A New Era of Advertising - How Modern Brands Connect With Sports Fan Communities

Written by Cameron Osborne
The way sporting organisations and brands are advertising to fans has changed massively over the years. However, the end goal remains the same, to build an emotional connection with that community.  The pandemic has forced advertisers to consider new marketing methods that were previously considered unconventional and unnecessary, such as online matchday experiences and producing more branded video content to mitigate the lack of in-person marketing opportunities.   With the shift to online presenting new opportunities for fan engagement, how are the most successful brands integrating themselves with fan communities?    

Out with the old 

Advertising methods such as billboards, pitch-side boards, and placements in club magazines still have their place in modern sport however their effectiveness isn’t what it once was.   The Harvard Business Review found that “more creative campaigns were more effective – considerably so”.   Fans want more tailored messages that feel personalised and direct to them. In recent years advertisers have begun marketing in new ways that connect with fans emotionally.   This makes fans feel like part of an exclusive community where their engagement with sponsors is directly helping the club.   Studies into sponsored content released by sports clubs found that teams who released more fan-driven content received increased 20% more engagement, 12% higher click-through-rate and garnered a more positive reaction with social media comments.   

Behind the curtain  

Fans are no longer satisfied with passively consuming sport. They want to feel involved in decisions and processes that would have previously been made behind closed doors.   Football clubs such as Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have created docu-series that let fans experience the season as if they were a fly on the wall. 
Content like this serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it creates an emotional bond with fans and humanises their idols. This makes fans relate to and trust them more. Additionally, it allows for team sponsors to receive a significant amount of screentime that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.   Exclusive content has become so important in sporting sponsorships that 83% of brands deem ‘access to sporting talent for content’ as the most critical aspect of the relationship.     Fans see themselves as members of a community, rather than just consumers. With this, they expect bigger, more personalised offerings.  Who is on pole position?   Sporting organisations have recently been developing more personalised marketing efforts that appeal directly to fans.   These efforts were accelerated when fans were unable to attend the events themselves. This forced brands and organisations to trial new methods of fan engagement.   One example of this is when video calling service Zoom was announced as an official sponsor of the 2021 Formula One World Championship.   To announce the deal, Zoom offered fans the opportunity to experience live behind-the-scenes action via their platform.   This is just one way Formula One and their sponsors have been prioritising fan engagement. The Netflix Documentary ‘Drive-to-Survive’ helped introduce the sport to a wide array of new fans, as well as successfully engage with existing audiences.  After the documentary aired, viewer ratings went up 50% from the previous year and each race is steadily increasing. Alongside this its social media popularity has boosted 6.2% to 1.71 million active followers.   Through the documentary, and their very active social media presence, Formula One can offer sponsors more screentime to an emotionally connected audience.  

A Full House  

With sports betting becoming legalised across America, the NBA and many of its teams have announced betting partners.   Alongside this, the NBA has launched a direct-to-consumer subscription service called ‘NBA TV’. This includes additional camera angles, chat, and live odds.   This helps fans experience the game together when they can’t be there live. Being there in person gives a greater connection and immerses fans into the event and they seek to replace that in other ways when watching from afar.   According to Nielson Fan Insights, over 50% of fans claim they will be more likely to consider a brand that is enhancing the way live sport is experienced.   The thirst for knowledge and content from fans about their favourite sport as well as the desires to talk on social media with friends and people they’ve never met is higher than ever before.   The game is no longer just played on the pitch, court or arena. For the modern sporting organisation, the game never stops. The sponsorship landscape has changed and clubs must either adapt and succeed, or resist change and falter. 

What now?  

It is human nature to establish long term commitments and invest emotionally in relationships, and it’s no different with consumers’ favourite brands. Consumers are more likely to engage with a brand that they trust and identify with.   This is however a complex and time-consuming process. Therefore, many brands look to market through sport. Highly committed fans will see the purchase from a sponsor as a direct avenue to supporting their favourite club.   However, for this to work the brand needs to successfully integrate itself into the supporter community.   The PlayOn Agency are a team of communication experts dedicated to strengthening partnerships between brands, sporting organisations, fans and key stakeholders.   To conquer fan engagement and enhance your brand reputation and awareness, click here and get in contact with the PlayOn Agency. 

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