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The linkage between sports and attention economy

Infographic - AttentionEconomyinSports Model

”Understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success”

(Davenport & Beck, 2013, p. 3)

The above-mentioned words give attention the economic perspective of being a ‘new currency’. While it may be a rather intangible concept, it is something tradable. Positive attention is in high demand but it is also perishable so the art in business is to see what can be done to maintain positive attention around your brand.

The business of sports is an industry that does well in the ‘attention economy’, which Davenport and Beck (2013) publicly articulated in their Harvard Business School Press publication under the same name. From my angle, it is no surprise that sports brands do well in this economy, as sport is an entertainment driven spectacle and by heart thought to be ‘show business’.

A few reasons why the sports industry fits well with the ‘attention economy’

The business of sports is an industry that has been in high demand as a positive distracting activity for ages and that has been guided and lifted by the invention of new media technologies and the influence of globalization. Now, there is more attention around athletic super stars than ever before. The business of sports has also been enhanced by product development through new technologies, e.g. instant replays, performance statistics tools and so on. Social bonding, aesthetics, the contrast between winning and losing are other characteristics of sports that maximize attention.

Sports examples driven by the ‘attention economy’

One capturing brand that comes to mind when managing attention is Sport’s Illustrated and its swimsuit edition. Whether we find it sexist or not, sex draws attention and the swimsuit edition boost the magazine’s sales.

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Picture: Sport’s Illustrated‘s 2015 Swimsuit edition.

Extreme sports are associated with flow experiences (cf. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research), which illustrate the most deeply fulfilling and amusing moments of people’s life experiences. Felix Baumgartner’s space jump sponsored by Red Bull was an example of the fact that people and corporations are cognitive and strategic about creating ultimate flow experiences that draw the attention of masses of people and hence are attached with solid economic value creation. Red Bull has even created a specific web site around this event, cf. link attached to the picture below.

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Picture: Red Bull‘s space jump web site.

So, if the experience economy (cf. according to the work of Pine & Gilmore) has to do with making people willing to pay for the time they spent with you or your company, there is definitely good reasoning and links between the aspects of ‘attention economy’ and ‘experience economy’ found in extreme sports as people are dedicating much attention and money towards activities like skydiving and paragliding.

When sports fans wear their favorite team shirts they represent the values and the social tribe of a specific team community. That draws attention and has created a tendency through which sports leagues and sports teams have found a way to monetize. The NFL is just one example that have succeeded in applying this ‘reinforcing attention generator’ to enhance online merchandise sales and it is something that the league and its teams have adapted to different regions around the world, e.g. Europe as seen in the picture below.

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Picture: NFL‘s online merchandise shop.

Another example of the ‘attention economy’ is Jerry Jones’ investments in the Dallas Cowboys. Although, Jones’ ownership role has been subject to criticism among some fans of the Cowboys, his vision regarding the NFL franchise and the establishment of the AT&T Stadium in 2009 as a gigantic entertainment and interactive venue experience to be used for a wide variety of sports and cultural events caught the attention of many important stakeholders.

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Picture: AT&T Stadium.

Nike has understood to improve business by managing attention. 7 out of the top 10 highest-paid athlete endorsers represent the corporation. For years, Nike has applied a sponsor strategy of finding and signing the most promising athletes in different sports, e.g. the examples of Michael Jordan, John McEnroe and Tiger Woods.

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Picture: Nike’s athletic representation among highest-paid athletes (source: OpenDorse’s Twitter account).

Ambush marketing draws attention

Ambush marketing often creates lots of attention. Think about Paddy Power’s stunt when they sponsored Nicklas Bendtner and had their logo wrongfully displayed on his underwear during the UEFA 2012 European Championship. Candy brand Kit Kat did well in 2010 as they created much positive buzz despite not paying huge amounts on official FIFA 2010 World Cup related sponsorship deals like rival candy brand Mars. In his book Brand hijack, Wipperfürth (2005) argues for consumers’ increasing power in the postmodern marketing era and Kit Kat’s marketing stunt is an example of using ambush marketing to involve consumers and their passion for football to co-construct an effective branding impact via positive attention.

A few other examples of ambush marketing in sports:

Additional sources:

Davenport, T. H., & Beck, J. C. (2013). The attention economy: Understanding the new currency of business. Harvard Business Press.

Wipperfürth, A. (2005). Brand hijack: Marketing without marketing. Portfolio (Hardcover).

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