sponsorship attention spans

How Rights Holders are being forced to adjust sponsorship because of changing attention spans

September 5th, 2017 Posted by

As I sat down to write this blog, I got completely side-tracked by a man outside my office window who was hosing a piece of dirt. My interest was drawn elsewhere and I forgot what I was doing.

Oh, that’s right!

I was about to write about trend 3 in the Nielsen Sports’ Commercial Trends in Sport 2017 – Changing Attention Spans Prompting Rights Holders to Rethink.

In 2015, Microsoft Canada surveyed 2,000 people and studied the brain activity of 112 people as they carried out various tasks. In their report, they cited that our average attention span is just eight seconds (it used to be 12 seconds in 2000). The average goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds!

With so much going on in our lives, so much information at our fingertips as well as the ability for people to contact us (or us contact them) through multiple channels all at once, it can be hard to stay focused.

Nielsen’s commentary on attention spans speaks about how people are generally interested in more things and intensely interested in fewer things. The number is quite big – 15% of the population has had a shift in their interest levels from specific things to a slight interest in a wider variety of things.

Further, whilst the trend speaks about Women, Millennial, and Centennials being target markets for events, the very same interest in attraction applies for sponsorship activation, management and strategy for both rights holders and brands.

What it means for sponsorship

As sponsorship professionals, these types of insights should be taken very seriously because they shape the way we need to start thinking about how we activate and drive value in our partnerships.

The changing nature of how content is consumed, and the variety of interests, provides so many more opportunities than it does threats to our industry and organisations ready and able to move with these trends will find a very loyal and engaged audience (when you can find their preferred medium).

Opportunities for rights holders

Rights holders equipped with this information have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd in three key areas:

  1. diversification of available benefits to offer current and existing partners;
  2. access to a new generation of audience; and
  3. increased revenue opportunities by providing more relevant content to brands looking to attract specific audiences.

Opportunities for brands

The days of sponsorship being predominantly about brand recognition and position are long gone. Sponsorship is now used as a strategy to engage audiences which a brand would be unable, or find it difficult, to reach by themselves. Instead, they leverage the mutually engaging interest – the rights holder.

Given this renewed strategic focus, brands can now work with rights holders to drive objective based outcomes against benefits which align to those objectives. The opportunity then exists to use this information and engage audiences, through a variety of methods, which target the desired segment of fans or membership.

Through knowing which segments of a rights holder’s audience are engaged, through which channels and through which type of content, brands can help frame partnership activation strategies with greater confidence of gaining the attention and engagement of the desired audience.

More opportunity (rather than less)

I mentioned earlier that there are far more opportunities than threats in this emerging trend. Some of these key opportunities which should excite sponsorship professionals are:

  • The ability to offer a wider range of benefits tailored to reach specific audience segments.
  • The resulting commercial revenue growth opportunities because of these larger benefit lists.
  • Opportunities to attract new brands to your sponsorship portfolio because of a move away from previously unattractive, branding dominated, properties.
  • Opportunity to work more strategically and deeply with brands and generate content tailored at being used in specific ways to attract targeted market segments.

Looking at all that opportunity above, it is important to consider attention spans again. That’s because some don’t believe our attention spans are changing at all (or, if they are, it doesn’t actually matter). One of those is Dr Gemma Briggs, a psychology lecturer at the Open University.

Dr Briggs studies attention in drivers and witnesses to crime and says the idea of an “average attention span” is pretty meaningless. “It’s very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is. How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation,” explains Dr Briggs.

That’s a key consideration for brand’s and rights holders alike. How to do you activate, create content and engage well because, if you do, you’ll gain a disproportionate share of the target audience’s attention and that directly leads to greater ROI and ROO.

Where will this take us?

Put simply, trends like this will see the total move of sponsorship away from being a luxury or appetite based marketing tactic. As such, sponsorship will move further towards a necessary strategy for brands to access new potential customers as well as to engage and maintain a new generation of fans and members for rights holders.

Once again, I’m excited!

BTW – The guy did a great job hosing the dirt.

DOWNLOAD – Commercial Trends in Sport by Nielsen Sports


Mark Thompson - SponServe

Mark Thompson // Managing Director

Mark specialises in sponsorship and diversified income strategies and has used this expertise across the Community, Semi-Professional and Professional Sports sectors. He combines hands-on experience in managing the expectations and obligations of sponsors with marketing and stakeholder engagement to deliver outstanding results.


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