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Why lifestyle sports are leading engagement in the digital age
Action sports are setting an example in how to strengthen a digital fanbase
Action sports are setting an example in how to strengthen a digital fanbase
By Darryl Newton, CEO, Factory Media
The first challenge is the definition of ‘lifestyle sports’ — otherwise known as action sports, extreme sports, free sports, adrenaline sports and more.
At Factory Media, Europe’s largest media owner in this space, we have three filters to define the markets in which we choose to operate: 1. sports that have a high reliance on digital communities, where it’s difficult to gather large number of fans together in the real world; 2. sports that aren’t serviced by broadcast in any scale, therefore creating a significant appetite for digital and social content; and 3. sports where participants invest heavily in their sports in ‘gear’ or ‘travel’, making them both emotionally and financially committed.
But an overarching common thread amongst all the sports is the culture and attitude — it’s about people who get off their arses to challenge themselves, express themselves, and are motivated by incredible imagery and outside space.
At Factory we deliver content to everyone from millennials through to kit rich Dads, covering road cycling, skiing, skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, BMX, mountain biking and everything in between. We call them ‘lifestyle’ sports because that’s just what they are — our fans would label themselves ‘a snowboarder’, before ‘an accountant’, ‘a skateboarder’ before a teenager — their sports are their social statement, and their access to creativity. It’s not just about ‘doing it’, it’s about the way they live their lives.
Branded content growth
Lifestyle sports were at the forefront of one of the most recent trends in digital advertising spend — branded content. This has been the big disruption in the display market, and now according to the IAB, was worth £217m in H1 of 2014 (or 21% of digital display advertising).
This method of delivering high engagement and viral ‘advertorial’ has been an integral part of sports media consumption in our space across such markets as snowboarding and BMX for years. Brands such as Vans, O’Neill and Quiksilver have invested millions in online video content, featuring their sponsored athletes in the latest apparel, riding the latest hardware. This is watched by a worldwide audience who are amazed by tricks, stories or adventures and, most importantly, buy into that brand as a result. It’s not seen as advertising — it’s seen as great content. Engagement is high, loyalty strong and shareability huge. It’s a seamless and natural way to bring advertising and content together.
What’s also interesting is that, unlike other sports where competition is the key driver for audience (football, cricket, tennis), in lifestyle sports the interest, generally, is in the spectacle of the action. This drives huge audiences way beyond the participant. Factory’s content alone is shared by 240 million in a month — everyone loves an amazing big wave surfer, or an epic snowboard jump. Nitro Circus can fill stadiums worldwide with spectators who are spellbound by stunts and action from sports like freestyle motocross. You don’t need to know the rules (there generally aren’t any, which is a big part of the appeal), you can just enjoy the content — it’s visually arresting.
This space is being adopted by more and more brands as an access point of positivity, a demonstration of freedom, free thinking, escapism, or adrenaline — at Factory we produce branded content for companies like BMW, Mini, HTC, Jeep and O2. The current TV campaigns for Chanel and the very successful Guinness advertisements are great examples of utilising surfing imagery to excite consumers.
Broadcast to digital transition
Taking this a step further, it’s worth understanding how fans access this content. Lifestyle sports have generally been poorly represented on mainstream broadcast. They’ve either been seen as too edgy or too niche. In reality, the numbers tell a different story: 3.5 billion people watched the Tour De France and 3 billion watched the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, compared to 1 billion watching Germany beat Argentina in the World Cup Final.
YouTube, Vimeo, Mpora (Factory’s own video platform) and community-based digital platforms have been the favoured (and often the only option) to consume this content. Brands such as Red Bull have helped bring this to mainstream, and their programming on Dave has commanded some of the channel’s highest ratings, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to capitalise on the growing interest in alternative sports, both in participation and the insatiable appetite to enjoy the amazing visual experience. Broadcasters are looking to fill airtime and engage with younger audiences, while brands look to sponsor this space — an area where Factory and companies like VICE can negotiate and deliver funding gaps, as well as marketing support through owned audiences.
What’s also interesting is how the coverage of the winter Olympics was both hugely successful from an audience perspective but also how the commentators caused as much excitement due to their less traditional approach. Daily Mail headlines from the time remarked, ‘put an end to this cosy and childish cheerleading!’ and ‘the BBC seems to have replaced sports commentators with blokes from down the pub’.
In reality, this should be an example of how youth markets need to be presented with the opinion and passion that they’re currently gorging themselves on through vloggers and Twitter — and indeed, anti-corporate emotion rides high in terms of trust and engagement among teens. Again, VICE seems to be the saviour for Murdoch’s empire as he, amongst others, is investing in a more relevant media vehicle for news and sports. This new approach to sporting content can also be seen with BigBalls and Copa90, who have reinvented football media through absolute resonation with a fan base. It’s no surprise they are also involved in lifestyle sports with their Line9 channel.
The relationship between digital and the real world
Media consumption is just part of the fascination around lifestyle sports in a digital age. Without doubt the most significant emergence in the market is around quantified self trends. Strava, for instance, is one of the most successful and highly engaged apps in the market, essentially enabling performance monitoring and peer-to-peer tracking to the cycle market.
The emerging trends of wearable technology and action cameras are converging. GoPro alone uses lifestyle sports to underpin its whole marketing growth, which now amounts to a turnover in the region of $1 billion. Tie this into social sharing, with millennials only growing more concerned about looking better and ‘FOBI’ (fear of being ignored), and simply expressing an opinion is no longer enough — you have to look good and get noticed. These new technologies paired with action sports are offering millennials a brilliant way of engagement and social sharing that makes an impact, therefore holding a fundamentally significant place in a digital age.
So when it comes to digital engagement, our sports are already there. There’s no migration from broadcast to digital since most of our fans have been using digital as the primary platform for years. Audiences are supporting broadcast programming with multiscreen consumption and social media marketing is hitting digitally native fans quickly. Branded content is part of everyday consumption with huge engagement levels, as it has been for years with brands like Vans, O’Neill and Quiksilver leading the way long ago, and the adoption of hardware-to-digital technology is already part of our DNA. And in terms of reach, as Google and YouTube talked about at a recent IAB conference — ‘niche fame’ is where it’s at.
Lifestyle sports will only continue to grow as fans look for a passionate centre that they can be fully immersed in, engage with, share and participate in across the whole digital spectrum.