Every conversation that would have been about membership was now about digital membership. And so it continued.

“Whilst many sectors turned to digital platforms to reach their audiences, those platforms were also rushing to provide new product features, as the world moved online.

“It will be a combination of all these factors which shapes consumer habits on digital in the next 12 months.”

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