Today’s media environment is highly fragmented. For brands, the challenge of reaching consumers is becoming increasingly difficult. Even if a brand can reach its consumers, making them sit still and pay attention to the message is key.
This is where sports is so powerful. Sports generates so much free publicity. Due to its live and unpredictable nature (who could have predicted Manchester United scoring 8 goals against Arsenal earlier this week?), sports is chat worthy – whether that is office banter around the water cooler, online blogs, or social media commentary. Additionally, live telecast makes it harder for you to skip the ads on your DVR, Tivo or IQ box. Sports can really break through the clutter. As we all know, passions around sports run high and the emotional connection can be strong. It is this passion and the fact that sports can be so compelling that makes sports marketing an effective and efficient way of reaching consumers – if done well (but more of that later).
In SportsPro magazine (Febuary 2011 edition), Boutros Boutros, vice president for communications and controller of marketing at Emirates Airlines (a prolific sponsor of sports such as soccer, rugby and cricket) summed it up perfectly:
“To me, sponsorship is still, among all the marketing mix available – including new media – the best medium to reach people’s emotion and interest.”
Brands can build their own equity and awareness by leveraging off the equity of sports events and teams. Sponsoring sports allows brands to create activation campaigns that allow consumers to take part and interact with the brand, further increasing that emotional connection. Sponsorship activation in this way is a more powerful way of communicating than a passive message in, for example, a TV commercial. It enables stronger, more measurable marketing effectiveness.
For me, Red Bull is one great example of a brand successfully marketing through sports. As well as sponsoring sports and tapping into some of the most important attributes of successful sports people – fast reactions, concentration and endurance – Red Bull has also created new unique sports properties ostensibly to sell more of its product.
For aspirational brands aiming to create a loyal following, sports should definitely be a component part in the marketing mix. But none of this is new to marketers. According to a Reuters press article in January this year:
‘global spending on sponsorships of sports and other activities is projected to rise 5.2 percent this year after a stronger-than-expected increase in 2011’
with the total level of spending on sports alone to increase by 6.1 per cent.
To effectively market to consumers through sports there are at least 3 things to consider (and not necessarily in this order).
1. Sports has to be part of an integrated campaign
Sports marketing should not be a stand- alone exercise, but should be aligned with an overall marketing strategy. Leveraging sports, multi-national corporations can think and act both on a local and global scale. The head office determines the marketing strategy while the local offices execute activation. Back to Boutros at Emirates Airlines who states:
“We usually do a yearly plan for each region, each market, and each potential market. We put values on potential revenue”.
2. Sports isn’t only about young males
Admittedly products that appeal to young males (think beer) are, of course, a good fit for sports sponsorship. However, if you think deeper, you’ll understand that behind every athlete there is a mother – typically the decision maker in the family and the person managing the family budget. Proctor and Gamble, realizing this, sponsored Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. P&G achieved good results through the ‘Proud Sponsors of Mums’ campaign. You may recall the commercial – “To their moms, Team USA athletes will always be kids”.
It is no surprise that P&G has continued its association with the Games and is an Official Sponsor of the Olympic games from London 2012 through to the 2020 Olympic Games.
Women are also behind the growth of some sports – both as participants and as spectators. Viewership of the 2008 Formula 1 season was composed of between 35%-40% women. (Source: Global Sports Forum).
According to a FIFA media release (07/20/2011) on the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany this year:
‘In the USA, an average audience of over 14.1 million watched the final between the USA and Japan. ESPN delivered the large majority of the audience, reporting an average of close to 13.5 million and a peak audience during the penalty shoot-out of over 21.1 million. This is ESPN’s highest-ever audience for a (soccer) match and ranks as the second-highest audience for a daytime telecast in US cable history (behind the 2011 Rose Bowl). These audiences were also over three times higher than the US average audience for the final round of golf’s Open Championship on Sunday, as well as nearly 10% higher than the audience for baseball’s All Star Game last week’.
3. Sports reaches an audience, it is not an end in itself
Sports marketing is merely a process. You have to sponsor and market around the sponsorship – in other words activate it. How much to spend on activation will vary (for instance Heineken are thought to spend $1 in activation for every dollar of sponsorship, yet for other brands this may be as high as $2 to $3 in activation). When a brand contemplates sponsoring sports, it must take into account the total investment, not just the dollars paid out to the sports rights holder.