CHEER: BREAKING FREE FROM THE CHEERLEADING BUBBLE
Netflix’s new docu-series about Navarro College’s competitive cheerleading team has officially taken over the internet. It’s one of the most talked about shows this year and its appeal has extended beyond the world of sport and into popular youth culture. Young people’s hearts and minds have been captured because of the phenomenal athleticism displayed and the captivating human stories behind the incredible athletes featured:
“I like Cheer on Netflix because all the tricks and stuff that they do are so amazing and it’s just really interesting” Siun, 15
“I’ve finished #CheerNetflix and I have come to four conclusions: 1) cheerleading is wild 2) I would take a bullet for Morgan 3) Jerry is the greatest human alive 4) I want Monica to be proud of me” @amyameliaamanda
It also gives a BTS look into a world that for those outside of it, is relatively unknown:
“I loooved cheer! But it was also kind of sad because they’re all so obsessed with it and none of them have thought about what to do when it’s over. It seemed a bit like the military and they’re all just kids.” Anna, 28
“ Me, starting “Cheer” on Netflix: okay, this looks like it could be some mindless fun.
There’s now endless commentary on Cheer and Cheer-related topics - you can read more via the NY Times here.
NICHE SPORTS GO VIRAL
The success of Cheer got us thinking more about other niche sports and how digital access and storytelling has helped them break free from insular communities to more mainstream audiences online. Social media platforms, in particular YouTube, have given more niche sports the opportunity to reach a global audience whom they never previously would have been able to connect with. One example of this is ‘Chase Tag’ - you can watch clips from World Champion Chase Tag on YouTube here. This also presents the opportunity to monetize the viewership of said sports and begin attracting advertisers/sponsors. This same phenomena is also responsible for the booming industry of eSports via Twitch & Let’s Play videos on YouTube.
GRASSROOTS RUGBY & THE LOVE OF THE SPORT
No matter what level or sport young people play in, dedication to and passion for engaging in team sports is a powerful thing:
“I love rugby because it’s the closest thing I can get to going to war without killing someone. Training in freezing temperatures and battling in bogland and trenches around the country. Then at the end of each war we shake [hands with] our enemies. When losing we will console and challenge, when winning we will congratulate and challenge; brothers in arms. I love when there’s some bull twice the size of me running at me and I have to access a part of my brain I will rarely get to visit. I’m really worried about the time when I can’t play and will have to find new ways to challenge myself and find adrenaline.” Stephen, 30
Not dissimilar to how grassroots GAA has become more elevated in recent years (with many thanks to brand sponsorship investment), grassroots rugby is becoming very popular all over the world. It’s a space of ambition and huge talent. The identities of grassroots teams are incredibly powerful, especially in local communities where sports are forces for good, for young and old. YouTube channels like GRM Sport in the UK are also helping to elevate grassroots players among dedicated young rugby fanatics.
RUGBY X ENTERTAINMENT
What accounts, platforms or podcasts are worth exploring in the context of youth culture and the world of rugby? Twitter is still the go-to for live games. On Instagram, it’s not just the player’s social media pages that fans follow - the wives and girlfriends of big players hold serious cultural sway too:
“Twitter is the go to for real time results, breaking news on injuries. But a lot of people will follow all the main players (and their wives) on IG. The wives and girlfriends are now nearly, if not more, popular than the players. It’s case of for example, ‘I follow Sexton cos I love rugby, my girlfriend follows his wife cos she’s a fashion influencer now.’” Stephen, 29
Outside of the main social media platforms, podcasts and apps provide fans with commentary and analysis:
“My favorite are both the OTB (Off The Ball) rugby podcasts and the Second Captains Podcasts, not to mention the Ultimate Rugby App is good but they now charge for some features.” Neal, 28
Women’s rugby has come on leaps and bounds in the last 2 years as the popularity of the women’s game has increased exponentially. Leinster women’s rugby team is a great example at the forefront of this.
“From my point of view if I owned a brand, I would push creating 4 provincial women’s team in Ireland, similar to the men’s.” Stephen, 29
Despite brilliant initiatives like 20X20 working to elevate women’s sports, there is still inequality when it comes to women’s rugby - they don’t have contracts, have full time jobs etc. An interesting brand example on the subject of women and sports (not rugby specifically) is Nike’s recent TikTok campaign in Italy to encourage women to play sport:
“In December, we identified three Milan-based TikTok influencers with a combined following of 11 million. We paired each ‘Muser’ with a Nike elite athlete and watched the fireworks happen. In January, they worked together to co-create a dance based on each of their sports, choreographing routines that the influencers performed on their TikTok accounts, challenging their followers to do the same.”
The growing popularity of the likes of mixed Tag Rugby in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland is also testament to the rising popularity of women’s rugby and gender equality in sports. In fact, Limerick will be hosting the Tag Rugby World Cup in 2021.
The success of Cheer shows us how, no matter how obscure, niche or elite a sport may appear, there are always universally-relevant stories to tell behind the scenes. When it comes to sponsorship, if you think a certain sport doesn’t have enough traction in popular culture, think about how you could draw out those stories in human, heartfelt and powerfully entertaining ways on relevant platforms.
Everyone needs a Jerry. Who’s your Jerry? How could you be more of a Jerry to others at work?
Brands who want to activate or get involved in rugby or other team sports should think about how you can make the fans experience better by giving them access to things they would not usually have - whether that’s commentary and analysis on the game, or bringing them closer to the people involved in the game.