State of Digital UK 2023
This week’s article covers online sports consumption in the EU5 region. We include statistics for France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK. Our snapshot covers sites that offer sporting news, sports magazines, scoreboards, fantasy leagues, and other sport-related sites.
Office sweepstake emails have been flying around over the last few weeks and wall charts have been put up in offices (and home offices) across the EU5 region. Yet, despite the excitement around the start of the Euro 2020 tournament, these remain challenging times: aside from the global pandemic shutting down many sports and recreation activities across the globe, the reach of digital sports sites and apps within the EU5 region has generally stagnated since Q1 of 2020, even before the deadly virus had taken its toll on our daily lives (see table below.)
During the pandemic, casual fans – a group that occasionally checks on sports scores and, frustratingly, outscore their more dedicated work colleagues in Fantasy football tournaments, must have disconnected from sports, as ‘major’ sports moved behind closed doors. This, combined with some ‘secondary’ sports being shut down entirely, led to a fall in the reach of sports content in the first 3 months of 2021 in 3 of the EU5 countries. After all, there’s no point in checking England Hockey or the recent Deutsche Hockey Liga results, when there isn’t any hockey going on at all!
There are two exceptions to this rule: Spain, where sports content is approaching a 90% reach of the total digital audience, and Italy which is up 6 percentage points on the year before. The Spanish and Italians have the right idea, in my mind at least, that, if you are stuck inside, there’s brilliant escapism to be had in the unpredictable drama that is sport. It’s surely no coincidence that reach is up in these two football-loving nations as there has been the most refreshing title races for the men’s league crowns in years – in Spain (spoiler alert!) Atlético Madrid ending the El Clásico’s dominance of the prior 6 seasons, and in Italy Inter Milan holding off local rival AC Milan (who themselves last won a title in the 2010/11 season) ending a decade of dominance by Juventus. Digital audiences haven’t turned off as the same old story lines haven’t repeated themselves. And, given we are set for a summer of sports with the likes of the Tokyo Olympics and the aforementioned Euro 2020 tournaments finally set to take place, if sport can truly remind us of this unpredictable nature that fans love, I would suspect there’s an audience waiting to be captured.
People in Italy and the UK clearly shop around for their sports content. The table below shows there are 13 and 14 sports sites or apps, respectively, that reach over 5% of the total digital audience. The stratospheric costs of sports distribution rights prevent the creation of a ‘one stop shop’ for everyone’s sports needs. Moreover, these different degrees of fragmentation reflect setups that vary from country to country. In the UK, for example, there is a protected list of sports events that must be available on free to air TV, so even the most loyal visitors to one specific sports site may have to go hat in hand to a rival sports content platform for certain events: Sky Sports, a private cable channel and the top sports entity in April 2021 in the UK, is a prime destination for football content thanks to its historical influence in the very founding of the Premier League. On the other hand, the latest rugby news tends to be accessed on the BBC Sport website – a public, freely accessible news site. In some cases, the easiest is to access a leagues’ own website. For example, to keep up on with the mess my favourite NFL team (the Houston Texans) is currently in, I check the NFL’s own website or something like the USA Today team, rather than any of the aforementioned British media outlets.
Football is arguably the dominant sport across Europe, and this is clear from the data: the seasonality of sports consumption tracks closely with the seasonality of the football season. (See chart below.) More minutes are spent on sports content from February to May and from August to December in the EU5 region, which mirrors the various European football leagues’ seasons. There is also a spike in June 2018, despite the seasons mostly wrapping up in May of each year – this is because of the men’s Football World Cup took place in June 2018, with four of the five EU5 nations were tuning in to see how their teams would fare in Russia. (Sorry, Italy).
I know what you are thinking though, “how come the duration of sports content consumption in Spain and UK are at a similar or lesser level than in January 2018, if you are suggesting that the consumption is based around the football season? Shouldn’t consumption be higher in the football season months, in the same manner as Germany, France and Italy?”. Well that’s because football is so central to the EU5’s way of life that the various winter breaks are reflected in Comscore’s data. France, Germany, and Italy all have January winter breaks during the football season (France and Italy missing the first week of January to avoid the cold outdoors of mid-winter, and Germany breaking until longer into January). This means the baseline duration of activity on sports content is ever so slightly lower in January because of the week or two break. In contrast, the Spanish football break is over Christmas at the end of December, and so content consumption is back to a full 4 weeks in January in Spain. Hence only July and December are truly lower than baseline and every other month is roughly on par with a January that contains a full schedule of football fixtures. In the UK there wasn’t even a winter break at this point, so the baseline month was in a busy fixture period across the country. We do see a slight peak in the UK’s sports consumption every August, which reflects the football season kicking off; consumption then drops away as the hopes and dreams of the new season fades for some of the more casual fans.
As we saw above, Sports holds a special place in Spain: it approaches a 90% reach of the total digital audience (table 1). For both the 35+ and male demographic segments, sports is almost universal with over 95% reach. Women clearly access a lot of sports content in Spain with an 87% reach of the demographic, but it doesn’t seem to retain their attention as much – only 32 minutes were spent on sports content per visitor on average across the whole month, barely long enough to watch the big game highlights or read the match report! This does however mean there is a big opportunity to expand female engagement with sports content in Spain, but the conundrum would be how it can be done while maximising engagement with the other demographics.
Football is king in Europe, and this is reflected in the data. In the UK for example, over 21 million people believe ‘it’s coming home’ this summer! I must confess, even as a hardcore rugby fan, even I follow Watford FC, my local team, and have even been known to attend real life games in person once in a blue moon!
The NFL have been actively focused on expanding their game to the international audience in the last few years, and clearly the UK has taken to it happily as American Football is the sport with the second highest digital audience in the UK across the last year. I’ve been watching it for years, but it’s always nice to be able to discuss the game with a growing number of people.
Over 10 million people on average decided that, as we couldn’t really leave our homes over the last year, they would instead use the power of The Internet to try and win money off of strangers at online poker and sports gambling. Other hobbies grew in lockdown too. Running and walking were our only opportunities to head outside at times in the last 12 months, which may explain the 3.5 million people who were plotting walking routes, or just generally accessing walking information online.
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