Guest Commentary: Landing Outdoor Viewers Proves Worth the Effort

Nov 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

What American sports market counts twice as many fans as NASCAR; spends more on its sport than the combined revenues of Microsoft, Google, eBay and Yahoo; and outnumbers golfers by 10 million enthusiasts?
Answer: hunters and anglers.
That’s a fact that has a growing number of TV executives wondering how they can harness this demographic, which most industry analysts view as underserved.
Old-line stereotypes of plaid-wearing Elmer Fudd characters have been replaced by the reality of America’s hunters and anglers. They’re presidents (George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and most of our other presidents were hunters, anglers or both), corporate chairmen, private jet owners, cable industry executives, actors, doctors, lawyers, firefighters, police officers, teachers, soccer moms and members of virtually every other walk of life. They travel extensively, give big to charity, are well educated and make significantly more money than average television viewers.
Bottom line, this demographic is both affluent and influential. According to a recent congressional report, 80% of America’s 34 million licensed hunters and anglers are “likely voters” in presidential elections—nearly 50% more likely to vote than the national average. That amounts to roughly 20% of the entire population of the major swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. It’s no wonder, then, that political campaigns spend big on advertising that aims to connect with the outdoor block. In fact, more people hunt in America than live in the country’s two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles.
What is capturing the interest of corporate America, however, is the financial power of American outdoor sports enthusiasts. According to U.S. Department of Interior research, American hunters and anglers spend $76 billion annually pursuing their pastimes and support 1.6 million jobs across the country. When you count the ripple effect of money that sportsmen and -women contribute to the economy, that total climbs to a staggering $192 billion annually.
More Americans hunt and fish than watch the ABC, NBC and CBS evening newscasts. Google the words “whitetail deer” (America’s most popular game animal) and nearly 1.8 million sites pop up. There are some 192 million privately owned firearms in the U.S., according to the National Survey on Firearms Ownership & Use, with a large percentage owned by hunters and recreational target shooters.
Connecting with this massive (largely male) market sector via television, however, can be a complicated affair. While there are networks primarily dedicated to hunting and fishing content—the California-based Outdoor Channel and the Wisconsin-based Sportsman’s Network—neither occupies a large television footprint: 31 million and 6 million homes, respectively.
The 74 million-home Versus network—formerly Outdoor Life Network (OLN), a Comcast property—counts nearly 40% of its total programming schedule as field sports content, but gaps with very little outdoor programming occur during the summer because of preemptions to cover such long-standing network events as the Tour de France. Nonetheless, Versus re­mains the largest outdoor cable player, with significant prime-time blocks of hunting and fishing programming.
ESPN2, while distributed in some 94 million homes, relegates its field sports programming mostly to the lightly watched off-hours of early morning on weekends.
Other networks, however, have noticed this fragmentation and are pondering how they might get their share of the vast, cash-rich outdoor market.
A word of caution, however: Perhaps no other affinity market is less forgiving of inaccurate content reporting. In my experience as a 20-year outdoor industry consultant and television producer, hunters and anglers view their pursuits as lifestyles far more than hobbies, and they have little tolerance for pretenders—be they product manufacturers or television networks. Producers and network programmers who do not embrace these lifestyles before they begin to showcase them on their air run the risk of making significant mistakes in content that will undermine their credibility with the very viewers they are striving to capture.
Also, there’s no tolerance for embracing some—but not all—of the elements of these lifestyles. That is, if you choose to air hunting content but opt not to show actual impact shots, you have just sent the message that you really do not endorse the lifestyle, but rather you simply want the money that this industry can produce.
In a recent congressional re­port, nearly three of four Americans approved of hunting and 95% support fishing, so the perception by some network executives that they could face the wrath of the masses over airing hunting content simply has no basis in fact.
The same report indicated that a mere 3% of Americans embrace the animal rights philosophy. That’s the same philosophy that condemns the consumption of meat and pet ownership, two basic freedoms most Americans hold dear.
The question for network executives, then, is who will step up to take ownership of this prized television space? Whoever does will be poised to take a significant bite out of this $76 billion industry whose customers are among the country’s most loyal and devoted consumers.
Chris Dorsey is president-CEO of Denver-based Orion Multimedia and is an outdoor media consultant whose writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and AdWeek.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)