“Variety are up for it!”

21st January 2020

The editorial team at SportBusiness paused at their keyboards to digest the news. Hollywood’s trade magazine; the magazine of the Oscars; the 100-year-old journal of the stars was ‘up’ for a joint venture with the toddler trade magazine of the business of sport. It was like Jack Nicholson collaborating with Coco Gauff!

 

SportBusiness had been working with WWE for a while to help the rights holder gain credibility at Sportel and generally within the sporting pantheon. We felt sure that there was a growing trend developing, built on the fragmented foundations of the Harlem Globetrotters and the Battle of the Sexes Riggs/King match: The merger of theatrical entertainment and sport. And so we hatched the idea of a Sportainment supplement, jointly edited and distributed by ourselves and Variety. It was a great coup and was well received, but it was naïve to think that this was a new trend.

 

2700 years earlier, the ancient Games was, in fact, a cultural and social festival transcending sport. The Greeks used it as a clarion call to return to their homeland from new settlements around the Mediterranean. It became a deep-seated part of their identity. Wherever they lived, if they returned for the Olympics every four years (across war-torn territories that convened a truce for The Games), they could continue to consider themselves Greek. Just as today, tickets were at a premium and so those who were not connected enough to get in to watch The Games were treated to street theatre, or readings from Herodotus, or a barbeque to end all barbeques.

 

Sound familiar?

 

15 years on from the Variety joint venture, the Sportainment concept is very much back in vogue. Symbolised perfectly this summer by a PSG fan rapping about Thiago Silva at Glastonbury; personified best by super-fan Noel Gallagher and manifest in events such as Newmarket Nights and even the Super-Bowl half time show.

 

Sport, music and theatre all speak deeply to our human spirit. They are the cultural trinity. It should not be a surprise therefore that the passion and ability to generate spending-power of sport is now spilling out into the streets. The laws of capitalism dictate that where there is a passionate crowd, there will be entrepreneurs trying to sell to them, and brands trying to align themselves with that passion. Fan-zones, cultural festivals and all types of community activities are all set to grow. Increasingly, a major sporting event will become the catalyst for cities, fragmented by social change and economic polarisation, to come together under one community flag: to celebrate together, and to show-case who they are and what they have to offer to the world. For the power-brokers to feed off the sense of community spirit and exploit it for political gain. This requires a broader canvass than a stadium or an arena.

What Cirque Du Soleil has done for circus (contemporised and glamorised), the Royal De Luxe Theatre has done for street art. The Sultan’s Elephant of 2012 and the visits of the Giants to Liverpool were both their creations. The Soundscape installed by Martyn Ware on the Millennial Bridge also deserves a mention for sheer innovation and imagination. I predict we will be seeing more production teams creating shareable experiences within a cityscape

 

Tottenham Hotspur have added a DJ to the team at their new £1billion home. Andy Purnell DJ’d for every home match after their move - including a large festival-style stage outside of the ground on the final game of the season. Circa 5,000 fans stayed for 2 hours after the match. He also DJ'd at the THFC fan zone in Madrid ahead of the Champions League Final which lasted for 5 hours and entertained over 10,000 fans.

 

It is certainly a growing trend. Sponsor sponsored fan zones now spring up for all significant England games around the country. This trend will continue into September for the Rugby World Cup. I anticipate London becoming a massive European Festival site in July 2020 to coincide with the semi-finals and finals of the Euros, which will be held at Wembley.

 

Purnell comments, “Based on the almost universally positive feedback I get when I am playing from fans, and the clear commercial benefits for clubs, associations, bars and food vendors, I expect the scale and level of entertainment to grow significantly.”

 

Giles Stanford, Director of Global Projects at MEI member CSM Live, agrees this will continue to be a growing trend because, “of the political strategy to generate inward investment, visitors and publicity. City Centre events have always been there but now they are getting more attention and thought because of the power of social media, it is a proven way to raise profile, investment and so create a new audience.”

 

Redolent perhaps of the driving forces behind the Roman Gladiatorial Games.

 

Stanford expects to see an increase in “large public open-air city-wide theatres. Whilst expensive, these can be highly original and compelling. We will continue to see changes in sports presentation, with cities becoming the arena for new sport formats such as 3x3 basketball; variations of modern pentathlon and biathlon, skateboarding, sports climbing and many more.”

 

The IOC is only too aware that it has an aging core audience and is being proactive and innovative in its courtship of the younger generation- why else even begin a conversation about the possibility of eSports becoming part of the Olympic family? You only have to look at the Paris 2024 exhibition sports: breaking, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing, to identify the direction of travel. Interestingly, all these sports have deep cultural, non- stadium based roots.

2019 marks GAISF’s inaugural World Urban Games, to be held in Budapest. According to Balazs Farjes, State Secretary for Development, the Hungarian capital is a city “always ready for pioneering opportunities.” If you’re looking for an insight into how city-wide activation will look in the coming decade, you could do worse than plan a trip to Budapest in September.

The ancient Games were the sole preserve of male athletes, but the Greek nation claimed them as a gender-neutral cultural and religious festival. Over the millennia sport continued to be a predominantly male preserve and football stadia, baseball arena and the like, became increasingly testosterone filled. In these more enlightened times, as female sport begins to claim its rightful spot in the limelight, the passion for sport is becoming ever-more universal. As it is embraced by the new religions of commercialism, egalitarianism and diversification, events will claim a bigger stage than a pitch or a diamond.

 

As the broader population embraces sport, and the cultural events that will continue to surround it, it will break out of the restrictions of the stadia and arena that confine it and will become even more woven into the fabric of the cities we live in.

 

To reflect the convergence of these two worlds, Major Events International (which specialise in helping rights holders mitigate risk, minimise cost and maximise the revenues from major sporting events) and MASH Media are announcing a new partnership; which will seek to exploit the synergies which exist between producing sports and entertainment events. (1047)

 

Andy Rice

 

Andy Rice is COO of Major Events International a sports consultancy specialising in supporting rights holders, federations and governing bodies run spectacular sporting events by mitigating risk, minimising cost and maximising revenues.