Glasgow 2014: The battle for attention in a summer of sport

Mo Farah will draw crowds at Glasgow 2014

In just a couple of days, Glasgow will give the world’s spectators yet another fix in what has been an incredible summer of sport. Dr Leah Donlan, lecturer in marketing at Manchester Business School, looks at the key things sporting events need to bear in mind in order to stay ahead of this year’s race for attention.

Home favourite Mo Farah has confirmed that despite recent health concerns he is fit to compete at the Commonwealth Games, which begin in Glasgow this week. Joining fellow sporting champions such as Bradley Wiggins and Usain Bolt, Farah is the latest household name expected to give the Games’ audience figures a huge boost.

But in a summer saturated by high-profile sporting events – most recently the Open golf and Tour De France, with the Ryder Cup still to come – will the draw of the world’s fastest men and women be enough to keep the Games’ audience figures high?

And what else should organisers do to make sure they’re competing for share of audience, media coverage and interest among die-hard fans as well as the casual spectators?

Let’s look at a battle of the brands – two of the biggest events of 2014 that kicked off earlier this summer.

Wimbledon may be an annual fixture in our sporting calendar, but every four years it faces a stiff competitor for public attention, the World Cup.

When England exited the World Cup in the group stages, Wimbledon was sure to take a share of audience figures, at least until Andy Murray’s loss to Grigor Dimitrov two weeks later. However with so many assets of its own, tennis didn’t need to rely on the demise of others to achieve top billing on the front and back pages, social media and broadcast figures.

While the BBC broadcasted more than 150 hours of live tennis during the tournament, fans of both events were increasingly consuming sport online through on-demand and social media. It is in this court, in the social domain, where much of the battle for attention takes place.

Tennis's core fan base cannot compete with football’s, however, and for many casual spectators the sport does not really register on their radar outside of the two weeks of Wimbledon. The same may be true for many sports featuring in the Commonwealth Games.

From a branding perspective, if such sports events are to compete for audience and interest then organisers should also think cleverly about how they communicate with the fans themselves whilst also considering that not all of them will be avidly following the sport for the rest of the year.

Organisers must use social channels to create engaging, interesting, funny and novel content that fans and followers will share, bringing the events into the social spaces of those not directly following the event themselves. A prime example of this was Germany’s painful victory over the World Cup’s home country which became the most discussed single sports game on Twitter. Fans and brands alike were quick to respond to memes, captions and visuals which drove people to collectively share their feelings with others across the globe.

This level of engagement, however, should always be in line with the culture of a fanbase. To do this, events must celebrate their uniqueness.

In a world where sporting events are becoming increasingly homogenised, the key to mass appeal is beyond the playing field and lies in points of difference that become inextricably linked with the event – like white clothing and Pimms at Wimbledon or the colourful kits and samba soundtrack of the World Cup.

Looking ahead to the Commonwealth spectacle in Scotland, the presence of global superstars such as Bolt, Farah and Wiggins will undoubtedly draw huge audiences. These audiences will then be exposed to the messages put out in the social space – also providing great opportunities for sponsoring brands.

Like Brazil’s defeat on home turf, Bolt's 200m victory at the London 2012 Olympic Games also set a new conversation record on Twitter – engaging people in further conversations online. His presence in Glasgow, along with many more of the world’s sporting heroes, will give the organisers and sponsors the chance to be a part of that conversation and reach those fans (and their wider networks) in a relevant and interesting way.

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