Sports marketing can be tricky. From starting conversations about race to changing attitudes about equality and diversity, sport can hit, hook and cut across the societal spectrum to create positive change. Right now, with more people staying home and yearning for a shared human experience, live sports is a bountiful well of untapped marketing potential, but it’s also a growing brand minefield. cluttered with sponsors, billboards, advertisements and promotions. To deliver a decisive blow, brands need creative campaigns that combine the emotional power of sport with widespread fan engagement. In other words, brands need live storytelling.
Live storytelling in essence
Storytelling is a traditional sports marketing ploy. Using a sportsman’s human story of rejection, frustration and overcoming obstacles, for example, can inspire fans and forge a positive connection between brand and consumer. Live storytelling goes one step further.
Marrying human emotions with the unpredictability and excitement of live sports, live storytelling weaves an exciting, changing, and unscripted narrative throughout a live sports event that grabs viewers’ attention and stays long in their memories.
Live storytelling in action
1. Standard chart: LFC soundboard
In 2019-20, Liverpool were cruising towards their first title in 30 years, but a Covid-19 pandemic arrived, determined to deprive long-suffering fans of enjoying the live opportunity.
However, the club’s official sponsor, Standard Chartered, had other ideas. By creating a live YouTube channel that fans can watch alongside remaining matches, Standard Chartered has brought the stadium experience to fans’ sofas by playing Liverpool songs, leading chants in real time and giving fans the chance to shout, cheer and celebrate with other club fans and legends. A truly unprecedented emotional experience, unplanned and shared.
2. Uber Eats: Australian Open
In 2019, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic came out on top at the Australian Open, but for me the real winner was Uber Eats, which ran ads posing as live matches.
To succeed, Uber Eats used real players, officials, crowd photos and commentators. They copied graphics from real events, mirrored logo locations live on the pitch, and filmed with the same broadcast crew and cameras.
Even then, Uber Eats had to use the last slot of the commercial break to trick viewers into thinking it was a return to tennis, only for the player to order dinner through Uber Eats. By hijacking 14 matches in this way, each ad break kept viewers on their toes and helped Uber Eats stay in the minds of more than 13 million viewers worldwide.
3. Mastercard at the Rugby World Cup
As sponsor of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, Mastercard has paired its ‘priceless’ brand with a priceless Player of the Match trophy. Combining custom technology with Japanese heritage, each trophy was origami molded during the game and engraved with commentary from fan-picked highlights – captured via a bespoke Twitter API – then delivered to MOTM. 45 matches, 12 stadiums, six weeks, thousands of impressions.
Sky is the limit
As Regional Creative Director of the Mastercard Campaign, I saw firsthand the potential of live storytelling in sports marketing. How the powerful combination of a live match with an engaging live narrative can capture the imagination and reach new audiences.
But for me, the most exciting thing is the future. We are only at the beginning of the journey of live storytelling in sports marketing and with advancements in technology, the possibilities for live storytelling are limitless. Sports sponsorship is no longer about the CEO’s favorite team or slapping a logo on a jersey, it’s about creating heartbreaking, thrilling and hopeful stories at a live event for a real breakthrough. Now that’s a knockout.
Lizi Hamer is Creative Director at Octagon.