In a column that first appeared in The Media magazine, Gordon Patterson speculates on the future of sport delivered to you via the gaming console in your lounge.
Over the past few months, I’ve been watching the growing popularity of gaming consoles. This has prompted me to wonder where it’s all going, and what the future might hold for consumers and advertisers alike.
Gaming is becoming more mainstream than ever before – the level of realism in the graphics has reached a point where it’s easy to become completely drawn into the environment.
The appeal of this virtual world offers a whole spectrum of options, from casual games and social applications to virtual worlds and alternate realities. Across these options, advertisers can immerse their products into the fabric of reality and allow participants a level of brand interaction that previously would have been considered impossible.
Access has and will continue to spread from computers to phones, iPads and similar devices, as well as from arcade to home to mobile, and from single player to multiple player and simultaneous communities spread around the world. The trend has extensive momentum and exponential growth.
I suggest we’re witnessing the birth of a parallel world with great opportunities and economic rewards. Reality as we know it is limited by physical constraints, whereas the virtual world is limited only by imagination.
I was recently amused by news of X-Box Connect and the ability for individuals to participate in virtual exercise groups and fitness routines. So, I got to thinking about how our sporting nation might change as a result of gaming. Could a growing interest in virtual sport games completely rewrite the rule book?
I think it could. Virtual sporting events hold opportunities that cannot be matched by real sport. For example:
- Experience can be enjoyed where you want it.
- Level of interaction and observation is unmatched.
- Virtual sports players have none of the vices of real players.
- 100% accuracy in and objectivity of the results presented.
- Value equation – low cost of access and high enjoyment return.
From a marketing perspective, we’ve already seen concerning signs that all is not well in the sport sponsorship market. In previous years, advertisers and marketers enjoyed significant brand benefits through association with either events or sports stars; however, this reward has become less certain.
In recent years, we’ve seen sports stars fall from grace as their human frailties have been exposed. Advertisers and fans have been betrayed as stories of sporting heroes being exposed for infidelity, dishonesty and criminal behaviour make regular front-page stories.
As costs have increased, the funding available to support sponsor activity have dropped sharply, and so too have sponsor awareness levels and associations.
Locally, we’ve seen major sport sponsors reconsider their investments, with many having withdrawn or downscaled their involvements, as ROI has become difficult – if not impossible – to justify. These sponsors include Standard Bank, Vodacom and Sasol – the most recent to reprioritise their marketing mix.
Virtual sporting events could be the answer, or at least an answer.
- Advertisers streaming appropriate audiences determined by messaging into virtual sports events. These advertising messages would reflect the lifestyle, demographics, geography and interests of the viewer, i.e. truly one-to-one intelligent advertising. Research in India has already shown the positive benefits of brand recall in games.
- Athletes without injury or astronomical salaries, nor sponsor fears around athletes and inappropriate behaviour.
- Teams drawn from all corners of the world competing without players ever meeting each other in real life. Truly the best of the best.
- Spectators with unlimited perspective to view the games, multiple soundtracks and statistical interpretation.
- The opportunity to view the event either at home or collectively in 3D theatres.
- Events are timeless and with or without variables such as weather issues.
As this trend gains momentum, the television stations will most certainly lose income and their unique selling proposition will diminish. Further, stadia are already under pressure as the urban sprawl threatens their financial viability and declining attendances, increasing overheads and the cost of presenting sporting events rise.
Once this trend starts taking place, the next segment to be economically threatened will be the sports equipment manufacturers. Without real competition, demand for boots, bats and other kit will fall. It seems impossible, but for that reason (if for no other) we should realise that it is a credible scenario. The ‘buggy whip’ disappeared only a few years after the arrival of the car; recordable music tapes started the demise of the music industry; digital images made Kodak moments distant memories in only a few years; and there have been many other examples. When consumer needs and technological developments align, the shifts are rapid and irreversible.
I have no doubt that years from now we’ll look back and wonder why we as an industry – and a society – have missed the clear signals marking the birth of a parallel virtual (and highly profitable) economy.
This story first appeared in The Media magazine.