Millions of people tune in each week to watch sports games live on TV or in person. Many of them are life-long fans, people who live and breathe their particular team, following every tiny development that happens both on and off the field. Even in the depths of the longest losing streaks or during the dullest of dull games, these fans will still be there, cheering on their teams.
Not all sports fans are like this, however. Many are far more casual in their connection to their club, team or athlete. This means that they'll often keep a passing interest but only really give it their full attention when things get exciting.
This isn't a criticism, it's simply a fact. This phenomenon exists with everything in life; some people really enjoy playing video games but others only play occasionally. Similarly, there are people that are really passionate about cooking while many others enjoy making dishes on special occasions.
For sports teams and leagues, this presents a challenge. The diehard fans will tune in no matter what, but it is commercially beneficial to attract a larger audience than just those most engaged people. Therefore, they must make their games more entertaining to capture and keep the interest of as many of these casual followers as possible.
Some sports do this very well while others are a little more hit-and-miss. Here are the ones that fall into the former category.
Poker is a sport that has been around for centuries but that really exploded in popularity during the 20th and 21st centuries. Las Vegas and the World Series of Poker helped to get more people interested in playing, though it was still very much a niche sport from a spectatorship perspective.
That changed in the 2000s during a period known as the 'Poker Boom'. This was the perfect storm of factors, including an NHL lockout creating gaps in TV schedules for broadcasters, the rise of online poker sites allowing more people to take up playing for themselves, and the first-ever winner of the World Series of Poker that qualified via the internet. This helped to turn poker into the huge spectator sport that it is today. If you're new to watching major competitions, you'll quickly notice that the tension between players is palpable, especially in the later stages of a competition. To facilitate this, broadcasters typically create 'feature tables' for these games that are fitted with technology that allows viewers to see each player's cards, giving them more insight than the people sat at the table.
Formula 1 has a very large base of hardcore petrolheads who will happily sit in a muddy field watching cars fly past them for hours on end. However, there are many other people who may have some interest in the sport but will get bored if nothing exciting is happening.
Over the years, F1 has gone through periods of being very exciting and then others when the outcomes of races has become too predictable. For every season like 2021 where the championship was decided on the final lap of the final race, there are ones like 2020 where a champion has been crowned before the summer has ended.
Recently, Formula 1 has done well at creating a more entertaining and exciting offering to fans. It has done this in a number of different ways, with a mix of on-track and off-track tactics.
Things like teams changing a car's tyres and sending it back out again in less than two seconds is a very impressive spectacle, as are the camera shots that show the immense speed of the drivers as they're out on track.
Additionally, F1 has embraced social media and used the Drive to Survive Netflix show to create strong bonds between fans and drivers. This helps to make even dull races entertaining as fans are looking out for action between the midfield teams as well as appreciating the impact this can have on interpersonal relationships.
The NFL organises very few games each year. While an NBA player could easily feature in more than 100 matches if they make it to the playoffs, a player in the National Football League will take part in slightly more than a dozen regular season games and a handful more if they make it all the way to the championship game.
The main reason for this is safety as NFL players take a big battering due to it being a very aggressive sport, but it's also about keeping games entertaining.
Fewer matches means more attention is paid to the ones that do exist. This makes them more valuable, allowing teams to charge more for stadium admission and making fans more likely to tune in.
Additionally, by creating a playoff format that has a focal point in the form of a single all-or-nothing match for the final game, the NFL makes it easy for casual fans to know when to watch.
The result is that the Super Bowl attracts over 100 million viewers from the USA alone, more than any other annual sporting competition on the continent.