A 2015 study in Canada, conducted by Microsoft, found that, since 2000, the average human attention span had fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds. The notoriously forgetful goldfish had managed to maintain an intense nine seconds over the same period.
In 2018, sports bodies seem to have taken notice of the trend raised by the research; many have recently launched shorter formats of their core competitive products.
GolfSixes, TieBreakTens, and netball’s Fast 5 have all made their debut in recent years, attempting to alliterate their way into the consciousness of new audiences. While reduced formats are not new, this current growth is more calculated and commercialised. So what is behind this latest shrinking of formats?
OTT sport is creating new digital rights deals
Sport remains a bastion of live TV viewing, and OTT has opened up non-broadcast routes to fans. Shorter formats can also help create new digital rights and highlights packages.
While not technically a shorter format, it is worth looking at the NBA’s 99-cent 4th quarter stream test. The league recognised that they could get a dollar from fans just looking for the endgame thrills, or those watching on mobile devices, which is better than no dollar at all.
Fans are seeking deeper engagement
Sport is as pervasive in a fan’s life as it has ever been, but it’s called the ‘demand side’ of the market for a reason. Members of the always-on age can now enjoy a constant stream of sports content, but they are also becoming more demanding.
Fans are now seeking deeper experiences, for example getting closer to stars, looking at the stories behind the game, and hearing new voices talk about sport. Shorter formats can help in this regard, especially with the shoulder content opportunities that live rights offer.
Sports need to attract the next generation of participants
Let’s not forget this important third factor. As well as adults being more time-poor than ever before, funding in schools is a challenge and public facilities are also facing tough times. Sports that perhaps do not have a large public profile given a lack of mainstream TV coverage, but which are popular (badminton, say), rely on other ways of recruiting the next generation of players.
Formats that are not fan-focused will fail
Cricket is probably the past master of the shortened format. Since its introduction in 2003, T20 has slowly but surely turned cricket from the red ball sport to the white ball game, with lucrative rights deals, franchising models and player auctions popping up all over the world.
But T20 was no overnight sensation – fan fever for the format had a fairly long infancy. The IPL only turned up five years after the format’s birth, for example. But the public took to it and, over time, the format has evolved to take its place (arguably) at the pinnacle of the game.
This wasn’t the first time cricket had shortened the original multi-day long-form version of the game. The first one day international was played almost by accident in 1971, hastily borrowing from a domestic format after the first three days of an Ashes Test were washed out. Broadcasters, management, players and public welcomed the “overwhelming success” of the one-day format.
But new variants are not guaranteed to succeed. More recently, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced the 100-ball format for its new franchise-based city tournament from 2020. The jury is still out, with some pundits considering it a format too far.
Let’s also not forget the technical challenges that face the rights holders for shorter formats. Those who paid to see the recent Tiger Woods versus Phil Mickelson golf match are in line to receive refunds after a platform glitch, which was somehow in keeping with widespread negativity from fans about the event itself.
What any short form launch needs is to have considered the voice of the fan, to have devised a winning strategy for the road ahead, and to communicate effectively with all stakeholders. Easy to say, but not to do.
Now, anyone fancy a round of golf? I’ve got time for six holes.