According to a FIFA-commissioned survey, 3.5 billion people watched the 2018 Football World Cup. The figure includes those watching TV at home, outside the house or on digital platforms, and it means that more than half the global population saw the matches. Higher still, the English Premier League (EPL) has a global audience of around 5 billion across 200 countries. Further the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year set new viewership records, as the game clocked a reach of 462 million viewers.
Sports and related tournaments command huge and devoted audiences across mass media. So, what do these examples tell us? First that sports have a global fan base, but also that they offer enormous potential to raise brand awareness.
Nothing captures the attention and commitment of global audiences like sports do. That’s why advertisers and sponsors use sports to create a positive association with a particular product or service. By linking a brand with the appeal of an event or a team, or the charisma of a sports personality, companies can position their products and services so that they identify with consumer needs and desires. The audience will make an emotional connection with a brand aligned with a sporting theme or idea.
Technology and consumer trends
As with other industries, digital disruption is transforming sports marketing. Although media channels and consumer habits are evolving, the ability of traditional media to reach mass audience remains undiminished.
Just think of the Super Bowl. NFL championship games are frequently the most-watched TV broadcasts in the United States, which is why brands are prepared to spend upwards of $5 million for 30-second commercials.
While Super Bowl games can draw more than 100 million viewers, does this lead to sales conversions for the big advertisers? To find out, the marketing agency iSpot.tv compiled a research report called ‘Are Super Bowl Ads Worth The Sticker Price?’ Based on three detailed case studies, the report revealed an “impressively high conversion rate” and a positive return on investment.
Adding value to traditional channels
The relationship between technology and consumer behaviour is growing stronger by the day, particularly for millennials and Generation Z, both of whom are digital natives. Because there is a wide variety of media to choose from, TV ads stand to gain secondary exposure through streaming content and distribution across social media. As is the case with the Super Bowl, ads can now appear across numerous platforms, engaging an even wider audience, maximising the exposure and value of the brand message.
People now consume massive quantities of digital content, and they expect a more personalised and immersive experience. Sports marketers must think beyond one dimension and build brands across all the channels that are relevant to today’s digitally sophisticated and more discriminating audiences. Traditional channels already provide a firm foundation to build brands. However, sports marketers must also cultivate and distribute brand messages online, using channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
From a futuristic standpoint, augmented reality and virtual reality will also be focused on sports marketing, as the rise of eSports is something marketers cannot afford to ignore. Brands are discovering a growing fan base for the competitive video-game-playing industry, and big names are starting to put money into it.
Brand awareness through storytelling
As technology has become more sophisticated, so has the approach to brand awareness and the way messages are developed and refined in sporting contexts. Gone are the days when marketing initiatives meant a logo on a sports shirt or a match programme. Content needs to compel and grab attention; it needs to amuse, entertain, and engage – and the way marketers are doing this is by telling stories that draw on sporting themes.
The Nike campaign after the 2018 football World Cup is a good example. Having sponsored the competition, Nike used the French victory to develop the ‘We won it in France’ campaign to boost the sense of national pride. This campaign credited the fields of France where victors honed their skills rather than the manicured pitches in Russia. It was a tale about heroic achievement, of players rising from humble beginnings to conquer the world, and it resonated perfectly with Nike’s brand while also applauding the triumph of a nation. Nearly four million people have watched the campaign video.
Similarly, Procter and Gamble achieved great success with their long-running ‘Thank you, Mom’ campaign. The aim was to create a series of mother-themed stories that highlight the route to Olympic stardom through challenging circumstances. In other words, behind every champion is the helping hand of a mother. The campaign strikes an emotional chord in its story about different societies and, their life challenges provide a backdrop for the company’s products. Along with classic storytelling, the campaign addresses social issues and is an example of cause marketing – another sports marketing trend.
Remembering brand basics
Although sport marketing is becoming increasingly sophisticated and inventive, it’s important to remember the fundamentals. No matter what media you use, or how creative you are, every sponsorship deal, concept and campaign must be carefully tied to the needs of the audience – otherwise, there will be a huge disconnect.
An example of where this works well is Xpress Money’s sponsorship of the Bengal Tigers cricket squad. The squad played in the T10 League in the UAE and piqued interest among its fan following comprising expatriates, who form Xpress Money’s customer base. Fans from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will be reminded of Xpress Money’s remittance services when they follow the Bengal Tigers. The sport, the sponsor and the audience are therefore aligned.
The rise of women
When it comes to demographics, a noted trend is the rise of women as an influential element in the sports mix. Marketers are not only recognising an under-represented sector, and the economic advantage in targeting women, they also realise that brands must stand out more forcefully for equality and diversity. Women’s football has been one of the chief beneficiaries of this trend, with the recent FIFA Woman’s World Cup attracting brands such as Adidas and Visa.
Finding the right sports marketing focus
With today’s wide range of media and audiences who are becoming more selective in their viewing habits, sports marketers need to think very carefully about their strategies. Brand awareness only comes from valid brand activation. Marketers must build connected campaigns to meet media consumption. They must bring brands to life through stories and targeted content while keeping an eye on new trends and demographic preferences.
Nelson Mandela once described sports as “the power to inspire and unite people in a way that little else does.” With the right brand strategy, it has the power to build brands and reach millions of consumers.
Written by – Ashwin Gedam, Vice President – Global Marketing, Xpress Money