NEW YORK – Denim pioneer Levi Strauss & Co. is stepping up its focus on sports marketing as emerging digital and social channels transform how athletes connect with fans, pushing brand sponsors into the producer category of content.
Back in his hometown in May 2013, the 166-year-old brand secured the naming rights to the San Francisco 49ers stadium for $220 million. The deal marked Levi’s first big step into sports sponsorship and opened up new opportunities to bring the brand to life, from special gear collections to in-game social videos displayed on scoreboards.
Today, the blue jean giant continues to embrace emerging marketing methods like social media and athletes who have become influencers, experts said at an Advertising Research Foundation panel in New York on 6 August.
“With athletes these days, they all want to play on the court or they also want to be designers,” said Mark Foxton, sports marketing manager at Levi. “There are a number of people who have reached out to us and asked, ‘Can I help design another pair of jeans?'”
Beyond social influence and genuine enthusiasm for the brand, Levi’s influencers must demonstrate brand storytelling skills and a common goal of connecting sincerely with consumers of all ages, said Foxton.
“We seek to connect through authenticity, personalization and personalization, and platforms that allow us to find original content,” he said. “We’re not just going to buy social spots. We’re looking to engage fans more.”
Find sports moments “culture center”
Last year, Levi’s sponsored a pop-up experience called “The Drop-Up” created by B/R Kicks, the lifestyle vertical that sports media site Bleacher Report launched in 2016. “The Drop Up” brought together athletes, musicians, influencers and fans. to share how the stadium tunnel has become the new men’s track by displaying the latest trends.
“Players have become style icons in their own right – starting with the sneaker.”
Brand Manager, Bleacher Report
“‘The Drop-Up’ at its core was rooted in a love for the NBA and NBA style,” Bleacher Report Chief Brand Officer Ed Romaine said during the panel. “Players have become style icons in their own right – starting with the sneaker.”
For Levi’s, sponsorship of “The Drop-Up” was just one piece of the puzzle in its larger strategy to find “culture hub” moments that the sport can fuel for mass audiences.
“With ‘The Drop-Up,’ we sought to target men, masculine styles and influencers,” Foxton said. “While sneakers dictate a lot of what you see on your channels, B/R Kicks, etc., we have the ‘sneaker jean’.”
From athlete to influencer
The transformation of athletes into key social media trend setters stems from platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, giving fans a more direct connection to their favorite sports stars than in the past.
The influence of these athletes-turned-influencers is contributing to the overall growth of the sports marketing industry, whose North American revenue from sponsorship and merchandising is expected to increase 11% from last year to more than 35 billion by 2022, according to PwC forecasts.
Fans who follow athletes’ social media accounts are often exposed to paid content by brands in categories such as automotive, retail, food and beverage, and technology. Easy sharing on social media creates more opportunities for brands to partner with athletes on endorsements, further extending the reach of a social campaign.
“Gen Z consumers don’t really watch linear TV basketball the same way they used to. They don’t want a full game.”
Brand Manager, Bleacher Report
“Thanks to social media, we understand a lot of different things about players that we didn’t understand 10 years ago,” Romaine said. “We understand what interests them beyond the game.”
He cited three-time NBA champion LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love as two examples of players who have turned their stardom into creative and cultural activities off the court through social media.
“Twitter and the NBA go together more than any other sports league,” Omar Ajmeri, Twitter’s head of sports research, said during the panel.
Last year, the NBA was the most tweeted sports league, according to Twitter stats cited in The Washington Post. The social network saw more than 100 million NBA-related tweets heading towards the 2018 NBA Finals, according to the Post.
“Gen Z consumers don’t really watch linear TV basketball the way they used to. They don’t want a full game,” Bleacher Report’s Romaine said. “There is an interconnection and a way to catch people in a multimodal world and converse with their friends throughout.”