The sports game has drastically changed. Yes, fans still root for their favorite teams and wear their lucky jersey on game day, but off-the-field, sports teams have shifted from traditional marketing strategies and advertising models toward more progressive and hands-on approaches.
With an ever growing demand by consumers for engagement and relevancy, the sports industry has responded by taking marketing and creativity to new levels. As a result, the sports industry has opened up new partnership opportunities and ways to connect with fans.
Reactive and Proactive
In 2010, the top 50 advertisers in sports spent a combined $6.6 billion on sports advertising, up 27 percent over what the top 50 companies spent in 2009 and 22 percent more than 2008 (SportsBusinessJournal.) So what changed? While we may not go so far as to say everything, a clear change was the way that the sports industry approached fan engagement and the creative process.
Although social networks Twitter and Facebook started in 2004, the sports industry only began catching up with it around 2008. Although ‘late to the party,’ sports teams quickly began to turn their attention toward the digital space and social networks because of the intriguing opportunity that they offered. Prior to the ‘new digital age,’ sports advertising and marketing online revolved around advertising opportunities where success had a clear definition. From traditional advertising campaigns that focused on the PPC/CPI/CPM model and standard sponsorship titlement of web assets, sports teams played it safe when it came to online marketing and advertising, with creativity often found only in offline opportunities.
The sudden change toward fan engagement and the need for creativity didn’t happen because the sports industry suddenly discovered Facebook and Twitter. Rather, it was the realization that without creativity and innovation, you would slowly begin to lose touch with your fan base. New social networks and a change in the digital environment wasn’t the solution, but rather a catalyst for the sports industry and its fans.
The Sports Marketing Renaissance
In what could be called a sort of sports marketing renaissance, sports teams have begun developing strategies that are both reactive and proactive.
By reactive, we refer to the monitoring of the engagement between the brand and the fan. From putting out fires when negative comments are shared, to lead generation, reactive marketing and advertising in the digital space is playing a bigger role in the curating of a sports teams brand. In addition, teams are seeing results financially as was the case with the New Jersey Devils and Mission Control. Acting as a social media central hub for monitoring all things related to the New Jersey Devils, the Devils were able to not only able to part of the conversation, but they were also able to drive significant results including $17,776 dollars in direct ticket sales due to online promotions through their Facebook and Twitter accounts. (cite: National Sports Forum)
On the other side of the spectrum, proactive refers to developing content that will drive conversation. Rather than wait for the conversation to take place as is the case with reactive strategies, proactive actively pursues and develops content that will get people interested and “create a buzz.” Content development with a proactive approach has become especially popular with sports teams because of the unique “assets” that they have at their disposal. By this, we refer to the sports athletes themselves. Like Hollywood celebrities, sports personalities have become a valuable asset to sports teams as they become marketable assets beyond just a simple advertisement on a billboard or ticket. From an advertising and marketing standpoint, athletes now become the centerpieces for which campaigns can be built around. Athlete involvement no longer stops at taking photos at media day and signing balls. Instead, athletes have become actors (see Steve Nash, Toyota Prius Canada), bloggers and in some cases, even ticket salesman (see Dirk Nowitzki Selling Tickets.)
David Ogilvy, also known as the “The Father of Advertising,” once said: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” In the case of the sports industry, this was exactly where advertising and marketing was headed. When it came to advertising and marketing, sports teams were selling fans the same old story: ‘Here are some pretty pictures with a sponsor logo. Please click on it.’ The creativity and engagement that fans desired coupled with the growing impact of the digital space made it the perfect time for sports teams to move toward a innovative marketing and advertising. While it’s too early to tell how these new strategies will play out long-term, early signs show that fan engagement leads to positive results both from a branding standpoint and a business one which we can only hope will continue to be the trend.