Sports marketing needs to be more than just cool content, stars and flashy ads

The times are a' changin' for sports marketers with activities like eSports, drone racing and Formula E emerging - now competing for attention.

There are a multitude of distribution platforms, across which fans want more content than ever, in short, there is a complex picture which sees legacy brands facing off against seemingly edgier entities for eyes.

To delve into the trends, The Drum last week Thursday (3 August) hosted a sports marketing panel to dig into the trends shaping the future of the industry, among which we launched eSports: Football Rebooted, our eSports investigation documentary.

Joined by Skip Fidura, client services director of Dotmailer, Matt Wilson, co-founder of Ball Street Media and John Parker, head of sport, M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, we had expert input from a passionate data man, a marketing veteran who has worked with top sporting brands and Parker who has forged a sports empire on new media, each contributing a unique point on the shape of the industry.

Investigated were trends varying from eSports, audience engagement, augmented and virtual reality, broadcast rights, brand story-telling following the airing of the eSports documentary, which you can view here or at the foot of the article,

Fidura outlined the full toolkit marketers will need: “Just because you are in sports marketing, just because you have cool content and access to sports stars and the fans, that is not the end of it, you’ve got to build relationships. Some you want to get into the ground, some are too far away, you want them to buy replica and you want them to subscribe to your channels. You have to build different relationships with each of these groups."

He envisioned a future where virtual and augmented reality was used to get foreign fans into stadiums to watch the game. Live 360 video perhaps, maybe they would be a seat in the arena and share a seat with a fan who is physically there? Fidura opened this opportunity for regional advertisers too. Physical stadium hoardings could likely be adapted for select audiences. a personalised ad experience.

Ball Street Media's Wilson commented that this could discourage people from actually attending the games, to which Fidura jokingly said "We've got CGI for that right? We'll just fill it in."

On building an audience, Wilson, with his experience running fan sites across multiple platforms, added: “There’s no one size fits all answer to building an audience or building a community, the nuance of platform determines that certain behaviors and tactics are more appropriate are others but you must apply consistency.

“We live in a world of instant gratification where you swipe to the right where your booty turns up or you click a button and your Uber turns up but anything worth building is actually the application of consistent endeavors and passion. If you make a relationship with someone based on a certain subject matter, gaming, Arsenal, transfer news, wherever there’s news that relates to that field they expect you to be there and if you are not when they are coming for you they will start to rely on someone else.”

Wilson also added that brands should alleviate some control of their IP and broadcast rights to more integrate with the fans who want to integrate and associate with it on social media and video platforms. Fidura skipped how lax the NBA is with its rights as an example.

Parker, who is on a professional level looking for clients in the eSports space, said the secret to growth for both newcomers and legacy brands was so-called 'Instagrammable Moments'. He cited the explosive growth of the Tough Mudder brand, he added that all markerters have such reach potentially at their fingertips if they put the pieces into place and get fans and attendees telling their own stories. "Every person has their own media channel be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Each consumer is now a media title in their own right, each looking for compelling content, stories, opinions etc to increase their ‘readership/viewership’. So for brands to succeed going forward they have to work with consumers in the same way they used to work with more traditional media."

Wayne Rooney's stint in fighter jet for Manchester United, ergo its partnership with 21st Century Fox, also emerged as a talking point when we tried to hone in on what exactly 'good story-telling' is.

While it was easy for some to snivel at the funny footage of Wayne Rooney piloting a plane, Parker underlined that for every UK fan that laughed at the ad (probably also shared it), furthermore, he added that foreign fan unfamiliar with the absurdity of a man from Merseyside assaulting aliens in a spacecraft, would have probably loved it.

He gave some advice for brands looking to get involved: "Brands who don’t have huge budgets to work with need to take a two pronged approach. Firstly, targeting a specific audience is key, for example a brand wishing to ‘get into eSports’ needs to consider which eSport is going to provide the most effective return on investment. The audience of people watching FIFA17 online is going to be different to those watching League of Legends, which is different to those watching Counter Strike which is again different to those watching Hearthstone."

Check out eSports: Football Rebooted below.

To sign up to or take a look at The Drum's upcoming events, check out this link.

Search The Drum Jobs

Explore the best jobs in Marketing and Media industries
View all open jobs

John McCarthy

John is an entertainment marketing reporter at The Drum. He writes about the amazing marketing stories coming from the movie, TV, music and video game industries. He's also the hunt for the weirder trends in marketing and advertising.

Fuelled by tea.

All by John