A defining summer of sport

What’s the value of sport?

I have always declared my love for sport. I’m sure that if you scroll far enough through my Facebook, have been in my company socially or caught me gazing over the back pages of a newspaper, you’ll have sensed my unbridled passion for competitive activities.

Yet like clockwork, each May, trepidation descends. A fear that I’m sure is felt globally. It’s the end of the football season. Suddenly, I find myself yearning for football like I’ve never watched football before. Give me football from Monday right through to Sunday! All the football! Kind folk try to quell my discontent with cries of “Wimbledon starts soon!” or “the Olympics is coming – a festival of sport!”.  This works to a point – strawberries with cream and SW19 complement each other like Harry Kane did Raheem Sterling at the 2018 World Cup (see, I can’t help myself), but it often acts as a mere distractor from the main event. The three months from May to August may as well be three years.

However, something changed this May. Yes, that old familiar woe did initially surface when the final whistle of the season was blown. But I felt different – a cautious optimism took hold. Traditionally (from a men’s football fan’s perspective) a summer that falls in an odd numbered year represents a summer devoid of any sport at all i.e. no international football or Olympics. Yet the UK was hosting the Cricket World Cup, a tournament right on our doorstep and you can’t help but not cast back to the spectre of the 2012 Olympics or most recently, the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Quietly bubbling with anticipation too was the women’s World Cup, being held in France.

I can’t profess to have followed either properly in years gone by. I recall the pandemonium of the men’s Cricket Ashes in 2005 with more bewilderment than joy – what exactly were we celebrating? There were no 30-yard screamers, neither the nerves of a sending off nor a sudden death shootout (back then anyway) … the country had truly gone mad. Madder still is despite my love-in with football, I’d never truly watched a women’s match. It’s almost as if I had pre-empted it to lack the very excitement I’ve preached about football in abundance here. Hypocritical? Absolutely.

Roll on to mid-July and my preconceptions on both had been dismissed like a batsman facing a Jofra Archer bouncer (yes, I’m a cricket tragic now…). The previous two months had completely captured the imagination of the country. Whether it be the swagger of the USA women’s football team or the nail-biting final of the Cricket World Cup – excitement ensued throughout. Name your hyperbole, each had it in abundance and if you were to have scrolled far enough through my Facebook, was in my company socially, or caught me gazing over the back pages of a newspaper this summer it wouldn’t have been (men’s) football that was giving me glee.

Looking to the future, what I would love to see is the spirit of summer 2019 translated into more participation in cricket and women’s football. Cricket is already massively followed in the UK (despite my ignorance) but I’m confident that the passion and the pride of the England women’s team throughout the tournament will inspire the next generation to keep a flame still in its infancy burning more brightly than ever.

What does this mean for brand sponsorship?

Contextually, it would be shrewd business for brands to get aboard the sponsorship platform in women’s sport. Major brands like Visa and Adidas tapped in to the interest a World Cup will always generate but there is real, untapped potential elsewhere in the field. Away from football, growing popularity in team sports such as rugby and netball, made evident by reciprocated viewing figures suggests this is an upward trend. However, before ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ brands should do their homework and assess the state of play, ensuring that their sponsorship and the publicity it brings are genuine and emulate the performances on the pitch.

Focusing on sport in general, we live in an era where pay to subscribe sports broadcasting is as competitive and innovative as ever (see: Amazon Prime’s foray into live streaming men’s Premier League football). However, there’s obvious correlation in the nationwide feel-good factor that sporting tournaments embody when they’re free-to-air. Subscription promotes exclusivity, and despite it potentially enriching the viewing experience, it will never fully yield intangible benefits i.e. ramped up interest and uptake in participation. Indeed, the money poured in through subscription channels are an essential lifeblood to many sports (providing it’s utilised well) but free-to-air TV can ignite initial interest, spark a new passion and unite the country and you cannot put a monetary value on that.

Right, that’s enough analysis from me. On reflection, as the summer draws to a close and the magic dust settles, I guess I will have to make do with another season of football – although I am reliably informed there’s something big happening in Japan between September-November…