NEWS18 July 2022

Fans onside: takeaways from the sports and gaming conference

Leisure & Arts News Trends UK

Earlier this month, the Market Research Society’s sports and gaming conference examined research on the future of both industries. Liam Kay looks at four themes from the day.

crowd of sports fans in a stadium, raising their hands

Developing the game
The Hundred is English and Welsh cricket’s new format focused on 100-ball matches, new teams centred on urban areas, a level playing field between men and women’s teams, and a fun format incorporating other forms of entertainment around the cricket. Insight was crucial in helping the Hundred get off the ground, and bring cricket to a younger, more diverse audience.

Rob Calder, commercial director at The Hundred - The England and Wales Cricket Board, said that “there was a real lack of understanding” of people who did not engage with the support prior to the launch of the Hundred. “Cricket had become less relevant to the next generations,” he said, and the length of time of test matches, the game’s complexity and its perception of being a sport for more privileged audiences were harming its status.

“Fundamentally for me, it is all about reaching the next generation and reaching more women,” Calder said. “What we have seen is that we are on that journey and we have real momentum with those particular audiences.”

Insight will also be helping the development of the 2025 women’s rugby world cup, which will be held in England. The aim was to find commercial viability, with women’s rugby currently loss-making in the UK, and to fill stadiums. There are around 40,000 women and girls playing the sport in England at the moment, and the team are keen to ensure that there is space for the sport to grow between now and the world cup.

“It is important to react quite quickly to market changes,” said Alex Teasdale, head of women’s rugby at the Rugby Football Union. “It has caused us to look twice at some of the venues we have procured and to make sure we can grow into them and not being afraid of that challenge. That measure of getting through that world cup and having that stadium full is not the end – we want those players in grassroots rugby playing week in, week out.”

Engaging audiences
Europsport used biometric feedback as a tool to complement its voice of the customer, audience measurement and analytics work. The work focused on audience response to the firm’s programming using viewers in the UK, France and Germany, with different ages, casual viewers and superfans, and across sports including the Olympics, cycling and tennis. Biometrics were used to understand the emotional impact, using a biometric sensor in sports events including the French Open, Tour de France and the summer Olympics.

The findings identified camera angles and uses of commentary that could help improve viewers’ experience. Chris Kebbell, sports insights manager at Eurosport, said: “There’s a broad ebb and flow at a sporting event. There’s also quite a lot of variation in moment-to-moment engagement. That’s a real opportunity for us, as that’s where we can use commentary, on-screen graphics and other content such as studio shows and interviews to engage our audience and form a deeper connection with our more casual fans.”

Mental health
Mental health and video gaming are not obvious bedfellows, by research from Opinium examined the relationship between the two. The research examined physical and mental disability and gaming, specifically PC and console-based gaming. There are polarising views on gaming – 29% have a positive view on its impact on society, while 20% have negative views.

“Gaming is hugely important to the mental health of gamers – gamers are more likely to have a mental health issue than the general population,” said Cameron Hatter, junior research executive at Opinium. “60% of gamers said that gaming helps their mental health.

“A lot of people said it helps them unwind, helps them relax, they enjoy it and helps them take their mind off things. We had a group that said it was ‘escapism’, and this was particularly prevalent among people with poor mental health saying it puts them ‘into a different world’ or ‘different character’.” Some, however, felt it distanced them from other people, as they stayed home rather than going out socialising.

Video game subscribers
Subscription services are seen as good quality and are rated highly by gamers, with many seeing them as the future of video gaming, according to a majority of a survey run by Harris Interactive on behalf of games company SEGA. The survey was carried out in the US and UK with 2,000 respondents in each market carried out online in May. Three in 10 were opposed to subscription services, with the rest either in favour or open to the idea.

Chris Dean, associate director at Harris Interactive, said: “Cost will always be a driver in driving people to a service, but content is key. It is not only the library size and amount of content, but also exclusives to the subscription services driving people to certain services and platforms.”