We’ve hosted over 50 “office hours” sessions so far this year at Sports Loft for some of the leading organisations in the sports industry. After meeting three of the five companies that he was going to see that afternoon, one senior industry exec raised a question that we hear a lot – “Who are going to be the organisations that will drive the adoption of these technologies? Is it up to the agencies and the brand to identify them, and then use the technologies in activations and encourage the rightsholder to use them? Is it up to the rightsholders to identify these technologies and then offer it to the brands?”
His question neatly encapsulated the relationship between rightsholder and sponsor but it could just as easily be applied to the broadcaster – rightsholder relationship as well. In effect, whose job was it to be pro-active? I’ve seen this dynamic a lot in the past when consulting rightsholder side. I remember once being told by a rightsholder that it “wasn’t our job” to be taking activation ideas to a brand client, that was up to the brand and their agency, we had to sell them the rights and then help them activate what they wanted to do as long as it was within the contract. In this particular instance, the rightsholder was entirely passive and if the brand hadn’t been pro-active, a multi-year contract could have come and gone with little achieved. Maybe the rightsholder got lazy because the brand was doing all the legwork, but that’s not the case everytime. It’s certainly not been uncommon to hear rightsholders complain that their brand partners “never activate”.
If we accept that the majority of brand budgets are going to be squeezed in the coming years, then this “passive” approach surely cannot continue. Rightsholders are going to have to pro-actively take ideas to their brand partners in order to show that they are delivering value and the rightsholders who will continue to attract the brand budgets will be the ones who are innovating and can show a genuine return for their partners. Agencies won’t be able to rest on retainers – they are going to have to work hard for those retainers, pro-actively taking new and creative ideas to their clients (and this will often mean new technologies). Brands are going to need to think creatively, often doing more with less – and new technologies will be one of the first places they turn. Content distributors (whether broadcasters or new platforms) are going to be in an arms race to attract and retain fans with the best experiences. Investors and ownership groups will want to see the properties they have bought maximising their existing commercial opportunities and creating new ones, invariably that will mean utilising new technologies.
So where does that leave the tech companies who want to sell their innovative technologies into this rightsholder / sponsor, or rightsholder / broadcaster dynamic? At Sports Loft we are seeing that the most pro-active sports organisations, agencies, brands and content distributors are already looking for the technologies that will help them be successful in whatever a post-COVID world looks like. These are the organisations that we think are most likely to be successful in the coming years but that doesn’t mean that they are sat there waiting with cheque books open. The tech companies are really going to need to understand the different objectives and challenges that, for example, the brand will have as opposed to an agency, rightsholder or content distributor. They are going to need to know which are the sports organisations that have the mindset to be open to innovation and can support potentially disruptive ideas. And it might mean that the fastest way to get their technology adopted is to identify on a case-by-case basis whether it is the brand, agency, broadcaster or rightsholder who is going to be most pro-active.