Competitions

Competitions

Short-format competitions and the 'glocalisation' of sport

Shashank Nagasamudra Nagaraj

Posted: September 3, 2014

As the English Premier League (EPL) settles into its new season, there has been a lot of excitement surrounding its reception in the USA. Around 3.3 million Americans tuned in to watch the opening weekend of the EPL –  a record viewership number for premier league’s opening weekend  in the US (Bibel 2014).  Coming on the heels of the record attendance at the Manchester United and Real Madrid game (Terlep 2014), these figures have opened up the debate on whether association football will finally begin to dominate the American sports landscape. Around 31.5 million Americans tuned in to watch the 2013-14 season of the EPL and less than half of that (13.3 million) the season before (Reynolds 2014). Contrast this with the reported 17 million viewers per game recorded in the NFL (Baskin 2013). Given that it has been 20 years since USA ’94 ,with extensive grassroots initiatives (US Youth Soccer 2012) in the intervening period, these numbers seem mediocre. In the context of  sports leagues’ on-going pursuit of ‘glocal’ relevance, this poses an interesting question:

Is there a quicker way for a sport/league to gain mass acceptance? If so, what are the trade-offs?

The current Indian sports scenario may provide some clues. Ever since the unprecedented success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) several other sports have adopted franchise based short league formats. There are now IPL styled leagues for hockey, badminton, kabaddi and soon (within the year’s end) for football, wrestling and tennis. Table 1 presents some viewership numbers for recently concluded/ on-going sports leagues.

Indian Premier League (IPL) Indian Badminton League (IBL) Hockey India League (HIL) Pro Kabaddi
Duration 54 days 18 days 26 days 37 days
Reach (in India) for recently concluded / current season 190 million 21.7 million 41.4 million 10.15 million (Aug 10 to Aug 16)
Average viewers per day 3.52 million 1.20 million 1.59 million 1.69 million

Table 1: Duration and viewership of Indian sports leagues (adapted from Malvania 2013 and Malvania 2014)

While cricket dominates the sporting discourse in India, the average viewers per day clearly shows the spike in viewers’ interest for other sports leagues. It is also interesting to note that the HIL was viewed by 20 million viewers outside of India (Rasquinha 2013). Given that in 2012, the Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy (a premier international hockey tournament) attracted only 5.8 million Indian viewers (Laghate 2013) makes these numbers even more impressive. Pro Kabaddi‘s rise to fame is even more monumental. Kabaddi, a sport indigenous to India,  has long been regarded as a rural sport and has been out of the mainstream imagination despite the Indian Kabaddi team’s phenomenal successes on the international stage (6 gold medals at Asian games and 4 world cups). However, on its opening night, Pro Kabaddi drew in 22 million viewers, 10 times greater than the number of Indian viewers who tuned into watch the opening ceremony of Brasil 2014 (Malvania 2014a).  As highlighted in table 1, interest in Pro Kabaddi has been sustained even after the novelty has worn off.

Until the start of these leagues, badminton and hockey were largely semi-professional sports in India and kabaddi was an amateur sport. In fact the results of a survey on favourite sports in India carried out by SMG Insight in 2012, hockey and kabaddi did not feature in the top 10 (Table 2).

Participating Following
1 Cricket 62% Cricket 85%
2 Badminton 51% Tennis 44%
3 Swimming 30% Soccer 41%
4 Table tennis 25% Badminton 32%
5 Cycling 24% Motorsports 23%
6 Tennis 23% Swimming 22%
7 Soccer 22% Table tennis 21%
8 Volleyball 16% Boxing 16%
9 Basketball 15% Basketball 15%
10 Go-karting 11% Athletics 15%

Table 2: Favourite sports in India, 2012 (adapted from SMG Insight 2012)

 

The fact that HIL and Pro Kabaddi have managed to attract more viewers than IBL despite badminton’s higher participation and followership implies that they were built on excellent marketing campaigns rather than on-ground popularity.

However, this does not mean that these leagues are not sustainable. Some commonalities across all 4 leagues are their short durations (less than 3 months) and visible involvement of celebrities at multiple levels (owners, brand ambassadors and performers). These two factors seem have produced a very balanced consumption of the sport i.e. Celebrities raise public interest and short exciting formats ensure sustained interest over a short period of time. In effect the consumer is treated to a short, highly entertaining experience and is left with a warm afterglow to carry forward into the next season. Experiments have shown that the human mind only preserves the average of any experience (with a bias for overestimating the importance of the end of the experience) as memory (Kahneman 2011: 379-381).  Given this fact, the peaks and troughs within an event experience become central to how one remembers the event itself. This implies that short league formats which manage to provide consumers with a positive experience may retain them for successive seasons. In essence, the attachment of the consumer is mainly to the league itself and not the team, giving the organisers an opportunity to enter into a virtuous cycle.

According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the US Library of Medicine,  average attention span of humans has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013 ( Statistic Brain n.d.).  Meanwhile, the amount of content on the internet tripled between 2010 and 2013 (Brenner 2014). As time goes on, the dwindling attention spans and fragmentation of interests will make it harder for governing bodies and sports leagues to ensure constant consumer interest in long drawn competitions. And, as seen from viewership figures for the EPL in the USA and IBL in India, participation is not an accurate predictor of consumption. This indicates that the basis for consumption of sport is shifting from passion to receptivity (Riesman and Eccleston 2013). And evidence from India suggests that receptivity of the modern consumer can  be harnessed effectively by short league formats. It also mitigates the risk of losing consumers due to loss of interest and promotes the ‘league’ experience over team loyalty to ensure that all consumers are entertained.

There is already evidence of established leagues and governing bodies adapting to these changes in sport consumption. The EPL is partnering with the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) in its effort prolong its engagement with Indian (association) football fans (Malvania 2014b). Tennis is set to witness IPL styled leagues such as the International Premier Tennis League ( Asia –wide league) and Champions Tennis League (India-wide league) which will see top tennis professionals and legends compete for city based franchises in November this year (The Hindu 2014). While these efforts are currently aimed mainly at Asian consumers with limited socio-cultural connections to a sport or league, changing consumer trends may eventually lead to their adoption in traditional markets as well.

The 20th century witnessed the development of sport as a business. However, this development has been somewhat rooted in local or regional culture and tradition (Sport Thought 2013). But evidence from India has shown that, in the digital age, low initial appeal for a sport need not hinder its mass consumption as entertainment. Given the increasing adoption of ‘glocal’ value systems around the world and the huge entertainment potential of sport, short league formats promoting sport as pure entertainment may become the model for global sport consumption in the 21st century.

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IIBibel, S. (2014) ‘U.S. record 3.3. Million viewers tune into NBC Sports Group’s opening weekend of Premier League coverage’. Network TV Press Releases [online] 19 August. available from [Link] [25 August 2014]

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XVTerlep, S. (2014) ‘Record Crowd on hand to see Manchester United and Real Madrid’. The Wall Street Journal [online] 2 August. available from [Link] [25 August 2014]

XVIThe Hindu (2014) ‘ATP giving full support to IPTL & CTL’. THE HINDU [online] 8 July. available from [Link] [28 August 2014]

XVIIUS Youth Soccer (2012) Membership Statistics [online] available from [Link] [26 August 2014]

About Shashank Nagasamudra Nagaraj

Shashank Nagasamudra Nagaraj is an MBA Sport Management student at Coventry University. He can be reached via shashanka.n@gmail.com