Digital media has dramatically changed both the ways sports organisations and athletes engage with fans, and also how brands are able to leverage the power of sports to meet marketing objectives.
That’s why an increasing number of marketing agencies are creating sports specialists within their organisations, like OMD’s Optimum Sports and the newly announced ESP division of Group M/WPP. The Optimum Sports group is tasked with selecting media buys and building brand relationships with sports properties. ESP is focused on consulting for various sports-focused businesses.
From a brand marketing and advertising perspective, sports are simply too important to be left in the hands of non-experts who lack an intimate understanding of the sector. Globally, sports generate more than US$145 billion in revenue. And, according to Nielsen’s 2014 Year in Sports Review, in October of last year, 72.3 million Americans consumed a staggering 7.1 billion minutes of sports content on their smartphones.
As a vertical, sports hit a large, broad, and very important demographic, males 25-49, who have a passion level unmatched in any other vertical including entertainment and music. They are substantial consumers of everything from beer, automobiles, and electronics to every day CPG.
Put simply, sports are a vertical that marketers can’t ignore. They are usually brand-safe, with the exception of some notable fiascos, like the recent threat by some major sponsors to sever ties with FIFA over corruption scandals. However, these are still relatively rare and that's an extremely important attribute that can’t be overemphasised.
Even though the consumption of online video grows day-by-day, the truth is this content still needs maturing. Much of what you’ll find on YouTube is amateurish, often crass, and sometimes offensive. Consequently, discerning marketers for premium brands still have plenty of reason to be concerned about negative associations with NSFW content.
In this context, sports represent more than a powerful marketing opportunity, but also a sanctuary of “safe” content for brand managers.
Sports also motivate a high degree of viewer engagement, and provide well-targeted marketing opportunities that allow access to highly localised markets that were unattainable, or even unrecognisable, in the pre-digital age.
Take, for example, the experience of the American Hockey League, a tier-2 professional hockey league that plays a distant second string to the NHL (National Hockey League). When some of the AHL’s leading clubs began syndicating short-from digital video highlights and other fan-related content across a network of newspaper.coms, they tapped marketing opportunities in unexpected places, such as, for example, the hometown fan bases of some of their European stars.
Media buyers need to be able to shift the premium exclusive rights protected digital video content from the low-grade, open-access content. They also need to understand the dynamic interplay between live sports and social media; otherwise, powerful promotional opportunities will be lost.
Recent data indicates that more than 80% of fans check social media while watching sports on television, while 63% scan social media while at the stadium watching the event live. Having a firm grasp on differentiation within the market and how audiences differ from sport to sport is also key. In other words, they need to know who is watching what and when.
Conversely, if an older male audience is the target, then they should be thinking MLB (Major League Baseball). If they are looking for a younger MLB audience, they need to consider the access points. Younger MLB fans will be more interested in short form or highlight consumption online.
This is the same for the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) Tour.
Sports expertise is critical for brands wanting to leverage opportunities like this; it’s either that or risk spending millions of dollars on poor content, or the wrong content, for a specific brand.