Sports sponsorship cannot escape brands’ growing demand for hard numbers, says uniqFEED Communications and Marketing Manager Katy Walsh, but rights-holders also have much to gain from better data.
Sponsorship in sports has long been considered the most effective means of forging connections with sports entities.
Brands invest vast sums to sponsor top-tier clubs and competitions to capitalize on the prestige that comes from the affiliation, as well as the deep emotional connection between the fans and the sport.
You can understand the appeal – what brand wouldn’t want to be a part of the devoted relationship between a fan and their club, and rooted within the stadium amidst the roaring crowd? Spending on sports sponsorship is expected to grow to an estimated $81bn per annum by 2027, according to a report published earlier this year by ReportCrux.
But the world of marketing and advertising is changing, with digital channels enabling marketers to target their preferred audiences, and to accurately measure the results of their efforts. Today, sports sponsorship portfolios are treated like any other marketing tool – they must be linked to the overall goals of the business with measurable KPIs.
And while, so far, sponsorship has remained competitive as a marketing tool when up against digital giants like Facebook and Google, marketing professionals and agencies are under increasing pressure to justify sports sponsorship spend with hard numbers. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have accelerated this, and with marketing departments typically first in line for budget cuts, every cent we spend must now be defensible. While brand awareness and brand value are key long-term objectives, these must be supplemented by short-term sales and acquisition metrics.
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Collaborations between sports and entertainment organizations and technology providers are making headway in meeting this challenge. Virtual advertising now enables brands to target their most relevant geographical audiences with tailored advertising content in-game.
For example, a global brewer might choose to create unique pitch-side advertising content for each of the regional broadcast feeds of a live football match. Each feed would show branded pitch-side ads in local languages or aligned with local campaigns to increase fan engagement and affiliation with the brand. By measuring their brand visibility within each feed during the game, coupled with the viewership numbers in each of the different regions, marketers could gain a much greater understanding of brand exposure within targeted markets.
The rise of OTT platforms could soon give brands the power to segment audiences beyond geographical dimensions. OTT audiences receive live broadcast signals over IP rather than via linear television. By understanding the behavior of the OTT subscriber, coupled with demographic parameters, brands could soon have the power to target individual fans with unique advertising content tailored specifically to their interests.
Conceivably, with the right synergies in place, this could extend to measuring subsequent online interactions between the individual and the brand. This would give brands the ability to determine not only the visibility, but potentially the impact of their sponsorship.
The desire for both sports rights-holders and their brand partners to connect with fans is also a priority. The more directly fan engagement can be linked to the in-game sponsorship activation, the better.
What is particularly powerful for both is the acquisition of fan data through this engagement. We can expect to see regionalized and personalized virtual advertising being used in tandem with digital fan engagement technologies as a platform for more targeted fan engagement emerges. Technological innovation might even provide the means for direct interaction between the fans and the brand during the live sports event by creating clickable in-game advertising that could direct the fan to an e-commerce site or dedicated landing page – providing those all-important acquisition and sales metrics.
For marketing professionals, this kind of unintrusive and undisruptive, but measurable, advertising opportunity is the stuff of dreams.
KPIs and metrics will be crucial to the industry as we move into an increasingly digital and data-fueled age. Digital is fundamentally changing every aspect of our lives, from the way we work and do business, to the way we as fans enjoy and engage with live sports.
The accompanying status that comes with close association with major sporting events will surely continue to be the dominating motive for brands when investing in sponsorship rights of top-tier events, but with increasing pressure on marketing professionals to account for every column of their marketing budget, data could soon become a key selling point.
Is it possible that we will soon see sponsorship contracts changing with performance-related deals being made based on measurable KPIs? For this to be realized, technological innovation is key.