The Age of Distraction


Our shrinking attention spans, now shorter than a goldfish, are challenging Rights Holders to think differently

By Simon Lamb, Group Marketing Manager

Eight seconds. That is how long this article has before its lost your attention, unless you are a goldfish then it has nine seconds.
50. That is how many times a day, on average, we check our smartphones. Our very-own Swiss army-knife of life appliances that has become as indispensable as the shoes on our feet. Barefoot or phoneless? Say goodbye to the Nike Air Maxs.
This reliance on technology doesn’t stop at our phones; computers, TVs, tablets, watches, fitbits or kindles, we’ve got an appliance for just about every facet of our day. A digital armoury which isn’t just making it harder to stay focused but is changing the way we think. Our ability to remember information is shrinking on account of the ‘Google it’ mentality. It has created an age of distraction.
Dis-traction; the inability to get traction. It is a challenge facing brands, rightsholders and broadcasters alike as they compete for a place on the increasingly cluttered daily content plan of their consumers.
Live sport however has one secret ingredient – its sense of jeopardy. You simply don’t know what is going to happen next. Check your Instagram feed and you may just miss Tom Brady’s match-winning pass, AB De Villiers 360° six or Neymar’s bicycle-kick. However, even live sport cannot retain our attention indefinitely. The degree to which it can is dependent upon the audience segment that is viewing it – the avid, the interested or the generalist. It is these segments that are dictating the type of content being produced.


The Avids

You’ve got their undivided attention. The challenge therefore is enriching their experience. Get them as close to the action as possible, take them behind-the-scenes, offer them content in the run-up and the aftermath to extend their engagement. It is important that a sport keeps creating content bespoke to its ‘avids’ to retain and recruit more into their world. They are an army of willing advocates but can only showcase the sport if they are given the tools to do so. For a long-while sports like golf failed to do this and its older generation of ‘avids’ were not replaced by a new generation. This is now changing thanks to access all-areas social media content and the creation of short-form golf, both of which engage the sport’s future ‘avids’.

The Interested

Take Twenty20 cricket, for instance. The ‘interested’ fans are captivated for the two-over Powerplay at the beginning, they are distracted for the middle overs of run accumulation, and return with interest to witness the finish. They want to know who is going to win, to marvel at the big shots, but not necessarily consume every intricate detail of the journey to that point. This has led to rightsholders creating easy to consume ‘who won’ packages. Formula 1 has done this well with its two-minute highlights which include; ‘lights out and away we go’, a few overtakes, the chequered flag and a sound bite from Lewis Hamilton. That type of content will feature on an ‘interested’ fans daily sporting digest. Anything longer and you’ve likely lost them.

The Generalists

For these fans it is about more than just the sport. They value the experience; BĂ©yonce and Coldplay delivering a halftime bonanza at the Superbowl – tick. They want to see the lifestyle of the sport and its stars; Li Bing Bing, the Chinese actress, sharing her video diaries of the UEFA Champions League Final with an audience 15 times larger than the live TV audience in China – tick. They want to have a go themselves; family-oriented running events like the London 10 Mile or the Vitality Run Series – tick.


The Ryder Cup is in Italy in 2022, not naturally a golf market. How then does the sport engage the Italian ‘generalists’? Eight hours of golf a day isn’t going to work. Even the ‘avids’ will be disengaged by this. Why not create a show that documents the “life on tour” video diary of the Molinari brothers, two of Italy’s leading golfers, presented by a lifestyle celebrity and an ex-footballer and broadcast immediately after Inter Milan play AC Milan, as well as through social media. This is a recipe which could recruit a new audience of Ryder Cup fans in Italy.
Live sport may well be one of few products that can hope to secure our undivided attention. However, in an age of distraction, where even our pet goldfish can concentrate for longer than us, sport is having to evolve both its format and its content offering to secure a coveted place on its different audiences daily consumption calendar. Can you captivate an audience by fitting five-sets of Murray vs. Djokovic into eight seconds? Wimbledon may have to if it wants to guarantee its viewer won’t reach for their second screen.
Written by Simon Lamb:  
Research by Jessica Kenny:
Insight from David Sim: