Voice in the Big League

Updated: Oct 15

The fast rising popularity of sports content on Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Smart Speakers like the Amazon Echo represents’ a massive shift in consumer behaviour.


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Sports content has always been a key focus of consumer interest for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Both platforms have advanced voice-search capabilities that provide access to scores, player information, game details, and much more. A handful of sports brands have toe-dipped into the world of voice-apps’ with some success. And while Smart Speak adoption grows year-on-year, Amazon Prime Video has made moves into live sport coverage


Industry research suggests that 38% of voice-using US adults engage with sports content on a monthly basis (Voicebot, 2019). At first glance, that might seem high. But that figure includes non-sports fans; those who might use their voice-assistants every day but have no interest in football, rugby or hockey.


So what about the segment that are both Sports fans and Voice Assistant users? What are their habits and consumption patterns? What sort of sport content are they accessing? And what can we learn about their appetite and usage to identify future opportunities for the Sports sector?


We conducted a survey in June 2020 in the UK and USA of consumers that are both Sports Fans and Voice Assistant users. We wanted to find out more about how they are using Voice to access sports content today, as well as gauge future needs. Read more to get the score.


Voice Usage amongst Sports Fans


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Digital Audio is equal with other digital channels


Amongst sports-fans who use voice, the appetite for sports content is high, and we feel that Sports Brands should consider Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant an important channel in 2020 and beyond.


89% of our respondents said they listen to sports content at least monthly; 79% at least weekly and 30% at least daily. Interestingly though, amongst those surveyed, few expressed a clear preference for one channel over the other when it came to how they consume sports content. In fact, during the sports season, whilst 66% of respondents said they check sports news websites and 62% check social channels, a very close 57% said they listen to sports news via podcasts and radio.


With little differentiation between audio-only and visual channels, its very important that sports brands are present wherever there is user traffic. These results are a useful reminder that in order to meet the needs of their consumers, audio needs to be considered equal alongside digital and video when producing content.


Voice-assistants are valuable teammates


The majority of those who reported listening to sports content regularly appear to be doing so via their voice-assistants. This is unsurprising given the proliferation of smart-speakers in UK and US homes. However, the extent of the alignment is significant. In fact, whilst 89% of sports fans reported to listen to sports content at least monthly 80% of the same respondents said they do so via voice. Equally, 79% said they listen weekly whilst 68% said they use voice-assistant to do so. The trend continues even for daily listeners who have voice-assistants; 23% use voice to listen to sports content at least daily whilst 30% listen more generally to sport at the same frequency. Clearly, for those who have already embraced voice, sports content is a core reason to engage and keep engaging.


These results sit alongside wider industry research revealing that 30% of the UK’s digital audio content is now consumed via smart-speakers (Listen Britain, IAB, 2020). And with 89% of our respondents agreeing that they want to listen to “sports content hands-free in their home”, it’s clear that voice-activated devices are a key strategic channel for this sector.


Not just the highlight reel …


Sports content (via voice-assistants) appears to be getting a lot of airtime in the households of those who we surveyed. 52% reported that they spend over an hour each week listening to or engaging with sports content and 9% even admit to spending 6 or more hours tuning in. With many users clearly looking to longer-form audio formats for sports content, brands with current or planned offerings in this space would do well to ensure it’s available on both Google and Alexa


Commentary by Alexa


Game day appears to be the priority moment to own in voice for brands in this sector. 55% of respondents said that they primarily use their voice-assistant for sports content on the actual days of key fixtures; 29% for the build up and 26% for live coverage. A smaller 19% reported accessing post-event commentary & analysis via voice too. In line with the game-day focus, live streams emerged as the key reason which sports-fans turn to third-party voice-apps also; with 75% reporting that they have used their voice-assistant at some point to listen to live sport streams.

Having said this, sports content isn’t exclusively consumed via voice on key sporting dates. In fact, 24% reported to use voice between sports events for wider information and content such as team news, fixture details and predictions.


Live Coverage and Analysis are in poll position


Whilst live streams emerged as the dominant reason to use voice, almost as important to fans is keeping up to date on the wider sports news. 70% reported using their voice-assistant to listen to sports podcasts whilst slightly fewer - 52% - said they listen to sports-based Flash Briefings.


