The Attention Economy: How digital media is democratising the sports marketing model

We live in a fragmented marketplace. Not since the 1950s and 1960s, when television took over the radio to become the leading mass media platform have we seen the level of disruption that we are seeing today.

Unlike in traditional media, the digital media landscape allows for any brand to access almost any individual on the planet, with any message that they choose.

In what is known as the Attention Economy, your competitors are no longer the ones merely selling a similar product, your competitors are everywhere and are everyone. They may have no direct correlation to your business, they simply believe that your consumers’ attention is valuable to them, and they’re willing to pay to capture it.

The digital media landscape allows for any brand to access almost any individual on the planet, with any message that they choose.

The value of attention

Knowing that consumer attention is available to be captured by advertisers, within sport we must ask questions about the traditional commercial model and it’s worth in the Attention Economy. Questions such as, if a brand pays a fee to a club for rights with the intention of using a sponsorship to engage a global audience, what value do those rights have when any competitor brand is able to capture the same audience without any rights?

Many of you will say this is nothing new. Brands have been ambushing sporting events without a rights package for years. Think Nike or Beats by Dre and their activations at recent major events. But what we are talking about in the Attention Economy goes way beyond a selection of brands disrupting the sponsorship model.

Within the Attention Economy, we have digital media conglomerates like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter acting as gatekeepers. Other than a few recent cases, these players have no affinity to the sporting commercial model. Somewhat ironically, they have staked a claim on the large, highly active sporting audiences and without consideration for the rights holder, who to an extent would have been responsible for driving much of their platform growth, have opened up access to reach these audiences as part of a trading exchange.

In this exchange, data (to advertise to these individuals) is sold for revenue and the sporting rights holder has no involvement in this transaction.

A zero-sum game

In what has become a zero-sum game, there will always be a winner and a loser and the digital media industry must be applauded, not blamed for its ability to innovate. The sport industry’s over-reliance on the traditional broadcast model has fuelled the Attention Economy and thus is currently having a detrimental impact on the sport industry’s progression.

The lack of understanding of the value of individual user data (not grouped data into terms like ‘media value’), has allowed the digital media gatekeepers who firmly understand the value of individual user data, to democratise the sports marketing industry, packaging rights holder audiences and selling them back to the market at the highest price.

An estimated $200bn is to be spent on digital media in 2017, 3x more than the estimated $62bn that will be spent on sport sponsorship.

What the sport industry fails to recognise, is that a large percentage of the revenues spent on digital media will be utilised by buying against audience data that sporting organisations should commercially benefit from.

For many rights holders, this is becoming a problem.

For those that understand the shift in the Attention Economy, this is a major opportunity to stake a financial claim within the media world that has been created around us.

What the sport industry fails to recognise is that a large percentage of this digital media money will be spent buying against audience data that sporting organisations should commercially benefit from.

Avoid the buzz and just get on with it

Across the globe, modern organisations, not just sporting rights holders are undertaking a form of ‘digital transformation’. Terms like ‘Amazonify our business’ are thrown into RFP documents with the intention of finding suppliers to help build the base level foundations to act and operate like a media company.

One must be cautious of buzz terms such as ‘digital transformation’, particularly if they are not supported by an extensive knowledge of what it takes to transform into an organisation that has similarities with businesses like Amazon, who’s entire model is predicated on data.

In the Attention Economy, the statement preserved by each of the major digital media gatekeepers is that data is a currency – if they can capture it, they can commercialise it.

Capturing audience data, profiling and valuing audience data and being able to commercially action this data is the only game in the Attention Economy.

This excellent piece on the value of data is a great resource for this discussion.

As the digital media industry continues to grow, with further marketing budgets shifting from traditional media to digital media year on year, rights holders must quickly lay their foundations to operate like media businesses whom brands and advertisers are used to buying data from.

These foundations will enable rights holders to become major stakeholders within the Attention Economy and in turn, slow down the democratisation of their audiences.

If this doesn’t happen, only time will tell what the consequences are for the industry.

This article was written by Luca Massaro, Chief Executive, WePlay


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