How brands are leveraging sports marketing to build a stronger consumer connect

January 10, 2021 10:49 AM

Fans are viewing matches – in the stadium (in the pre-Covid era), on their television sets, and now more so on-demand on their mobile phones

In 2019 alone there was a 31% jump in online gamers as per EY Media & Entertainment reportIn 2019 alone there was a 31% jump in online gamers as per EY Media & Entertainment report

By Sandeep Juneja

Show me the money!” shouts Cuba Gooding Jr in the 1996 super-hit movie Jerry Maguire. This was a classic scene where Gooding, a baseball player, is coaxing his rather smart-talking agent to get back in the groove. If you want a prime example of sports marketing this would be a great starting point. Sports already has enough emotion, drama and unscripted fun. A good sports marketer knows how to take advantage of this. Sports presents a huge audience for brands and athletes alike.

There are a few events that can create this much shared, unfiltered joy as that of being part of a good game. Whether it is on the field or watching it live as an audience member, it is an incredible bonding experience. In fact, it does not matter whether you get to watch your favourite team in the stadium, or on your mobile phone or an OTT platform – a true sports fan’s joy is undiminished.

So why sports marketing?

Sports has a following like no other. It cuts across a cross-section of people; rather hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

Sports marketing – while delivering moments of joy to the audience – also takes advantage of the large fan base (read: captive audience). It enables marketers to promote their products, services and brand reputation alongside some incredible goal kicks, winning assists and even the thrill of a penalty shoot-out.

Today a variety of opportunities exist as a sports marketer. Fans are viewing matches – in the stadium (in the pre-Covid era), on their television sets, and now more so on-demand on their mobile phones. Each new format has broadened the advertiser’s basket. Each medium has enabled us to adapt the message for the audience.

Sports makes a popular and recurring choice for brands. Wonder why?

Statista reports that in 2019, approx. 154.4 million people in the US watched at least one live sports event each month. Closer home, we expect to grab the attention of nearly 200 million viewers of the premier football tournament, Indian Super League. If we jump to cricket now, the TV viewership data from BARC India shows an astounding 24% uptick from 2019 despite zero in-stadia audiences.

The great thing is that advertising revenue has brought popularity to even niche sports. The EY Media & Entertainment report shows that there has been significant growth in newer sports segments. These include badminton, boxing, field hockey and even kabbadi for that matter. In 2018, data shows that wrestling interestingly captured 20% of the time spent on sports on television!

You can see the marketing potential even during the bidding wars that sports streaming rights elicit. You can see it in the OTT subscription numbers which more than doubled in 2019 on the back of sports and good quality content. The market for sports viewership is clearly red hot!

So how do we do it?

Earlier on sports marketing was limited to just brand endorsements or product placements. However, with newer formats – especially social media – sporting events offer much more authenticity to the conversations. Good marketers will know how to leverage the sport to drive both eyeballs and engagement.

Let me give you an example of DHL itself. The brand is global and has over the years supported many of the world’s biggest sports events such as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, ESL One and German Football Association (DFB). We also sponsor first-class football clubs such as Manchester United and FC Bayern Munich. We associate to leverage the brand values that both the sport and us as a logistics company stand such as the need for speed, teamwork and passion.

In India, ISL has enabled us to reach audiences in both small and big cities. It gives us an opportunity to support loyal fans and potentially a loyal customer set. The average football viewer is young and we believe potentially an emerging entrepreneur. Our aim is to enable the audience to see us within their grasp and help them reach their potential. We want them to view us as the team behind the team.

Will the game change in the post-Covid world?

Well, the sports marketing game is always evolving. A good brand manager does not disrupt but engages in the conversation. So Covid though has changed where the conversation is taking place, it has not changed the reason.

In fact, let me say that Covid has made it quite a level playing field as the conversations are now almost exclusively virtual. There is an opportunity to create open, immediate and involved conversations with the audience. Instead of pushing out advertisements, we have an opportunity to talk directly with the sports fan and meaningfully engage with him. Also, with athletes fairly active on social media, the interaction for the fan is so much more authentic.

I truly believe social media and OTT is here to stay and will drive the action closer home. This will also grow the sports marketing pie. Take a look at GroupM’s Indian Sports playbook – it states that the sports sponsorship industry crossed over Rs 9000 crore in 2019! The growth trajectory in the last decade is in *double digits.
*(CAGR of 12.8% for 10 years; in 2019 at 17%).

A trend few have latched on is e-sports which in the post-Covid era will be huge. We have sponsored ESL One with great success – and we see the potential. With better broadband speed and the boost to digital adoption due to Covid we should expect a boom next year. In 2019 alone there was a 31% jump in online gamers as per EY Media & Entertainment report. So this will a sweet spot.

For me both sports and marketing actually spell opportunity. So stay tuned for the next big change.

The author is vice president, sales and marketing, DHL Express India

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