The business of sport – predictions for 2010
VIRAL OUTBREAKS, DRIVING PROBLEMS AND 1980s FASHION SET TO DOMINATE SPORT IN 2010
Sport in 2009 proved to be as enthralling off-the-field of play as it was exhilarating on it, with high profile cases of cheating, corruption and player transgression affecting a number of sports, accompanied by some crowd-pleasing, record-breaking performances.
At the same time, the business, organisation and politics of sport continued to excite and baffle many of us in equal measure, with talk of sports brands, “fit and proper people” and legacy constantly simmering in the background of the collective sporting psyche.
With the fragrance of CR9 still in our nostrils, and the taste of fake blood still in our mouths, what has gone before in 2009 therefore provides us with some isotonic sustenance for looking forward to ‘five things we might see in 2010’.
Marketing Mania at FIFA World Cup 2010
There will no doubt be an ongoing collective debate about the positive (or, more likely, the lack of a positive) impact that South Africa’s World Cup will have on the communities in which it takes place, the country as a whole, and across Africa as a continent.
However, watch out for some interesting sub-plots too: the anticipation of an African team winning the tournament; intense debate about the use of goal-line technology; accusations of kick-backs, bribes and, match-fixing etc.
Watch out too for sport’s first major sporting competition for the “Twitter-generation”. Some of FIFA’s official partners have already made it clear that they will cease using traditional marketing techniques next summer and will instead adopt social networking as the basis for their World Cup marketing activities.
Expect therefore a series of consumer-focused, viral campaigns in which Twitter, YouTube et al. are employed to spread the corporate word.
Expect ambush marketers too to utilise new media to undermine the official sponsorships of FIFA’s partners, as rival brands seek to fool consumers into thinking they are the official sponsors of World Cup 2010.
Respectable in the 80s: Formula 1 reminisces
Back in the 1980s I was a huge fan of Formula 1 during an era when a Senna first entered the F1 World Championship, a legendary former World Champion made his comeback into F1, the Lotus team had two cars sat proudly on the grid, private teams in general outnumbered official manufacturer teams, Cosworth engines were used by a majority of cars, and a wind of change was starting to blow around the sport.
It seems entirely appropriate therefore that, just as music and popular culture are already giving a collective nod to the 1980s, F1 should do likewise.
In 2010, Ayrton’s nephew Bruno enters F1 for the first time; Michael Schumacher “does a Lauda” and comes back to a sport he doesn’t actually seem to have been away from; Lotus rises again, albeit in a somewhat different form to before; the big-guns have largely gone, replaced by the likes of Campos F1; Cosworth will find themselves in the majority once more; and we have a new guy in charge at the FIA – someone who was a ‘big-cheese’ in 1980s motorsport.
The net outcome: a return to F1 1980s style? Not quite gentlemen racers in goggles and shirt-sleeves, but expect much greater competition, a more unpredictable sport, less of a corporate juggernaut than F1 has been over the last decade, more privateer involvement etc.
Moreover, just as we witnessed the “youthful” Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone rocking the boat of hierarchical stability back in the 1980s, expect the FIA to come under similar such pressure in 2010…and do not discount a breakaway F1 World Championship just yet.
Driving problems in golf (and other sports)
Poor old Tiger Woods: he has struggled to keep his balls on the fairway over the last year or two; he has had difficulty with his driving (balls and cars); plus, it would appear, he has also had some extra-marital difficulties too.
Let’s not forget too that in 2009, he lost a string of major sponsorships and endorsement deals both before and after what has now come to be known as his “transgressions”.
Yet Woods is not the first person or team to encounter driving problems in 2009; Nelson Piquet Junior, Flavio Briatore and the Benetton F1 team have all had their fair-share of problems in keeping it on the straight and narrow.
So too previously has the T-Online professional cycling team, which effectively disintegrated in the wake of a doping scandal a couple of years back. The common denominator in each of these high profile cases has been the role that sponsors, endorsement contracts and commercial partners have had in regulating the athlete behaviour i.e. the “transgressions” displayed by athletes which have resulted in major partners withdrawing their financial support from an athlete or a team.
In the coming year, we should therefore expect to see contractual terms relating to transgression being “beefed-up” as big brands seek to protect their multi-million pound investments from the kind of “driving” problems we have recently witnessed.
It is also likely that we will see the emergence of a new, market-driven morality governing athlete/team behaviour.
This will not necessarily be driven by what is broadly considered to be socially or morally right or wrong, rather it will be defined by what is thought of as commercially acceptable or unacceptable.
End of the line for secret agents
For the first time in late 2009, English football’s Premier League released figures to show how much each club had paid to agents for transfer dealings in which they had been involved.
The media and the general public were aghast at the suns of money being paid out, but to no great effect as the surprise and criticism has rapidly petered out.
Expect several of the contentious issues surrounding agents to keep coming back though, especially as the Premier League’s disclosure of information will become an annual occurrence.
More significantly is the fact that we are still waiting for a European Union study of sports agents to be published. Initially commissioned in the last quarter of 2008, the study’s findings should have been released around mid-2009….but there has been nothing yet.
Publication of the report is therefore imminent and it could spread shockwaves in 2010 through the agency business, as it could lead to the introduction of European Union sports agents’ regulations, and possibly even legislation that will govern and rule the agency business across the continent.
For an industrial sector that has been simultaneously praised for the valuable role it plays and derided for its exploitative nature, the times they could well be changing.
East is East
Remember a time when European sport ruled the world? This was a time grounded in the 19th century socio-cultural development of sport when some of the world’s most popular games were codified, stratified and professionalised.
And then came a new, 20th century sporting model, straight out of the United States, in which business, commerce, sponsorship, television and competitive balance took prominence.
But now, in the 21st century, both of these models appear to be subsiding into the background as a third age of sport emerges from Asia where “the nation”, public/private sector cooperation and a more holistic sense of the role that sport can play, are beginning to dominate.
We have already witnessed the emergence and growth of Indian Premier League cricket, the “Asianisation” of F1’s race calendar, and the strident ambitions of numerous Asian countries as they have sought to secure the right to host major international sporting events from the Olympic Games to the FIFA World Cup to F1 races.
What more of a barometer does one need of the changing international balance in sport than the re-emergence of the proudly iconic British F1 team – Lotus (see above). Except that Lotus is now Malaysian owned and will shift its operations to Malaysia once the 2010 season is over.
Avid sport watchers should therefore keep a very close eye over the next year on growing “Asianisation” across all sports, whether it be Asian ownership of English football clubs and US sporting franchises or the relocation of governing bodies and teams to Asia – the sport that many Europeans and Americans know is going to be changing very soon.