To what extent should fans be involved in a sporting spectacle?

In order to attract the attention of the younger generation, some sports event organizers have introduced mechanisms of interaction in recent years that can influence the outcome of the competition. Recipe destructive which is based on the consumer habits and aspirations of generation Z, but is not adapted to all disciplines. Investigation.

“Do we want to approach the future with a nostalgic eye? We must ensure that football remains the world’s most popular sport in the coming decades. […] Generation Z will soon be old enough to pay for entertainment. But are we offering them a product that meets their expectations? We must offer them exciting competitions. It was in these terms that Andrea Agnelli, boss of Juventus FC, spoke during the 2021 issue of Think Football, setting the stage for announcing the birth of the Super League project in a few months.

If the decision envisaged by the Turin leader, based on a closed league and blockbusters offered to fans every week has created strong controversy in European football; on the other hand, the observation made about the difficulty of converting a GenZ audience into fans is shared by many professionals and observers in the sector. A survey conducted by ECA in August 2020 covering 7 key and emerging markets – the UK, Spain, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, India and Brazil – found a decline in interest in football in the 16-24 age group.

A problem that concerns not only football. “Several studies, especially from the US, point to the younger generation’s relative dislike of traditional sports spectacles. It seems that only the NBA is resisting this phenomenon,” Boris Helleu, a professor-researcher at the University of Caen-Normandie, tells us. “We need to work better in terms of communication to better emphasize the concept of a fan for GenZ,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s director of strategy and operations, told The New York Times last January, reiterating half a word about the difficulties of several American major leagues to update their fan base.

“Involving fans in the implementation of a sporting event can be regarded as a violation of equality”

Boris Helleu – Lecturer-Researcher – University of Caen-Normandie

Wishing to study the consumer habits of the younger generation, taking advantage of the immobility shown by traditional players to quickly gain market share, some new competitions then developed participation mechanisms aimed at direct involvement of fans in the development of events. This applies in particular to the Formula E championship, where the Fan Boost concept was introduced in the first season. Competitors are then invited during each E-Prix to select a rider to whom they will provide a 5 second power boost in the second part of the race. The top 5 riders with the most votes will receive this bonus during the event. Since then, other competitions have followed in the footsteps of Formula E, offering participation mechanisms that influence sports performance, such as the Fan Controlled Football League, a private indoor American football championship, which goes as far as to allow fans to choose their tactical plan. or team composition.

Prioritize Engagement Over Engagement

Are these ploys aimed at giving fans the opportunity to influence the course of a sporting event suitable for so-called traditional competitions? “Involving fans in the implementation of a sports performance can be regarded as a violation of equality. Then the result will be considered truncated. Formula E was able to implement the Fan Boost principle because it is a new competition. This innovation corresponds to the positioning of the discipline. But for a more traditional discipline, such a system is difficult to accept,” analyzes Boris Helleu. “Sport tends to adopt a conservative philosophy. We have had the opportunity to see this during the countless debates and discussions around the introduction of video refereeing in football. The introduction of disruptive innovations can completely undermine the main purpose of sports organizations,” continues the teacher-researcher.

To what extent should fans be involved in a sporting spectacle?