Sport Industry

Opinion: Let Audience Lead – How to Succeed in a Content Landscape


Content might be a buzzword, but when it comes to connecting brands and audiences, it really is king. Sports content studio Cut Media have racked up hundreds of millions of organic views with athletes and brands over the years, working with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Real Madrid, Red Bull, Ford, Strava and adidas. Here, founder Stu Thomson looks at the all-important approach that wins viewers – and fans.

They say the only constant is change and that’s certainly true of our experience over the past decade. When we were racking up our first million views, even the term – content – was unheard of, and brands and athletes were only just waking up to its potential.

Athlete-centric content has grown to become the number one way to actively engage and grow an audience for brands; it’s where sport and culture collide. The brands that deliver effectively reap the rewards, building a true connection with their audience – and that connection is more and more important, particularly to young audiences and fledgling fans in sport.

With this shift in mindset from afterthought to core consideration, the landscape of online sports content might seem like a bewildering maze. But if you know how to navigate the video content space with its ever-changing opportunities around format, platform and creative approach, the possibilities are not just vast, but laden with opportunity.

As a sport content studio, Cut Media has delivered TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and broadcast branded content campaigns in the past few months alone, racking up tens of millions of views, with each carefully considering the audience and their preferred platform from the outset.

The modern sports audience is a complex beast, from the highly-literate, highly-engaged superfan to the casual followers that consume sport and its related content at the point where it meets broader culture. Understandably, brands look to speak to that all-important core fanbase. But it’s important to cast the net wider, delivering entertainment that combines a fundamental understanding of the sport with an approach that shows relevance to society at large.

This two-pronged approach has driven massive success in our work with Red Bull over the years, who are masters of this method. Not only do they effectively deliver credible content to a core audience who immediately engage with it, they also ensure the same content has the right ingredients in action, narrative and style to engage mainstream viewers. The result: astronomical viewing figures.

That acceptance by the core audience, even often on a local level, is key to driving organic reach. The core fan’s initial pick-up creates credibility and drives the content out to a wider audience, and then – if those ingredients are right – the content connects and the snowball keeps on rolling.

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Core fans are savvy, dedicated and highly enthusiastic. Quality content connects them with the sport and its culture more closely than ever before – untold stories, exclusive access and unique events. They’re highly-tuned, too – the modern fan can smell bullshit a mile away. It’s harder than ever to fake it. Yet this is where the opportunity lies for brands, creating content that brings fans emotionally closer to us, and us closer to them – delivering a lasting bond.

Think of the last piece of truly great content you viewed. Why was it memorable? What effect did it have on you? We’re driven to share content when it evokes a positive emotion and high levels of excitement, amazement, enjoyment or amusement. Yet briefs in sports marketing often focus heavily on product or brand message without a thought to how that fits into the wider culture of the sport and the athletes – which is ultimately what the audience will connect to. It’s our job to be digging into how we can go about evoking the emotions that will deliver success – then weave the brand message authentically with this. The goal? To deliver the perfect meeting point between brand, sport and entertainment.

While brand values, key messaging and product details can be a crucial factor, if I’ve learned one key lesson from a decade of leading and creating sports video content it’s this: start with the audience. If you don’t already know them intimately, do the work and get to know them on a deep level. What do they like, who do they follow, what platforms they are on? Immerse yourself in their world. Become one of them.

As the landscape continues to evolve, brands need to move with it. It’s time to step away from crowbarring athletes into a commercial with an agency script. It’s time to think differently, creating quality content that strikes a deeper chord with your audience, getting them talking and sharing.

No matter the budget or brand, this audience first approach will provide the foundations for success. It will guide everything from the talent you work with, the types of format you choose, the agency or studio you engage, how you brief them and what platforms you target.

Content that wins is the content that is highly relatable, adds that value, and oozes credibility to the fan.

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