Reasons to be cheerful part 1: Lockdown changes TV consumption habits

Fuse’s Reasons to be Cheerful Series, Part 1

Lockdown changes TV consumption habits


Now the government has launched its roadmap out of lockdown, paving the way for a massive summer of sport, Fuse chief executive Louise Johnson looks at the innovations emerging from a challenging year for sports marketing agencies.

The impacts of COVID are many-fold; the loss of projects, events and revenue hit hard. But the lockdowns also sparked a rethink, forcing the industry to innovate smartly and respond to changing consumer, media and brand behaviour – at speed.

Agencies shifted gears, becoming more creative and agile to get deals across the line. Since the dark days of March 2020 when Premier League football was first halted, I’ve witnessed four trends which offer reasons to be cheerful about the long-term growth of sports marketing.

  • Lockdown has permanently changed audience behaviour
  • Creatives are spearheading extraordinary content innovation
  • The Marcus Rashford effect – a platform for change
  • Deals are still getting done and in smarter ways

The first of these trends is the focus of today’s post, with articles over the coming days scrutinising the others.

Starved of watching football and other sports decimated by COVID, their return led to a huge spike in television audiences.

Those audiences – tuning in to domestic football, international rugby and cricket, the Tour De France and the Super Bowl – have underlined that we will watch anything to sate our appetite for sport and to lift our jaded spirits.

The numbers speak volumes for the shift in consumption behaviour. During the lockdown, overall viewing figures for the Premier League alone soared, in part due to 33 of 90 matches under Project Restart being free-to-air on Sky’s Pick channel, BBC or Amazon.

The BBC reported record viewing figures for Premier League games when the EPL restarted last June. Southampton v Manchester City was the most-watched EPL match ever, attracting 5.7 million across all BBC platforms.

Sky Sports also benefited hugely. Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal had a peak audience of 3.4 million, nearly double the average viewership of 2019/20 EPL games broadcast on Sky Sports in the UK. A few days later, Everton’s goalless draw with Liverpool drew 5.5 million viewers on Sky’s Pick digital terrestrial channel and its Sky Sports subscription channels, making it the most watched EPL game of all time in the UK. Sky also reported huge increases in traffic across its digital platforms and website.

We have seen an explosion in OTT’s share of viewing, driven by sport – including Amazon’s coverage of the EPL and autumn rugby internationals, and longer-form Netflix storytelling content such as Last Dance. Under its three-year rights deal to livestream 20 EPL games a season, Amazon showed its first match in December 2019 and has effectively used its role as a Premier League partner to help increase its Prime subscriptions base.

According to Kantar, 12.9 million SVoD subscriptions were taken out in the UK last year – and Amazon Prime Video secured 49.1% of new sign-ups in the last quarter. The market research company says the combination of football/rugby/tennis helped attract more than 1 in 4 new subscribers over the quarter.

There’s a major opportunity for rights holders to launch their own OTT platforms – replicating the success of Disney+, Discovery+ and DAZN – and for smaller sports to drive exposure away from linear TV.

Innovation offers fresh impetus elsewhere. New platforms can help build first-party datasets, drive membership programmes and create a wholly owned fan-engagement platform. The LTA’s new Advantage platform is one such example. The new digital mobile-first membership platform, developed with Deloitte, offers five categories to suit fans and players of all levels and a range of competitions, exclusive content from British players and access to discounts with LTA partners.

The innovative mindset adopted by the industry during the pandemic is set to drive further creativity to engage sports fans in the coming months. Sports marketing agencies must embrace new ideas to take advantage.