TikTok will revitalise the Super Bowl, but not as a sporting event

TikTok will revitalise the Super Bowl, but not as a sporting event

For many, especially on my side of the pond, the Super Bowl is the sporting highlight of the year. The biggest tournament in the United States reaches its climactic finale with audiences across the world tuning in for a clash of the titans. Or at least in principle. Instead of touchdowns galore, 2019 Super Bowls fans were rewarded with the lowest ever score – a match dubbed a ‘snooze fest’ by media.

The lack of action on the pitch didn’t stop fans from engaging on social media, though. The Super Bowl tallied a 604% increase in engagement on Facebook and Twitter the day of the event. That puts it ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup Final (211%) and NBA Championship (305%) as well as the Cricket World Cup (557%). The Super Bowl also outperformed other major live TV events on the second-screen including the Game of Thrones season finale (104%) and Love Island (225%).

With the National Football League now back in full swing for its 100th season, brand and consumer attention will inevitably be turning to the spectacle that will be the Super Bowl LIV. And social media again factors to be a big part of the playbook. It’s against this backdrop that the NFL has joined forces with the hot new social media video app, TikTok.

While this might appear like a first-mover opportunity, the American professional “football” league isn’t the first sport organization to partner with TikTok – the NBA, Wimbledon, and the International Cricket Council have all invested in the social media app to diversify the audience they’re able to reach, and amplify the kind of engagement that they are able to generate.

Transcending the pitch

When it comes to determining the success of the Super Bowl, we all know there’s more to it than just touchdowns. Especially for brands.

Over the years, the Super Bowl has evolved from a national sporting event to a global entertainment event. In fact, today more 18-to-30-year olds tune in for the commercials than the game itself. This is the true value of the Super Bowl as a platform in which brands are welcomed to the center stage and play an equal part in creating a fun and shared experience for fans.

Social media has played a vital role in this regard. From Oreo’s ‘Dunk in the Dark’ campaign to Tide’s ‘Every ad is a #TideAd’, platforms like Twitter have established themselves as essential “companion” apps to the Super Bowl, enabling all the chatter and shared content that completes a match day today.

TikTok on the other hand, is for the audiences of tomorrow. Unlike “companion” apps, such as Twitter, which enhance the TV experience for an avid NFL fan, younger TikTok users can start and end their experience entirely on one, separate screen. I’ve seen this first-hand with my kids whose faces will stay glued to TikTok watching videos fifteen seconds at a time until I literally yank the phone out of their hands.

Indeed, to reach the younger audiences who spend less than two hours a day watching television, but over three hours and a half of on their phones, TikTok represents a vital next step in the future of sports marketing.

A global phenomenon

In just two years, TikTok has emerged to rival companies like Netflix and YouTube with more than one billion app downloads in 150 markets worldwide and 75 languages. Central to the platform’s success has been its innovative method of content creation.

Videos showcase everything from comedy to lip syncs to gummy bear challenges that users create and share on the app. The scrappy, goofy, fast-moving content has hooked young audiences around the world.

However, marketers hoping to simply rehash their latest Instagram ads will be bitterly disappointed. TikTok has succeed by mixing things up. Unlike Facebook and YouTube, TikTok content only lasts fifteen seconds and, at this point, advertising is not prevalent on the platform. This means that brands must display in the same way as user content – they must be tailored to offer the same challenges and entertainment value.

Certainly, the NFL has every intention of following the rule book. Side-line moments and behind-the-scenes footage will be available on the NFL’s TikTok page throughout this year’s season. The league will also create various football-themed challenges encouraging consumers on the platform to create their own themed videos.

The NFL is planning to create elements on TikTok that advertisers will be able to sponsor. However, when working on content and format, advertisers need to bear in mind some guidelines. Due to the young age of its user base, there is a huge responsibility on brands to ensure ads are authentic and safe for consumption. Brand messaging must also be quick and sticky so creative is more important than ever to capture the attention of an audience moving from one video to the next. And, as ever, timing is everything. We’ve seen some great results when social media ads are paired with key NFL in-game moments.

With its growing base of passionate users around the world, TikTok has the ability to maximize fan engagement like never before and extend the experience of Super Bowl Sunday to an everyday occurrence. For the NFL, this could result in an all-important, seamless experience between the old and new generations of sports fans.

Aaron Goldman is chief marketing officer at 4C Insights

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