Scoring Smartly with Sports

This piece was first published in Marketing Weekender Issue 302

Osaka removes herself from Wimbledon.

Cristiano removes Coke from Euro 2020 press conf.

Pogba removes Heineken the next day.

Toyota decided not to place TV ads during the Olympics it is a main sponsor of.

Biles removes herself from the gymnastics team competition and comes back eventually to win a bronze in an individual event.

With celebrities going off piste, and sports taking place in controversial circumstances, a marketer would be justifiably concerned about entering this arena.

And yet, nothing attracts an audience like sports does.

Sky offered the English Premier League the same deal in May 2021, for broadcast rights, and the EPL accepted, for the next 3 years. .Sport is probably the last remaining mainstay for appointment television across the world, today. Still Ligue 1 in France saw a reduced sponsorship deal from Canal TV, at 50% of previous year’s valuation, and the media rights holder gave up its rights.

Sport is also highly social. Fans watch sports and message their mates during games. They also follow social celebrities online, with Ronaldo being the world’s most followed Instagram Celebrity. That explains why ASEAN e-comm giant Shopee used him smartly in digital ads.

Nike saw a massive lift in sales when it celebrated knee-taking controversial American footballer Colin Kaepernick with a famous spot.

The advantages of sports marketing are many, for brands. Here are a few:

BRAND AWARENESS: For relatively lesser known brands, sports sponsorships provide instant recall and awareness. For instance, Teamviewer’s sponsorship of the Manchester United jersey drove search volume up by 300%. Budweiser placed ads at Super Bowl for 26 years continuously to build up an iconic presence.

BRAND SALIENCE AND PREFERENCE: sports sponsorships help drive emotional connections with consumers. Heineken’s UEFA Champion’s League association drives immense audio memories and drive preference with the iconic opening tune. The brand has been associated with UEFA Champion’s League for over 24 years.

BUILD EMOTIONAL ELEMENTS INTO THE BRAND: Sports is highly emotional, associated with winning and losing, tears of joy and the pain of loss. Men become more emotional than they do otherwise, as multiple research shows. Brands can, in this environment, see a transference of emotions to themselves, and can benefit from this. As per Unruly, the Olympics provide great emotional moments compared to the norm:

Inspiration is the strongest emotion for both men and women while watching Olympics ads – double the global norm;

Pride is higher than the norm for both men and women, having uplifts of 183% for men and 150% for women;

Exhilaration sees an average uplift of 75% for both men and women during the Olympics.

That is one reason why politicians, brands and others globally want to associate with Olympians.

BREAK-THROUGH VERSUS CONVENTIONAL MARKETING: Conventional marketing, with brand building ads or tactical promos provides a fairly static marketing funnel. Companies will know that when they run a promo, they will get a short-lived spike, and normal comms that drive brand-building may have an impact may be harder to measure clearly, though it is clearly present. Sports marketing can provide a clutter-breaking jump in key metrics. Shopee, for instance, saw a significant rise in certain  audiences when it sponsored the domestic football cup competition, Piala FA, for 2 years, and sold tickets online to fans with a generous and thoughtful 1-for-1 offer. Other brands like Nike have associated themselves with “woke” causes and consumers to drive preference, word of mouth and sales.

But given the risks outlined earlier, what should brands do? Here are 7 key action points:

BE MENTALLY PREPARED FOR SURPRISES: Brand marketers need to understand that sponsorships come with unpredictability, and should be prepared to roll with the punches.

NEGOTIATE SMART: The pandemic increases uncertainty, but it also provides great opportunity, as the noise levels in the market are reduced, and many great sports properties are available at below normal prices.

THINK LONG-TERM: Associate with sports for more than 1-2 years, to see a long-term uplift in brand metrics.

WORD CONTRACTS CAREFULLY: Build in for scenarios like the pandemic, as well as athletes etc. going off piste.

EXPLORE SPORTS ASSOCIATIONS AND PROPERTIES RATHER THAN INDIVIDUALS: Consumers often shrug and don’t really care what a celeb does, as they form their own opinions. Coke consumption has not fallen because of Ronaldo, for instance. Individuals can definitely drive spikes and troughs. But sponsoring leagues, tournaments and events can create more brand safety and longer-term associations.

BE SENSITIVE TO CONSUMER MINDSETS: Toyota eschewed advertising on TV and its top brass avoided attending the Olympics as public mood to Tokyo 2020 was negative. The brand generated positive mentions because of this. However, communicating now, wrapping up the Olympics, or associating with the Paralympics, as public opinion has become positive, could also yield good returns.

PLAN FOR ACTIVATION AND SOCIAL: Any sports sponsorship should be thought of as more than a logo on a shirt, or a bottle on a table. How a brand connects that sporting presence with fans and consumers is key. Budgets should be planned with adequate allocation and details for activating the sponsorship: usage of logos and stars, events online and offline, social calendars and product integration etc.

In the game of sports sponsorship, just like a good sports team, the brands that win are the brands that manage with deep strategy and execute flawlessly, to score a winning goal.

Sandeep Joseph is the CEO and co-founder of Ampersand Advisory, a strategic media and data-driven consultancy. The company’s mission is “business results now!” and it has won numerous local and international awards.  The views expressed here are the author’s own: you can debate with him at [email protected]

Sports Sandeep

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