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It’s the fans, stupid

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“It’s the economy, stupid”  

A phrase that allegedly won Bill Clinton the presidential election of 1992, and catapulted James Carville into American history books.  It was intended to keep then Gov. Clinton on message “President Bush has lead the economy into a recession”.  As a tribute to Mr. Carville, I would like to tell Web site developers for professional sport teams “It’s the fans, stupid”. 

Every business must satisfy a need or a want of its consumer (thanks Professor Choi); therefore, let’s examine the needs fulfilled by professional sports: vicarious participation (Basking In Reflected Glory), communal bonding (otherwise how could municipalities explain spending millions of dollars on new stadiums, ask Cincinnati), and diversion from reality (the only explanation for baseball, and I like baseball).  Now consider your favorite team’s Web site.  What comes to mind; your team’s star player, season ticket links, highlights from the most recent game (unless your team is the Chargers)?  Does the Web site make you anymore likely to buy tickets to next week’s game, purchase a jersey, or call friends over to watch the game?  No, it doesn’t. 

Most teams Web sites are exercises of vanity.  They are built on the foundation of, “fans are our subjects, they will do as we say.”  I did not have this belief until I read two superbly written articles, “Development of the Motivational Scale for Sport Online Consumption” by Won Jae Seo and B. Christine Green (2008), and “The Role of Web Site Content on Motive and Attitude for Sport Events” by Kevin Filo, Daniel C. Funk and Glen Hornby (2009).

Seo and Green (2008) found ten dimensions for a fan’s consumption of a team’s Web site: technical knowledge of the game, interpersonal communication, information, fanship, entertainment, economic, pass time, escape, team support, and fan expression.  Seo and Green go to great lengths to describe the emergence of fan expression as a motive for consumption of sports online.  They describe the motive of fan expression as being, “… consistent with the concepts of community, belongingness, and subcultural expression, which are important sought-after benefits of sport participants and spectators, sports tourists, volunteers, and other communities of consumption.”  Seo and Green then go on to describe the unexpected result of their research.  Content (motive to read articles, look at photos and download media) is not a motivating factor for fans to visit their team’s websites, but rather a support mechanism for the motives of: information gathering, passing-time or the need to express oneself.  While I do agree with most of their work, I would argue that dismissing content as a motive for a fan’s consumption of a team’s website is negligent to a fans expectations in 2008. 

Fans did not expect teams to provide them with quality content in 2008.  However, I believe that some franchises have been able to change their fans expectations; thereby, changing motives for consumption of a team’s online material.  The trend of teams hiring former beat writers as columnists for their Web site, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Kings to name two, has increased their site’s credibility amongst fans.

Seo and Green’s oversight of this possibility does not negate from their outstanding work.  It should be noted that their uncovering of the motive of fan expression in 2008, preceded the explosion of social media.  They correctly identified the ever-increasing need for individuals to share themselves with their community.

Filo, Funk, and Hornby’s (2009) work focused on “…evaluating the impact of Web site marketing communication on consumers’ motivation and attitudes toward a sporting event.”  They found that a sport organization must include 15 things on its Web site to satisfy the consumers need: event ticket procurement, venue site, shopping locations, accommodations, event schedule, local attractions, entertainment opportunities, travel costs, public transport, food and concessions, location of event, parking, safety and security measures, weather forecasts and conditions, and traffic conditions.  Admittedly, a limitation of their research is its focus on an annual event, the Indy 300 in Southern Queensland, Australia, that attracts tourists from outside Southern Queensland; therefore, the material needed on the Indy 300 Web site would differ from a professional sports franchise’s.  However, the research demonstrated that,there was a significant increase in a fans motive to attend, or consume the event, if their needs were met by the organization’s website.”  Once again demonstrating the focus of a professional sports franchise’s Web site should be on the consumer.

The research supports the hypothesis that a professional sports franchise should take a customer centric approach to the development of its web site.  We have entered an age where people expect to be heard, seen, and respected.  Fans devote a great amount of energy to their team. Franchises should respect the fans’ commitment by catering to their needs.  It’s not an argument, it’s a reality.

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Written by Peter Amador

March 4, 2010 at 11:15 AM

Michael Schumacher’s Lesson to NASCAR

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In today’s WSJ, Jonathan Clegg extols Michael Schumaher’s presumptive return to Formula 1 racing (which became official today).  Clegg describes F1 tumultuous last eighteen months: the loss of manufactures Honda, Toyota and BMW; a race fixing scandal involving the team principle of Renault; and the loss of sponsors such as The Royal Bank of Scotland and Bridgestone Tires.  Of particular interest was the reported viewership decline of F1.  Clegg states the number of Germans watching F1 racing in 2008 was only 29.6 million, a substantial decrease from Schumacher’s final season in 2006 when a reported 42.8 million Germans were watching F1 racing.  In step with the decrease in viewership, the broadcasting rights for F1 in Germany decreased from $90 million to $49 million during the same period.  The pairing of Schumacher with Mercedes should lift the F1 viewership in Germany near the 2006 numbers; however, was the decrease in viewership a symptom of a larger problem, and what should NASCAR be learning from F1 recent experiences?

NASCAR ratings were down across the board for the 2009 season.  A season that was marred with allusions to bailouts, and distinguished  by uncharacteristically dull racing.  Jimmy Johnson (San Diego native) captured his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship to little fanfare after an uneventful Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Johnson’s reign has been derided by critics as bad for the sport – much as Schumacher’s five straight F1 titles were – as they have prayed for the revival of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career.  While it is unlikely that the Johnson Era will be looked upon as a golden age for the sport, NASCAR must examine what is the problem that is causing the symptom of decreasing viewership.  During a year where more people are staying home and watching sports, MLB playoffs were up and NFL games are consistently at the top of the week’s ratings, NASCAR numbers plummeted.

The decrease in NASCAR viewership should not be attributed to Johnson’s lack of resonance with fans.  While he may not be the most charismatic individual, no other sport has a higher percentage of compelling personalities amongst its athletes.  Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are dynamic individuals who illicit strong emotion from NASCAR fans.  It could be argued that NASCAR and the NBA are the two leagues that have thrived due their star’s persona; however, when the NBA saw its ratings decline, following Jordan’s second retirement and amidst the dull Knick-Heat defensive era, the NBA changed its rules to facilitate more offense.  They diagnosed their problem and corrected it, NASCAR must do the same.  Restrictor plate racing and the car of tomorrow have combined to create a very dull product, especially when viewed on television.  Nobody will argue that drivers must have some level of security on the track, but the product has become uninteresting.  I do not have the answer as to what will improve the product, I only know that there must be change.

Written by Peter Amador

December 22, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Posted in Auto Racing

Tagged with ,

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