Sports Marketing – it’s like social media!

No, my boss didn’t understand what I meant either when I first mentioned my headline! As I progressed with my recent research project into sports marketing and sponsorship, it suddenly struck me that there are many similarities between sports marketing and social media. So today I want to take you through what I learnt and then explain this conclusion.

If you’re not familiar with sports sponsorship, then the definition below is a great starting point. It comes from Steve Sleight’s 1989 publication: Sponsorship – What is it and how to use it.

Sponsorship is a business relationship between a provider of funds, resources or services and an individual, event or organisation, which offers in return rights and association that may be used for commercial advantage.

What’s the big deal with sports marketing? For starters it’s one of the biggest industries in the 21st century. One article I came across, believes that sponsorship revenue will soon overtake ticket sales. Sport’s marketing is one of the few ways that brands can connect with consumers through their passion for ‘sports’.

The most watched sport in the UK is football, which means it’s the most broadcasted! (Or in my case the one that interrupts my weekly soaps the most often.) We all know that footballers command particularly lucrative salaries, but it doesn’t stop there. The sport also receives the most new sponsorship deals; in 2010 the new deals were worth more than nine times of those in the next most valuable sport, Rugby Union. However, there are concerns that football is becoming too expensive and considered to be pricing out domestic brands.

It seems you can sponsor absolutely everything associated with sports, even the athletes healthcare (this one surprised me). Below are the most popular sports marketing activites.

For many the cost of creating and running a television advert isn’t an option financially, by associating your brand with a property you will gain mass market exposure at a lower cost than a television campaign. A sponsor can connect with their audience around their passion, but a TV advert interrupts the consumer’s coverage of the sports event.

With so many different opportunities in the market, many sponsor’s buy through an agency. The agency will then find suitable options for their client to sponsor, but the sponsor makes the final decision. So let’s look at the main drivers behind the decisions they make.

Whilst many companies would like to be associated with a sport or team that they have a personal interest in, they don’t sponsor them for the sake of it. The ‘deal’ needs to provide a benefit to the sponsor, particularly in times of austerity which put’s pressure on marketing budgets. The days of relying solely on brand awareness by putting a logo on a shirt are behind us. Like with any advertising/sponsorship the aim is to impact consumers purchasing decisions.

Most sponsors surveyed had few complaints about their relationships with their properties, but here’s what those that did had to say.

(Source: Mintel)

  • “You can see there’s been no real research of your business and what would work for it. I was asked to become title sponsor of a boat sailing round the world; we only operate in the UK, so I would be spending £700,000 on sponsoring a boat that will not be spending any time in the UK.”
  • “Some well-established properties seem unwilling, or unable, to evolve with the rapidly changing world around them. In lacking ambition and shared goals with the sponsor, the two partners will gradually fall out of step, delivering reduced value to both parties.”
  • “Communication, every day – it’s a nightmare. Rugby clubs entering the professional era, trying to get information out of them is like banging your head against a brick wall. It does depend on the personnel but it is a problem.”

The statements above suggest that some involved in the industry need to catch up with the rest of the world. Consumers have changed, technology is evolving, the way we can access sports is changing through services such as pay per view, but the sports advertising isn’t evolving at the same pace as the rest of the world. Those involved in sports sponsorship need to view the ‘sponsorship deal’ as a partnership and start collaborating.

The recession has impacted the industry, particularly those whose sponsors were in the financial sector. It seems that the strain on marketing budgets has highlighted a pre-existing issue in terms of demonstrating the sponsorships return on investment (in sports marketing this is referred to as evaluation). The industry doesn’t seem to have the facilities in place to prove to the sponsor the correlation between the sponsorship and the sales book. They rely on selling the emotional benefits of sports sponsorships rather than the results.

So how does this relate to social media?

  • Both generate high revenues
  • Sold on the huge reaches involved
  • Are focussed on relational features, so called soft measures
  • Companies/investors are challenged on how to engage with consumers beyond the obvious
  • Both find it difficult to prove/demonstrate the return on investment

The Little Nuggets

(Welsh averages – Source: GB TGI Radio+ 2012 Quarter 2, Kantar Media, Wales BARB Region)

  • 14% have paid to watch sport at a venue in the last 12 months
  • 35% rarely notice whether an event is sponsored or not (this doesn’t just cover sports)
  • 9% are more inclined to purchase from a corporation that sponsors an event then one that doesn’t (this doesn’t just cover sports)
  • 6% tend to buy products from companies who sponsor sports events and teams (That said only 3% tend to buy from companies who sponsor TV programmes)
  • 19% sponsoring the Olympics gives companies a better image

Of course there are some huge differences, but this is my quirky take on it! Let me know if you agree? What have I missed? Please leave a comment below or email me jodi.stuart@realradio.co.uk or via Twitter @realradiojodi

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