Sunday morning thousands of soccer fans in the US will turn on Barclays Premier matches on NBC while others will watch the Ryder Cup live from Scotland. Then later it will be the Dolphins and the Raiders playing…in Wembley Stadium. Across the pond a growing number of fans will be watching NFL games as their day turns into night, and others will be engaging on NBA.com as training camp updates come flooding in. In Latin America baseball fans will be tuning in this afternoon watching Derek Jeter’s last game at Fenway Park. Not too long ago each of these events would have been news, covered by media as a special happening, an unusual event. Now they are happenstance met with no fanfare at all. The digital world, and the growth of global sponsorship has changed live viewing habits in sport around the world, and has made sport more global than ever before, with Sunday being a great example.
There are many factors that play into why we see sports on a global scale as less unusual than ever before. The growth of soccer in the US, not just MLS but the fact that the new immigrant has taken his club loyalties and brought them here, as well as the marketing efforts of the elite clubs of the world to gain recognition amongst a grassroots following of young people that follow Chelsea or Manchester City on TV and engage on EA’s FIFA2014 as much as other generations would have put their loyalties in the Texas Rangers or Philadelphia Phillies, is a big reason for our global comfort these days. The consistent outward-bound marketing of the professional sports leagues to a more global audience, not just with merchandise but with games that are not just exhibitions (like the NFL in London) but count in the standings (MLB in Australia last spring was another big step forward) is another massive factor. Traditional broadcast media, especially the efforts of ESPN, NBC Sports and FOX to take global sporting events and find windows to broadcast and promote (not just soccer but Formula 1 and soon rugby as well) have changed viewing habits and grown the footprint of casual fans who now follow and watch at off-hours where sports was not normally seen on the east coast and Midwest. Then there is a digital engagement for sport that never existed, where fans anywhere can engage and interact with their clubs or athletes without having to be in stadium or even in country. That timeless involvement has helped bring the world together for sport 24/7, and has grown sports brands and athletes that were once regional into international powerhouses.
Then there are the brands themselves doing promotions. Years ago Emirates Airways or TATA (title sponsor of the NYC Marathon) would have been an outlier partnering with American sport. Same with American brands like Subway or even Chevrolet spending big dollars on European soccer. Now they are happenstance and growing, as non-American companies figure out how to activate with US fans, and American brands use sports and its global reach to engage more and more with fans around the world. Brands understand now more than ever how to think globally but activate locally and fit into the way local fans engage. The missteps of American brands doing a cookie cutter approach to working with fans in Tallahassee the same way as they would in Monaco are gone. It is now a stylized approach that brings ROI to all, using a combination of traditional media (since there are American fans now watching global sport, TV is still king), as well as digital and grassroots activation to make it all work.
So what does it all mean? Does it mean that suddenly somewhere we well have New York playing Moscow in some regular league in basketball or hockey or even rugby or soccer or cricket? Will The Jacksonville Jaguars work in London lead to an NFL team there? Still very hard to say if that will ever work, as time, tax laws, workman’s compensation and other factors still are big challenges. However the days of soccer friendlies in the States being a spectacle are more and more in the rear view mirror, and the same with US football in the UK or even baseball or hoops in the Far reaches of the globe. They are still special events locally, but are more happenstance on a global sports scale. That doesn’t mean they are less important, and there are still parts of the world for sport to still engage as a “first” (who gets India first from an American sport perspective; will Africa play host to baseball down the line are still areas to be explored).
However because of new media, aggressive marketing, and the ways we now engage sport is coming together nicely as a 24/7 live occurrence. We are becoming more one as a business, and that’s good news for all.
We are them, and they are us.