Adapt or deny. The Rise of Short Form Sport.

With a huge amount of content available to consumers online, much of it with clickbait titles designed to intrigue the reader, many of us read the first few sentences and then lose interest. That sentence there probably took you roughly 8 seconds to read aloud, an amount of time recent studies have shown to be the extent of our attention span, down from 12 seconds in 2000[1]. With the average consumer having an attention span of just 8 seconds it’s within an organisations interest to capture consumer attention quickly and retain it.  As our desire to remain focused on something for longer than a few seconds decreases organisations are having to adapt to the new way we consume content. YouTube still has its place in social media, but in recent months the creative short-form video sharing app TikTok has grown at record rates recording downloads of 200 million for the first quarter of 2020 according to data gathered by In an era where consumerism has become in effect instant, time is our most precious commodity and engaging the consumer in the first few seconds is imperative for success. So how does this affect sports?

“Time or lack thereof is the biggest single competitor to participation in sport be that as a fan or player” Says Jason Harborow, Managing Director and Special Advisor, Global13

So what is sport really competing with?


In recent years sport has contended with competition from longer commutes and longer working weeks, the combination of which means that going to watch live sport or playing in a local league every Saturday is often forgone with family time, or novel experience with friends prioritised. The ever important eyes fixed to screens showing sport are decreasing too as individuals get bored and crave variety, instead choosing to search through their phones or OTT services.

Sports leaders aren’t asleep at the wheel though. They are fully aware of rising threats facing them such as the shift away from traditional TV consumption and access to new entertainment formats. Sports organisations require innovation to address changing consumer behaviours and remain competitive. They can no longer view themselves as only in competition with other forms of sport to fill participants afternoons but as part of a complex entertainment ecosystem providing an escape from the day to day. Sports leaders are fully aware that innovation is imperative, with nearly 94% considering the ability of a sports organisation to innovate as either important (15%) or very important (79%)[2].


NBA Commissioner Adam Silver summed the above up when he recently stated: “We recognise that we’re competing against every other possible form of entertainment, nice weather or anything else we could be doing instead of watching our games.”[3]

According to a study by PWC 94% of sports leaders recognise the importance of innovation but only 46% are currently implementing a concrete innovation strategy[2]. Having worked with multiple sports organisations we often find that a bi-product of rising to the top of a sports organisation is a combination of passion for the sport, hard work, and a loyalty to that sport in its truest format. But passion and dedication often blinds great leaders to the nuanced shifts in behaviour of the masses.

How do traditional sports remain a relevant form of entertainment?

Innovation is key, but how do they innovate in a way that retains the essence of the sport and also reaches new and changing markets? We’ve seen technological innovation advancing the data that fans receive, and how the game is both refereed and viewed, but this innovation represents incremental changes to the sport. What we have noticed in sport are radical changes to the format. The rise of short form games that are often easy to access, require little specialist equipment and take a lot less time to complete are adding an additional product offering to the portfolio for sports governing bodies. 100-ball cricket, 3X3 basketball, Tie Break Tens and Rugby 7’s are all examples of new short forms of sport that are not only attracting plenty of media attention but growing participation in sports and forming a cornerstone strategic pillar for many sports organisations.


Former England Netball chief executive Joanna Coates, who took over at UKA in March says “spectators in the 21st century do not want to sit for hours and hours and hours – they want excitement and they want entertainment coming at them all the time. Athletics should move towards more crowd-pleasing shorter formats”. [4]


Replicating this success can be a challenge however; we’ve seen limited success when sports have taken a top down approach in developing these new formats that could well be sports in their own right. In the same survey, PWC identified lack of trust in governing bodies as a significant threat, couple this with decreasing fan loyalty and falling attention spans and you find the same result. Fans want something new and authentic. Part of the success of short form sports are that they organic innovation derived by the players at grassroots level and then harnessed and backed by brands who see the potential in owning the engaged subculture that has a chance of blurring into pop culture.


“The true value of a brand, event or an activation is it’s measurable engagement. Brands increasingly place community engagement at the heart of their marketing strategies to improve brand loyalty and increase user engagement.” Says Graham Clay, Director of Events and Activation at Global13


What’s more, as cities move toward decentralised urbanisation and physical activity and community are amplified by social media and wearable tech, sport finds itself in unchartered territory. With significant data to measure participation and facilities not designed, but adapted to accommodate sport we are presented with exciting opportunities for sports to become authentic and culturally integrated. By bringing in external agencies to deliver these formats or programs sports organisations remove the bureaucracy and constraints of large organisations, and effectively reduce the distrust society has for them which provides flexibility. This is what makes these formats new and exciting.

When we consider the community, household decision-makers, and primary/elementary schools short form sport provides a family friendly and festival like atmosphere which makes it appealing to families and younger audiences. Shorter games have the benefit of being fast paced enough to keep the attention of the whole family while still allowing everyone to get home in time for bed. While this means that brands already involved in sport can target new demographics, it also opens up sport to brands who may never have considered using sports as a way to communicate. These short, dynamic, revitalised formats of traditional sports provide a plethora of opportunity. The fan first focus, continuous adaptation to consumption habits, and the ability to provide a gateway for geographical expansion makes them both exciting and enticing to brands. [5]


Paul Vaughan, a sports marketing consultant and previous CEO for England Rugby 2015, discusses Rugby seven — now an Olympic sport — with regards to international expansion for sport. He says “it opens the door to nations that can’t produce a top level 15-a-side team or which don’t have the physical size to compete at the highest level. Look at Kenya’s world ranking in Sevens, for example. For the same reason, Sevens is a great way to get more women and younger people involved with the sport.”

So what do you think?

Is short form sport something you should be considering?  In China and across the Netherlands we are seeing local authorities’ trialling pavement traffic lights to prevent mobile zombies from walking out into the road. [6]  Do sports like government authorities have an obligation to do the same and adapt to consumer behaviours? If so, what does the future of your sport look like and what are you doing about it?

Strategy and concept development is one of our core offerings at Global13. Let us know your thoughts and get in touch to explore further.








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