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Volume 22 No. 43
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How watching the game on TV became a social experience

Sports fans would rather watch games on TV than attend them in person. That is the most dynamic transformation in sports today, and it is a trend strengthening over time.

In studying more about the sports TV viewing experience, we discovered that for the biggest sports fans, watching sports on TV is much more like going out on the town than watching a TV show. It is a social-gathering experience.

Even when it is as simple as getting coffee, there is something special about “going out.” It is never a bad-news situation; it is always the fun part of life, something we look forward to doing. When someone says, “Let’s go out,” you expect to go to a movie or concert, go out to dinner, go to a festival or fair, go to a party, or get together for coffee or drinks. There is a set of things that would be of the type called “out-on-the-town.” Washing the car would not be one of those things. Nobody has to define or explain the term to you; there is a range of expectations. Only two things are required to set up going out: You have to plan, and you have to do it with others.

For the most part, if a friend invites you to go out, you would not expect the activity to be watching TV — but when it comes to watching sports, that very thing is becoming more common. When we ask people about their sports viewing experience (in general and by sport), the bigger the fan, the more likely they are to plan to watch, and to watch with others. They are meeting the basic requirements of an
“out-on-the-town” experience. In most cases still today, they are doing it in the home of one of the people watching, but the value of planned sports viewing at venues is so clear that chains like Buffalo Wild Wings are based totally on the social sports viewing experience.

How big is it? More than 50 percent of all sports fans would rather watch on TV than attend in person (Source: Luker on Trends —

LG’s March Madness ads show why home is the only place to watch the game.
ESPN Sports Poll, August 2012). Two-thirds make a plan when they watch sports, and 70 percent watch with others. More than half of all sports fans generally put it together and plan to watch with others (Source: Luker on Trends — ESPN Sports Poll, November 2011-December 2012). The same people who say they plan to watch sports with others are also far more likely to go out to movies, concerts, dinner and more. They are the type, and there are differences by sport, as well. The chart shows that more than half of avid fans of 11 sports plan to watch with others. Football and basketball are the most likely sports today for social viewing, but I think we are on the cusp of a growing trend.

If you have been watching college basketball the last few weeks, you have probably seen the LG commercials for kitchen appliances. Very subtle, very powerful. They open with people in the kitchen preparing and climax with letting every conceivable kind of sports fan in to watch the game as if your home is the only place you want to be to watch the game, because increasingly it is.


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How will a more engaged sports TV viewing experience affect experiential marketing?

“With experiential marketing, we can bridge the typical home viewing experience with the actual live events. The advancing value of apps will literally give access to all that is happening at the event when you can’t be there, as well as the ability to communicate with people at the event or other off-event viewing parties. And for the bigger events, we can build remote viewing centers, like living rooms, where fans have the convenience of staying close to home, but added touches that give the flair of actually being at the event, all enabled by the sponsoring brands.”

This is both a threat and an opportunity for the industry. The threats include the lost revenue and lost “birth of the fan” experience of attending. The biggest fans of a sport or team are those who attended a game before they were age 10, and the odds of ever going to a game if you don’t go before age 20 are very slim. The earlier you go, the more you do to support the team and sport … for life. If sports is mostly about “watching TV,” the competition becomes “American Idol” as well. It also is changing the way we think about marketing overall (see Forward Thinking).

On the up side, there is a blank canvas that companies like LG and Buffalo Wild Wings are now pencil-sketching, awaiting the masterpiece of the sports experience. We used to have Friday night fights and poker games, in-on-the-town experiences, if you will. In the extreme, we already have the Super Bowl party that is bigger than some national holidays.

The future for sports will center on remote experience through media. The live experience at event will be an afterthought or reward. Consuming sports is still watching TV, when, in reality, sports on TV is anything but TV. It’s live. It’s a party waiting to happen. It’s a bigger event than the Saturday morning farmers markets in America that now draw millions every week. It is the future of sports.

Rich Luker ( is the founder of Luker on Trends and the ESPN Sports Poll.