Sports Marketing

Challenges Facing the Sports Industry

By January 21, 2019 January 30th, 2019 No Comments

Sports have been popular for many, many years. Yet with the rise in popularity also comes the rise of challenges and adversity. Outlined in this article are a few challenges the sports industry currently faces.


Now more than ever, the sports industry is faced with an uphill battle of finding ways to entice millennials to actually attend games. The rise of technology has made it exponentially easier to view sporting events from the comfort of their own homes. Not to mention, professional sporting groups such as the NBA and NFL have also made it easier through mobile applications and their own TV stations (NFL Network, for example). It’s hard to say why millennials just don’t go out anymore. Still, this age group will continue to challenge the sporting industry in years to come.

Technology Integration

One other challenge the sports industry faces is keeping up with the pace of technological advancements. Many fans connect with their favorite teams through social media, which puts pressure on teams to constantly keep updating their Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds. Likewise, venues must also keep up with the pace. Not having wifi can be a major turn off for fans who want to stay connected throughout the game. Thus, if teams are not proactive with social media and do not have the capability of enticing fans with modern technology, fans will simply not follow them nor go to games in person.

Gameday Experiences

If technology wasn’t difficult enough, the sports industry is faced with the challenge of finding gameday experiences that simply cannot be experienced at home. This includes pregame shows, halftime entertainment, and postgame celebrations. Not to mention, coming up with in-game experiences are just as important, whether it be the t-shirt gun, kiss cam, chants, or anything else they can come up with. Many business professionals and marketers might feel like everything has been done already. Also, teams might compete for the same entertainer. Finding the necessary funds for in-game experiences can be tough especially if no one shows up for the games.

Hyper-Focus On Negative Stories

One challenge the sports industry will always face is the hyper-focus on negative stories surrounding athletes. For some reason, news reporters (such as TMZ) have shifted towards being the first one to break the most recent scandal. People thirst for these negative headlines. For example, the Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot has recently been criticized for pulling down a woman’s shirt in public; this not only creates a negative image for the Cowboys, but also for the NFL. On a similar note, the NFL is being heavily criticized for its lack of research on head trauma, specifically from concussions. These negative stories will always be challenging for the sports world.

Predicting The Future

The world is constantly changing. Thus, the sports industry is faced with the challenge of trying to predict the next trend, the next big idea that will capture their audience. Coupling this challenge with that of technology, it’s clear that some sports teams and venues will always be at odds. For example, a venue might just catch up with the current times only to find out that something new has come into play. While the future is nearly impossible to predict, it might be worthwhile for the sports industry to study trends and attempt to predict what will be popular in the future.

Overcoming Odds

Even with these challenges, the sports world will continue to thrive. While some teams might fail, others will find ways to make sure they stay.

Understanding Organizational Goals & Market Trends

Increasing Season-Ticket Sales

Gates revenue remains the single largest source of revenue for sports teams. The key to long-term profitability in the business is to eventually convert casual fans to season ticket holders through a somewhat complicated sales funnel. Doing so requires more than just brand awareness: for fans to make the financial commitment to buy season tickets, they need to love the team and players, as well as find the in-game experience second to none.

Converting casual fans into season-ticket holders requires an intimate knowledge of sports fans in market. For the casual fan, for instance, it makes sense to examine their awareness of the brand and understand team perception, as well as package offer testing. On the other hand, leveraging insights with lapsed season ticket holders can reveal drivers of churn and reposition or test messaging to win them back.

Not all sports fans are created equal: insights help to support the season-ticket funnel by bringing a valuable intangible factor to the table.

Improving ROI from Marketing Investments.

Just like many businesses, sports organizations often struggle to measure the impact of their marketing activities.

Many sports organizations now have branded apps as part of their marketing mix. But for the most part, apps can do more to give fans what they want. While apps can be a huge revenue-generating platform (where fans can buy merchandise, join social media communities, ask questions, and receive customer service), many sports organizations aren‰’t taking full advantage of this opportunity just yet.

Leveraging sports fan insights can help to refine and improve marketing tactics as well as prioritize investments into usability, new platforms, and general development. Insights from fans can help to drive the marketing development of not just the small stuff (testing posters and other promotional materials), but also on the big marketing decisions (such as brand development, logos, jersey design, etc.).

