Sports marketing

As sponsorship evolves, sports marketing is no longer a game

Is sponsorship lagging behind other sports marketing channels? Yes, says TrunkBBI Managing Director Adam Britton, but it doesn’t have to be. For The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, Britton tells us where the evolving sponsorship space is heading next.

As I sit in my place at Villa Park watching my beloved Aston Villa, it’s not just Ollie Watkins’ missed chances that frustrate me. As a marketer, it irritates me to see a huge array of sponsorships not working hard enough.

It’s not just Villa’s sponsors who are guilty of this. Not even just the Premier League. It’s a global sporting issue.

Sports sponsors, in football and beyond, face huge opportunities / Image courtesy of TrunkBBI

Before the pandemic devastated the sports world, the industry expected sponsorship spending to hit $48.4 billion globally, outpacing the growth of traditional media channels. A gigantic figure, but behind it hide troubling statistics. Over 40% of marketers say sponsorship is the least understood channel for ROI; 25% have no confidence in measuring business performance.

And as our economic and political landscape continues to test businesses, marketing spend is still the first expense to fall into the proverbial spotlight.

So how can sports marketing protect its position as an essential part of a marketer’s playbook? We need to look beyond traditional shirt badges and pitchside palisades. It’s time to rethink how we activate opportunities and measure real impact.

Enriching experiences

The social upheaval caused by the pandemic, coupled with generational changes, means that sports marketing must exist in a digital world. Fandom has evolved from large, localized audiences to remote communities that share experiences online.

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According to Nielsen, a third of the population uses social media while watching sports: 35% on apps and 20% while playing online games. These numbers increase dramatically for Gen Z: 43%, 46% on apps, and 31% on games. This presents many exciting opportunities for brands to pull sponsorship away from the stadium, enriching the viewer experience with the help of social media and creative technology.

This has proven to be a successful strategy for many brands. Clear’s sponsorship of the NBA Live app alongside programmatic viewing resulted in a 9.4% increase in sales, according to Warc Media Awards. Similarly, Greene King’s ‘Summer of Sport’ games generated over 1.1 million plays through its socially promoted subscription app, achieving a voucher redemption rate of over 70%.

Beyond awareness

Typically reserved for top-of-funnel awareness, companies must now view sports sponsorship as a channel that can drive both long-term brand growth and short-term sales. Understanding this unlocks value in partnerships by creating a comprehensive multi-channel strategy that turns awareness into action.

Wide reach channels, including traditional media and digital platforms, are essential. Marketers should complement these with activation strategies, including in-game trigger promotions, gamification, or giveaways that lead to fan responses such as sign-ups. These activations create follow-up opportunities with consumers, nurture them through the funnel, and improve the chance of a sale. Long-running content series and reward programs build loyalty and promotion.

A new generation of fans

The launch of the Euro 2022 women’s football tournament in early July shows a new generation of hungry fans filling the stadiums of UEFA, Fifa and World Rugby.

Investments increased by 146%6 (2021 vs. 2020), highlighting how brands like EE, Nike, and Heineken are leveraging a broader demographic.

The rise of esports shows no signs of waning either. The competitive video game phenomenon has captivated over 30% of global sports fans – more than Serie A. In 2021, over 2,250 sponsorship deals were publicly announced, a 25% increase from 2020 according to Nielsen.

There are therefore many opportunities for collaborations beyond traditional sports. Also consider that many esports players have YouTube channels and Twitch accounts that create stronger audience connections than conventional endorsements.

Measure “goals”

Rethinking sports sponsorship means reassessing its measure. New methods and channels of engagement live in a data-rich digital ecosystem. It gives us access to insights that can boost performance, incorporating responsive content and metrics that your marketing team can bring to the board.

The future

It is said that nothing is certain in sport. But we know that brands that look beyond shirt logos and start digitizing their endorsements instead will outpace their competition. Adding 5G connections to the stadium opens up a world of opportunities for sponsors to engage audiences on and off the pitch. Think augmented reality (AR) scavenger hunts, half-time fan quizzes and virtual stadium tours streamed directly to fans’ smartphones. Get it right, and sponsors can expect to retain customers long after the final whistle has blown.

Check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, and learn the tactics employed by the world’s biggest sports organizations and their star athletes to stay at the top of their game.