David Owen

There is some good news and some, well, not so good news for those who try to scratch a living from our passion for sport in a new piece of research that has crossed my desk this week.

First the good news: those who contributed to the latest Sports Survey from PwC, the big auditing and consulting firm - that is to say 470 "sport industry leaders" in Europe and beyond - expect to see annual market growth of seven per cent over the next three to five years.

Most industries would settle for that.

The not so good news - although it will turn out to be excellent news for those who put their chips on the right squares - is that the consumption habits of the young make it all but inevitable that the sector joins a growing list of industries - music, hotels, taxis, I could go on - to be confronted by profound disruption as a consequence of digitalisation.

As David Dellea, head of PwC's sports business advisory team comments: "We are approaching a tipping point where digital is overtaking linear in terms of media consumption".

The key difference to keep in mind between digital and the nice cosy world of widescreen television and humongous rights fees for exclusive live action it is invading is that digital is interactive.

This potentially changes an awful lot - particularly, it seems to me - for sponsors.

Young people have new habits when it comes to the consumption of sport ©Getty Images
Young people have new habits when it comes to the consumption of sport ©Getty Images

In the words of PwC's Stefanie Vogel: "The times when sponsors could solely rely on the approach of a 'turnkey' sponsorship package, submit artwork for billboards and passively watch it generate returns are clearly over."

More than before, she suggests, activation strategies "should include ideas that are off the beaten path" - and, I would add, are devilishly difficult to pitch absolutely spot on.

To get it right, Vogel predicts, "brands are going to have to break down any remaining organisational silos between marketing and sponsorship…

"It is only through integrated strategies and activations that [brands] will get the most bang for their sponsorship buck."

Of course, however scary and unpredictable the future may look for sports property owners, blanket digitalisation is not going to happen overnight.

With luck and a fair wind, the value of exclusive live rights to events may hold steady, or even increase somewhat, if marketing is good or headway can be made in developing geographic markets.

But the sheer difficulty of predicting what is going to happen in this brave new world that is subsuming potentially anyone engaged in anything people like to watch/enjoy via a screen in their spare time is highlighted for me by one specific finding in the study.

If I was told once at sports media events over the past ten or 15 years that highlights were toast, finished, history, I must have been told it a dozen times.

Yet now I read that "in terms of sports content types expected to grow the most, highlights/on-demand video came out on top".

In fairness, I do not suppose we are talking about traditional highlights programmes such as the BBC's Match of the Day, as much as the sort of short clips you see zooming around social media when a particularly spectacular goal or touchdown is scored, or an unexpected celeb is spotted court-side. 

I cannot imagine our value-savvy teenage offspring would countenance actually paying for such clips as they discuss them momentarily with chums before moving quickly on to the next sensation.

The future is looking unpredictable for sporting property owners ©Getty Images
The future is looking unpredictable for sporting property owners ©Getty Images

This appears to indicate that the sports sector and its media/marketing partners may need to become increasingly adroit at monetising via other means, i.e prefacing said clips with an ad and/or compiling a vivid and precise picture of who is viewing them, and why, for future targeting.

Beyond the determination that digital is taking over, there still seems little if any consensus on where the path ahead will take us.

If you have assets whose value will rise or fall accordingly, this must be nerve-racking.

But it is also a time of opportunity.

The report may be accessed here.   

Women football managers

I love Debbie Jevans.

So I was pleased to see the former London 2012 heavy-hitter turned interim chairwoman of the English Football League speaking up for women coaches in the columns of The Times this week.

According to the estimable Martyn Ziegler, Jevans said that women coaches were as "tactically adept" as their male counterparts and that she could foresee a time when women coaches were employed by men's teams.

I wholeheartedly agree, but I must admit that the first thing I did on clocking the article was to look up how long it has been since a series called The Manageress – or Miss Manager et ses footballeurs apparently in a French version - graced our screens on Channel 4.

The answer, I can report, is 28 years.

Now I am reasonably confident that the series is not regarded as a slavishly accurate portrayal of English football in the final years before the Premier League burst upon us.

Debbie Jevans has spoken up for female coaches ©Getty Images
Debbie Jevans has spoken up for female coaches ©Getty Images

But nonetheless, that means nearly three decades have elapsed since the notion of a woman football manager was deemed a plausible enough scenario for mainstream television - and yet still, to the best of my knowledge, no professional English men's club has made such an appointment.

Extraordinary or all too sadly predictable? I can't make up my mind.

I do know of one woman who has coached a men's team: Corinne Diacre, who managed the French Ligue 2 club Clermont for three years, finishing 12th, seventh and 12th again.

She has now moved on to the French women's national team and will no doubt be hoping to guide them to victory on home soil in next year's FIFA Women's World Cup, and who knows perhaps at the Olympics in Japan in 2020.

If she could pull off that notable double, I would hope that men's and women's professional clubs alike would be queueing up for the 44-year-old's signature.