Sports marketing has evolved, and brands must continue to change their game plans, as the stakes grow higher than ever.
Gone are the days where a brand’s top goal was to put its logo in the face of as many people as possible, as often as possible. Eyeballs are no longer enough. Fans are consuming, following and experiencing sports differently.
It’s hard to imagine feeling more pressure than an athlete at crunch time in a championship game, but brands that are investing millions in sponsorships have just as much on the line.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '18 50th Anniversary Magazine
Digital sports evolution
Fans expect and demand to be engaged. With that, they crave access, authenticity, and value. If there is no value provided by the sponsor — or a way to bring fans closer to the game experience — a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl becomes forgettable, and those five million dollars become money poured down the drain. Any engagement without true, meaningful, valuable activation will produce ineffective results that are (perhaps mercifully) hard to measure with any precision.
A key component in the evolution of sports marketing is the value of influencers and the creative, actionable content they provide. Influencer marketing is not necessarily about choosing ambassadors with the greatest reach or follower count. Identifying and understanding the intricacies of the intersection of your target audience and the fan passion points is key in selecting an influencer and crafting a content strategy; just as analyzing the defense in the waning moments of a close game is crucial for a quarterback when calling a play.
Because consumers have become more discerning about the content served to them on digital platforms, maintaining authenticity becomes paramount. This means treating your influencers as partners and taking a customized approach to each interaction. Fostering these relationships takes time and often means finding ways to add value beyond product and monetary compensation.
For example, instead of paying per post, a sponsor can offer influencers insider access to their favorite team through VIP experiences. This access-vs.-investment approach results in a motivated influencer who creates the kind of content his or her audience craves.
As marketers, we have a responsibility to not only engage our audiences but to connect with them in ways that show we truly understand how each particular group prefers their sports experiences. This means immersing yourself in the mindset and behavior of the fanbase to understand how each particular demographic watches and follows a specific sport, team or event. Connecting with them and the influential people they follow is also key.
Taylor client partner P&G was able to create and execute distinct content strategies that champion their male brands (i.e., Head and Shoulders) to showcase the authentic connection between the brands and athletes during a special moment in time, the NFL Draft. The content was captured in video format with the NFL prospects distributing through their own social channels. These videos focused on their preparation for the biggest moment in their athletic careers thus far while also leveraging their personalities to maximize authenticity and relevancy.
Delivering on exclusive items to elevate fan excitement is another great way to bring your brand to the forefront of marquee moments in sports. Besides NBA free agency, which begins every year on July 1st, the NBA Draft is the most talked about moment on social during the league’s off-season. To leverage that excitement, our client partner Panini activated during last year’s NBA Draft by releasing their #PaniniInstant collection which allowed fans to purchase each draftee’s first trading card in -real-time as they were drafted.
While each player included his unique card and link to purchase on their own Twitter channels, the content catered to fans of the teams in which they were drafted by using relevant hashtags and team dialect.
Emerging trends in sports marketing
The recent explosion of esports as a mainstream sporting event has been eye-opening, to say the least. Fan engagement, similarly to traditional sports, is as segmented and rich with opportunity for brands and sponsors.
According to a gaming market intelligence provider, Newzoo, the global esports economy will grow to $905.6 million in the coming year, up 38 percent year over year. And the audience is rapidly growing as the global esports audience will reach 380 million this year, comprised of 165 million “esports Enthusiasts” and 215 million “Occasional Viewers.”
With such a diverse and widespread fanbase, marketers of esports should take the same approach to understand this demographic as they would traditional sports. The same way an avid football fan might have certain affinities, so do gamers. For instance, Call of Duty gamers will respond to different influencers and content than Overwatch gamers.
Competitive gamers, like more traditional athletes, can be highly effective influencers as they have built an audience around a shared passion point. This especially rings true for the younger, Gen Z fan. However, the same principles apply: knowing the fan, speaking their language and adding value to their experience.
Aside from influencer marketing, brands are taking notice and learning where the opportunities are. Some are providing YouTube and Twitch sponsorships. Then there are the more progressive brands, like Coca-Cola, which operates a dedicated esports Twitter channel, Coke Esports, and uses the hashtag #CokeEsports. The brand has also has expanded its footprint in esports, along with its long-time investment in soccer, with the global launch of -eCOPA Coca-Cola, a global EA Sports FIFA 18 tournament.
Sports PR/marketing, just like any other industry’s marketing, must evolve along with the consumer. The good news is that growing digital consumption helps marketers understand consumer needs almost in real time.
And even though players, fans, and preferences may change over the years, one thing remains true: the ultimate win for your brand is the long-term relationship and impactful reputation you build with your target audience.
Samantha Baier is director of digital sports at Taylor, a leader in digital sports strategy and public relations.