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What a seven-year-old can teach us about the decline in live sport viewing

Forgive me a little personal indulgence for a moment.

My son, Jax, is seven years old and a football nut. He consumes every part of the game imaginable. This means non-stop playing of FIFA 16 on his iPad, and an addiction to Football Manager so worryingly deep that he can name the stamina, strength, and pace attributes of pretty much any player. He collects and trades Match Attacks, buys Match and Kick magazines, watches Premier league Classics and Match Of The Day before school and so much more.

When he comes off the pitch after playing a real match against real children, he describes himself by giving a rating you would see in Football Manager and articulating how tired he is through the colour scheme in Fifa when a virtual player has an injury. This isn’t because he is lacking intelligence, but because the offline and online worlds to him are entirely interconnecting and act as one. All predicated on the same real-life data, so the title seven-year-old mind sees no reason to differentiate or delineate.

But there is an exception to all of this, and that is that he doesn’t care hugely for the core product: live games. Rather than this being a curiosity solely based on my son, I feel this is something of a canary in the coal mine for a much larger and so more interesting phenomenon. Yesterday, it was revealed that Sky Sports had seen significant decline in the viewership of its Premier League games, and this comes after a summer where NBC masked a huge drop in its live audience with an uptake in digital and social channel consumption.

This is the point, and here is the thinking. We’re in an era where the necessity of seeing the live product through in its entirety is diminishing. Without any arrogance or prejudice, a young millennial or generation Y mind simply decides precisely how they want to watch their favourite sport and when.

I will point out to my son that a huge Premier League game is on and yet he will quietly point out he will prefer to watch it in highlight form “on his iPad” (which is short hand for searching on YouTube) or “on Daddy’s phone” (which means opening my Twitter and typing in the goalscorer in the search field).

There is something exciting going on however around the moments themselves. If you think about Champions League matches, for example, you'll likely remember an incredible goal (think Zidane’s volley) or staggering skill (that Ronaldinho poked goal against Chelsea) way before you remember the score in the match, which round it was part of, or who even won the tournament that year.

These moments are now something that seem to live even longer in the memory. Our artistic recreations of goals during the European Championships became a hit with the fans who loved the indelible mark the goal left on their fertile imaginations through the nature of our illustrative animations. Likewise, every comical reactive tweet to the ebb and flow of a game, which reaches hundreds of thousands through retweets alone, leaves longer lasting impressions. These points in time during the game live longer because of the way we treat them now, and the way as fans we like to propagate again even further.

At Copa90, we mine these moments and look to spread them around the world at the speed of a meme. And this is why the conversation and dialogue is so sustained and vibrant outside of the live event itself. It means people can fulfill their football fix on Facebook by consuming a little shot of content – without needing to see the whole game. These fleeting phone moments are becoming so vital that they’re even part of the erosion of live audiences. It doesn’t mean the sports fan is in decline; on the contrary it has never been greater. But a sports fan now simply looks to more ways than the pre-scheduled 90 minute sit down appointment to view.

Whether it be leveraging the authenticity, urgency or sheer irreverence which Snapchat brings, the encapsulated aesthetic of Instagram, or being able to delve deep into stories from fans and beyond through the likes of YouTube, there are countless means to consume sports like football away from solely the live product.

Nothing beats the live experience of being at the match and nothing ever will. But the popularity of the second-hand relaying of the game at the same time on linear broadcast is no longer a foregone conclusion. The landscape is much more complicated than that to us, yet for the expectant and on-demand mind of a seven-year-old child like my son, it is actually incredibly simple.

James Kirkham is head of Copa90 and chief strategy officer for Bigballs Media Europe. He tweets @spoonybear

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