Though still significant, usage of voice-specific content in the form of Flash Briefings appears to be lagging slightly behind other forms of audio-content accessible via voice-assistant. With comparatively fewer Flash Briefings available than sports podcasts though, there could be a correlation here between the volume of availability of such content and usage.


This raises the question whether there is an education gap amongst sports-fans when it comes to the possibilities of their voice-assistants for finding sports content. Are this audience simply using their smart-speakers as fancy radios, without understanding or exploiting the full functionality of voice-apps? Awareness of third-party apps amongst sports-fans suggests not. In fact, 66% reported that they have used voice-apps for sports content; a notable shift from a few years ago. Nevertheless, the more functional uses of voice still dominate for sports.The top reasons cited for using voice-assistants was to hear results; live coverage; pre-event commentary and post-event analysis.


Content for off weeks shouldn’t be overlooked


When it came to current voice-habits, voice-apps which offer content and entertainment in-between fixtures ranked middle of the popularity rankings. Voice apps with wider content such as sports trivia games or player and team bios both were used by 21% of respondents. Interestingly though, when users were asked if they would use a voice-app from their favourite sports club or team 71% reported they would; suggesting a dearth of available content exists to drive more of this kind of usage. In fact, when asked, a clear majority of users (74%) expressed a wish for more sports content via Alexa & Google Assistant, suggesting that the current offering isn’t sufficiently meeting user appetite.


Future Opportunities for the Sports Sector

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They’ll be no substitute for voice in the future


When asked about their habits in a year’s time, 76% of our respondents said that they expect to be engaging with sports content via voice-assistant at least weekly. This is a jump from the current 68% and aligns with wider consumer predictions of voice-adoption. The lockdown of 2020 offered voice-users the chance to experiment and engage with their voice-assistants more broadly; leading to increased understanding of their value and role (“Time to Shine Alexa”, Voxly Insights Report, April 2020). As a result, time spent using voice is also expected to rise amongst sports fans. Whilst 52% reported to be spending over an hour a week engaging with sports content at the moment, 60% predicted they’d spend this same length of time in the future

Appetite for sports content via voice is certainly strong. In fact, 74% expressed a wish for more Sports content via Alexa & Google Assistant. Although this is a reason to be optimistic for future usage, it also reveals how the current content isn’t meeting user demand. For brands looking to differentiate themselves, 2020 is the year to get started.


It’s still the pre-season for sports voice-apps, but appetite is strong


Broadly speaking, when asked what they will use voice for in the future compared to now, our surveyed fans cited the same most popular and obvious use cases. 81% reported they would use a voice-app to get sports results. 81% and 84% said that they would use voice for checking where to watch events and finding out info about the event times and locations, respectively. These needs can primarily be met by the native offerings of Alexa and Google Assistant.


However, other popular uses are worth noting for media and entertainment sports brands. Voice-apps for live coverage, for example, were popular with 82% expressing future interest. Pre and post-event commentary and fixture playback were similarly in demand with 72-74% of users reporting that they would ‘probably or definitely use’ a voice-app for this.


Bring the stadium buzz home


Although 30% of fans usually watch sporting events at live venues, 44% reported that they typically tune in from home. Furthermore, 65% said that they miss the sense of community if they can’t be at the sports event in person, whilst 74% miss the atmosphere.


This is where voice can offer real value; helping to deliver the buzz of game-day excitement into fans’ homes. In fact, in a world where group gatherings are unlikely to have the same draw for 2020 and beyond, offering fans a taste of the action from the comfort of their sofa may be exactly what many are looking for.

With most smart-speakers being kept in communal areas of the house, this type of game-day experience doesn’t only have to be delivered one-on-one either. In fact, designing experiences for family or friend groups watching or reliving key sporting moments together could be an interesting area to explore for brands and clubs.


VIP Access for your #1 fans


Beyond game-day though, there’s a wider opportunity to build community and engagement via voice for sports brands - both at a global and local level. During sports season, 62% of our respondents regularly check their team’s social media pages and websites for team-specific updates. 74% of respondents also admitted that they would like to access more exclusive fan content from their club or team.


