Summer is a sweet spot for sport fans, but something about this edition feels extra special.
The NBA Finals were arguably the most exciting in history while soccer reveled in unprecedented storylines. The fans are as engaged as ever, breaking records for attendance and viewership. Alongside their sport obsession, they have redefined sports storytelling. Media conglomerates no longer shape the stories around sport moments. We do.
Today’s user-generated content adds so much to the experience of sport, why aren’t brands, leagues, teams and broadcast networks tapping this creative energy in more disruptive ways? We sifted through three cultural trends to understand how fan storytelling is propelling us into the future of sport.
THE RISE OF FAN STORYTELLING
As this publishes, a teacher in America is translating this summer of sport into a storytelling syllabus. The stories, so perfectly crafted, provided a stage for fans to proliferate them into an endless stream of bite-sized content. Stories like David & Goliath, The Odyssey, and the redemptive savior were just a few of the narrative arcs underscoring the performances – and that was just LeBron.
In soccer, Leicester City won the Premiership. They were the Cinderella of Cinderella’s, winning against 5000-1 odds. And who could ever forget Iceland, competing with a smaller population than Kansas, knocking mighty England out of the European Championships.
While Messi failed to win again in his 7th consecutive major tournament, abruptly retiring from international soccer (a sign of his frustration really, he’ll be back), Ronaldo raised his first major international trophy, stoking the debate over which of these kings is soccer’s de facto ruler.
You couldn’t have scripted it any better.
The surprises, twists and turns provided fodder for fans to churn out content, progressing user-generated content into its next chapter. More stories, more opportunities for fans to engage and create. While the big sport entities went high budget polish (slow motion facial expressions FTW), fans generated raw rapid-fire content that packed a punch. Fans obsessed creative pairings of sport moments with broader cultural references. The right combination of copy, imagery, and cultural nuance could send a meme flying through social feeds.
2016: the year everyone discovered head swaps.
This rise of this fan content boasts an authenticity and irreverence that bigger sport properties can’t replicate. In that way, it feels that the experience of sport changed forever.
MY BRAND IS FASTER THAN YOURS
Youth today are crafting personal brands and offering a new wave of products packaged in the form of original content, music, bite-sized commentary, and magazine-like curation services. YouTube stars like IISuperwomanII are getting their own billboards in NYC, signaling a new franchise in rotation with movie studios, television and Broadway shows. We see the same movement in other social platforms. Recent unknowns like Trashhand and Luka Sabbat imagined new business models on Instagram working with brands to keep them youthful and relevant. Snapchat birthed its own roster of stars commanding viewership that can cut through culture quicker than most television shows or movies.
How has this progression happened so quickly? In short, out of necessity. This latest generation of youth don’t have the milieu of job opportunities, especially jobs that pay enough to flourish in urban centers. Digital, for them, is a tool for survival.
They are evolving their personal brands out of urgency. Creativity and hustle can land them a more suitable job – or even better, become a revenue stream in itself. There is a budding symbiotic relationship between the established and the young upstarts in many culture-creating industries like music, fashion and entertainment. Why aren’t sport entities getting on board and embracing this voice?
Fans today are always on without borders. For them, an intuitive response to a sport moment, crafted for their friends carries an authenticity that trumps anything sketched up on a whiteboard by brand creatives trying to reach consumers.
This truth was reinforced this summer. During the NBA Finals alone, there was friendly provocation, doctored videos distorting moments into the absurd, and crying Jordan at press conferences. It wasn’t necessarily “premium”, but it was effective and engaging. Perhaps, the new premium: for fans, by fans.
No surprise that 84% of millennials report that user-generated content on a brand website has influence on their purchase decision, while 86% consider the same type of content a reflection of the brand’s quality (Bold Worldwide). The irreverent voice of youth will always cut through culture and exert its influence.
TOOLS THAT FIT ME
We’re on the cusp of extraordinary change. It will take time but the landmarks are already visible.
Digital technology, like Intel’s freeD, will empower the masses to watch the action from any single point in the stadium, from any angle. VR, AR and mixed reality will offer unfathomable advancements in how fans experience sport. Personalization through wearables will make sport content easier to consume.
Its certain the level of athletic performance will progress at unprecedented rates as these technologies reach their potential.
Will the fan experience progress as rapidly? Fantasy sports and the red zone have made an impact, but there hasn’t been a service that fundamentally changes the way fans experience sport. Technologies and innovations in sport have been incremental vs. holistically disruptive. The fan experience isn’t wildly different than it was thirty years ago.
Before digital, passionate fans of music bands started fanzines, DIY magazines to spread news, insight, and stories to fan bases. They created zines to fill a void without any incentive of getting hired or becoming famous.
In the near distant future, what will stop fans from creating their own sport storytelling platforms with a global interconnected world at their fingertips and a smartphone in their hand? There’s too much incentive not to try. The question is how will sport properties play it. They can partner up with fans or compete. If the history is any indication, the next generation won’t wait around. They’ll push new expressions in response to the times. Youth don’t squander opportunities. They create them.
The upside for sport entities to rethink their models and invite fans deeper into the experience of sport can’t be overstated. If the Google Earth shattering success of Pokeman Go is any indication, massive amounts of people will engage if the tools are simple and the experience puts them first.
The NBA understands the burgeoning power of fan storytelling. They launched an “NBA Playmakers” initiative, headlined as “an online video network for YouTube creators covering all corners of basketball.” The NFL and International Olympic Committee (IOC) have yet to demonstrate the same keen desire to evolve with their fans.
The Olympics will provide a gauge for how far global sport has pivoted. Will the games push the fan experience forward or stifle progress to deliver against short term commitments? The NBA’s approach has put them back at the forefront of culture. Will that culture embrace USA Basketball through the heavy curation of the IOC’s production? Will we see the same fire in basketball fans to engage?
Beyond the Olympics, who will truly bridge the gap between the powerful sport entity and industrious sport obsessed fan? If fans want to see themselves reflected in the content to buy in, the sports industry can afford to get bullish in their innovation, storytelling and experiences.
Sport has always been a few making decisions for the many. Bridging that gap would change everything. Sport is a product packaged up for fans. It’s only a matter of time before fans demand more involvement and power in shaping it.
Regardless of how sport shakes out in August and beyond, the future couldn’t be more exciting for athletes, storytellers and fans. We’re quickly transitioning out of the modern sports era into its future. Whether you’re chasing rings, marketing to fans, or simply sport obsessed, sport is culture. And culture is always on.
POV by Jacy Weyer, Creative Director at INDUSTRY.