Sports marketing is an area that has seen almost unprecedented growth since the dawn of the digital age, which has coincided with a huge upturn in the amount of money flowing in and around the world’s top sports. Marketing in sports is big business for teams, players and the organisations that supply them with equipment, etc, so the need to stay ahead of the opposition off the field is as pressing as it is on it.
Millions of people around the world live and breathe sports and are there to be marketed to. The unique loyalty of sports fans makes them an audience with an incredible potential if the marketing is done well (see our case study of Manchester City for an example of this). The live nature of sports events adds another specific dimension where quick reactions and sound judgment can reap instant dividends.
So, in an ever-changing market, what are the key sports marketing trends for 2017?
1 – Sports marketing doesn’t have to be about sports
Top sportspeople have always been used for marketing and advertising for products and services that are nothing to do with their day jobs. Their positions as role models and icons makes them very appealing, and some teams are seeking to leverage that collective appeal for their own benefit. Most famous/infamous in this area is Manchester United’s deal with 20th Century Fox, which has seen the club promoting movies like Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse through special videos placing players like Wayne Rooney in those films. These were often shareable for all the wrong reasons, but certainly helped draw attention to what they were promoting.
2 – The line between sports and marketing is getting blurry
As teams and brands get more confident and inventive with their usage of digital marketing and social media in particular, it’s getting harder to tell what is marketing and what is just the day-to-day communications of a sports team. This was highlighted this week when MLS side LA Galaxy took their complaints about refereeing decisions in a game against Portland Timbers to a whole new dimension. Instead of post-game grumbles from their coach, they made a meme video mocking opposition player Diego Chara. Portland responded and the row has generated worldwide interest in a game that would otherwise have barely registered. Was that on the minds of Galaxy’s social team when they made the video? You bet it was.
3 – Using video and AR content to go deeper
In more innocent times, sports fans and sports players came from the same backgrounds, lived in the same towns and freely intermingled, but in the 21st Century, top sports stars are shielded from the general public by security guards, limousines and electrified fences. Luckily, it’s still possible to project the image of accessibility through social media and other digital content, particularly the emerging usage of VR and AR. That kind of immersive marketing connects fans with players in a hands-off manner that suits the needs of everyone involved and has been done well by Nike with its Nike On Demand WhatsApp messaging service, which connects fans with coaches and stars for motivational and inspirational content. Using video and AR content of training sessions, locker room chat, virtual stadium fan experiences, etc only helps to make fans feel like a part of something, and that’s the name of the game.
4 – Teams are taking eSports seriously
Very few people have the skills and dedication to become top sports stars, but almost anyone with enough time on their hands can become an eSports star. YouTube has already made several ‘celebrities’ out of teenagers and young adults who film themselves playing video games and digitally-savvy brands are aware of the appeal to young audiences these people have. West Ham and Manchester City last year signed eSports players to represent them in FIFA video game tournaments, creating digital content and sharing it with hordes of the ever-attractive-to-marketers millennial fans who feel more of a link with them than the super-rich athletes on the pitch.
5 – New media to keep muscling in on old media
The world of sports has been perhaps slower than other forms of visual entertainment to embrace live streaming, mostly because of the lucrative contracts that have been locked in with traditional broadcasters for the rights to show live events. So far a lot of the attention has been paid on second screen marketing during games, but with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all pushing their ‘live’ footage hard, you can expect more announcements like Twitter’s deal with the NFL and YouTube’s screening of the Champions League final.
What do you see as the key trends for sports marketing in 2017? How has technology changed how you engage with teams and brands? Tweet @mporiumgroup or comment below.