Our survey results suggest that this same craving for content exists when it comes to voice too. In fact, around 70% said they would like to hear from their favourite player or club via Alexa & Google Assistant; with the same reporting that they would use a voice-app by their favourite sports club or team. The “Sports” category of third-party voice-apps - and the proliferation of unofficial club and team skills which have been published there - suggest this feeling is widespread. Clearly, voice-using fans want access to insider knowledge and exclusive - or even just curated - content from their teams. Sports brands who can deliver this via voice stand a strong chance of creating deeper connections with their fans; fostering loyalty.


Hearing from your fans


Beyond just insider access, 64% of voice-using fans expressed a desire to contribute more to their club or team community. 32% said they’d want to use a voice-app which allowed them to contribute to a fan portal and 59% said they would use a voice-app which helped them hear from fellow fans. With nothing currently catering to this need in the world of voice, brands who can foster and facilitate these kinds of community contributions and interactions will stand out.


Sports Games are appealing


When we asked our respondents about wider sports-related pastimes, 76% said they wished they had sports-related fun with their voice-assistant. In fact although currently only 21% use voice to play sports Trivia Games, 71% said they would use a voice-skill for this purpose. Trivia Game voice-apps were the most sought after; reflective of a wider trend in voice tech usage. However, whilst only 10% and 15% currently play Predictors/Accumulator and Fantasy Leagues via voice, over 60% said they would if offered the chance. This suggests a lack of availability or at least an awareness of availability of such offerings; and certainly a possible space for key sports brands to dominate in.


Monetisation Wins


Although being able to connect communities and foster loyalty is an objective for most sports brands, justifying investments in voice can be easier with a clear ROI. With emerging technologies, this can sometimes be challenging.


However, the business case emerges when you consider the opportunities that voice-tech brings to monetise content; capture data or even sell goods. 64% of our survey said they would consider paying for premium sports content via their voice-assistants. Even higher than this - 69% - said they would use voice to enter sports competitions. Only 8% of our survey had used voice to buy or get special deals on team merchandise via voice up until now. But 65% expressed an interest to do so. As a sports brand considering voice, leveraging simple data capture mechanics for a competition or coupon-giveaway could be worth investigating first.


Currently, there are tight rules around betting and gambling voice-offerings on Alexa and Google platforms. However, ‘daily sports tips’ are allowed on the platforms and are already being used by 20% of our respondents; with 71% saying they would use a voice-app for this in the future. Whilst it’s unclear what the policy roadmap for sports gambling looks like at Amazon and Google; there is nothing stopping Sports betting brands from establishing their presence in voice with engaging content; helping to drive sign-ups.



Conclusion


Beyond the very popular audio broadcast approach, our results suggest there are numerous untapped areas for sports brands to innovate using interactive voice. Establishing a voice-destination for your club or team can offer immersive and personalised ways to connect with fans; fostering loyalty and community. And integrating voice into traditional data capture or commerce journey’s can streamline the process for fans and start to prove the business case for voice further. Add in the possibilities to monetise premium content into the mix and voice emerges as a rich sector worth exploring further for sports brands.


Interested to find out more? Sign up for our Sports webinar or get in touch with the team to talk about your plans for voice at freshthinking@voxlydigital.com


Methodology


The survey was conducted online in June 2020 and was completed by 400 US & UK adults aged 18 or older that were demographically representative of the voice-using population as a whole. Respondents were screened based on their responses to ‘Do you use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant?’ and ‘Are you a Sports fan?’. Figures have not been adjusted and are shown directly from findings.


Who are Voxly Digital?


Voxly Digital is Europe’s leading voice agency. Our mission is to build the world’s best voice experiences for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. We offer Voice Design, get your content Voice-Ready, and are experts in Voice Analytics. Our clients include dozens of global brands like Unilever, COTY, Diageo, BMW, BBC Match of the Day Magazine, Joe Wicks, Public Health England, Sony, and many others.

Ready to become Voice-First? Visit us at https://www.voxlydigital.com or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/voxly-digital/


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