Sport in the Social Media Age

Why sports need to create shorter, more innovative and action-packed formats 

Daniel Maisey, Account Director

When Usain Bolt won Olympic gold in Rio, it’s a wonder anybody stayed interested long enough to see him cross the line. Not because the world’s pre-eminent sprinting megastar isn’t worth watching, but our attention spans are just too short. Indeed, the much-derided millennials are said to have a concentration span commensurate to that of a goldfish (although that data is widely questioned.)

What is accepted is that an increase in the use of technology to help keep our interest fixed for longer is on the rise, especially in sport.  As many as 77% of those watching a match, set or competition on TV do so supported by a laptop, phone or tablet nearby (or all three), in what is known as ‘second-screen viewing’.

Younger fans require instant gratification from the content that they consume and the activities they participate in. This presents a real challenge for sports governing bodies and broadcasters in trying to attract fans to engage with their sport and content. Even with football, the world’s most widely watched and played sport, broadcasters are having to think of ways to keep fans absorbed.

At last year’s Telegraph Business of Sport conference, Simon Green, Head of BT Sport, conceded during a debate on the future of the Premier League that one of the challenges for broadcasters is holding the younger generation's attention for a 90-minute football match.

He noted that more fans are consuming their football in bite sized chunks on Twitter and other platforms, whilst viewing figures for live games have been falling away. Add to this decreasing participation levels in golf and tennis amongst the young, two games with traditionally long formats, and the issue facing the governing bodies of sports is plain to see.

Yet, whilst this may pose a complex challenge, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces sports to innovate by creating shorter, more action-packed and entertaining formats.

Cricket-(2).pngIn cricket, shortened formats are already well established. Cricket has done it successfully with the introduction of T20, with the first international was played over a decade ago, and is now looking to shorten it even further to a 100-ball competition aimed at ‘mums and kids during the summer holidays’.

Basketball.pngBasketball has welcomed 3v3, and it is well established in the US and across Europe. It will make its debut as an Olympic sport in 2024, and the Nike 3ON3 tournament regularly exceeds 1,500 teams, 5,000 players and 25,000 spectators. 

rugby-(5).pngRugby Sevens continues to grow. The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is the best attended, most viewed and most socially engaged short format series to date. Both Rugby and Basketball have seen a dramatic rise of number of professionals who specialise in only playing a reduced or shortened format of the game.

Tennis.pngTennis has successfully introduced its TieBreakTens and FAST4 formats, a quicker, more exciting version of the traditional format.


Golf-Tee-Ball-icon-CSM-Purple-(1).pngAway from team sports, Golf has experimented with a six-hole format, with one of its key principles being that you can complete one round inside 90 minutes.


Even among those sports with established short form versions, national governing bodies and commercial entities involved with their development internationally are not resting on their laurels.

The NBA are looking at ways they can shorten their traditional 5v5 games to keep their fans “switched on” throughout. In Rugby, a ‘Super 7’s’ concept was announced in the US last year, featuring 16-21 player squads, 48-minute matches and a skills ‘gauntlet’ to decide tied games. With the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco fast approaching, this game was designed to entice the American audience to engage with a sport that has traditionally struggled to capture the nation’s imagination.  Even football is looking at radical proposals including shortening games to two 30 minute halves.

This all leads to two points that need to be addressed.  Either national governing bodies should continue to be encouraged to develop shorter formats for their games, and it should form a central part of their strategy.  Or, if that isn’t possible, they need to develop a plan to incorporate the second screen in the viewing experience.  Use social media to enhance the experience and encourage fans to be part of the conversation, and it will increase their engagement with what they are watching live.

Second, third and even fourth screen viewing will only continue to rise.  The lawmakers in our favourite sports are realising the need to adapt to ensure fans continue to be captivated.  By developing shorter formats they will discover an easier way to involve current fans, entice new fans and keep them all interested in watching the sport.