Sports teams increasingly are competing with the couch and other entertainment offerings for consumer attention. With more options and busier schedules, fans who have traditionally purchased tickets to live events are expecting more flexibility than ever before if they’re going to attend games. As the temptation to experience games from the comfort and convenience of the home continues to rise, one of the most impactful sports ticket sales trends finds teams beginning to expand the definition of the “season-ticket holder” and evolve their ticket packages and offerings to engage a broader continuum of fans.

In an attempt to cater to a more diverse set of fans, organizations like the New York Jets have rolled out subscription-based mobile passes that allow fans to attend a predetermined number of games for a flat fee. Through these subscriptions, seat location varies depending on ticket availability, which allows for fans to have a unique experience at each game. In other cases, organizations like the New Jersey Devils are offering a “banking” system membership, whereby fans choose to make an advance deposit into an account, which is debited to purchase tickets throughout the season. By offering the ability to choose from any game and any ticket quantity at discounted prices, fans are given the flexibility that more traditional season-ticket packages don’t often provide.

At the same time, the continuing trend of innovating the game-day experience through stadium enhancements and participation opportunities has also spurred more tailored ticket offerings. One way baseball teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals are taking advantage of enhanced stadium experiences is through season-long subscriptions for standing-room-only areas within the stadium. This provides city residents the flexibility to treat the stadium not only as a place to watch their teams, but also a social hub for the venue’s restaurants and bars.

Teams are banking on this ticketing creativity to help bring a whole new generation of fans to the ballpark.

Winning The Hearts and Wallets Of Millennials

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increased splintering of the cable TV bundle and the proliferation of streaming services that deliver programming. In the same way that sports viewership has been upended by changes in the media industry, we’re also starting to see a shift in how teams and brands serve ads to fans consuming their content. Soon to be gone are the days of mass marketing home games on billboards and TV commercials. Instead, as individuals increasingly watch sporting events over digital platforms such as SlingTV or DirecTV Now, the data trail left behind will be used to target fans with personalized offers to buy tickets or merchandise.

By moving ad spend to digital and social channels, teams can more effectively target fans who are already interested in their content. One team leading this trend is the Miami Dolphins, who over the past year has used much of its marketing budget on content development, using social engagement as a mechanism to identify and grow its fan base.7 This method is particularly important for organizations hoping to capture the loyalty of millennials, whose preferred media mediums are smartphones and mobile applications. By reaching fans where they are and with targeted content, teams will likely grow revenue in ways not possible just a decade ago.

The Digital Coin Takeover

Consider a sports gambling platform that provides full transparency in the establishment of odds and the resolution of bets. Imagine a technology that enables full control of the ticket resale market, and prevents tickets from being fraudulently copied or shared. All of this (and more) is possible through two of the hottest trends rocking the financial markets—cryptocurrency and blockchain.

These digital assets have the potential to disrupt the sports industry through their ability to mitigate risk, create new sources of value, and enable new secure transfers of information. Although still in its relative infancy, blockchain offers potential emerging solutions to many challenges the industry is striving to improve.

  • Ticket traceability and data capture: Tracking tickets sold in the secondary market and gathering accurate information about each fan who actually attends a game is a significant challenge for many sports franchises. These emerging technologies can provide a more transparent view of the real demand/supply for each event, enable peer-to-peer transfer of tickets without a third party, and more accurately track the life cycle of a ticket, particularly when it changes hands.
  • Engagement throughout the fan journey: Teams continue to look for ways to engage and reward fans for behaviors beyond attending the game. By rewarding fans with digital currencies, teams can drive greater social media use, enable participation in community events, reward engagement with content distribution channels, and strengthen corporate partnerships/sponsorship opportunities.
  • Gambling/daily betting: New mediums for predicting the outcomes of seasons, games, and even individual plays continue to arise. Blockchain is a crowd-enabled technology, which can create new markets where fans can make wagers in a more transparent marketplace. From Mark Cuban investing in an e-sports betting startup enabled by Unikoin Gold to startups using tokens to sponsor and support young athletes, the time to act is now. Sports enterprises can be late adopters of new technologies—for instance, virtual reality is not yet a fast-emerging sports trend. But in this instance, they may be the actors showing the world the full scope of blockchain’s capabilities.