What's a sports marketer to do when there is no sport?
It’s April. In football parlance, this is when the ‘business end’ of the season really begins: title-deciding matches, relegation battle ‘six-pointers’, the race for a lucrative top-four place or promotion - not to mention those thrilling cup games that sometimes go to extra time and even penalties.
How Budweiser has shifted focus from sports sponsorship to aiding the coronavirus pandemic
But, to borrow a phrase from your inbox, these are strange, uncertain times. Our usual springtime football lexicon has made way for talk of flattening curves, self-isolation, and social distancing. Football and sport have rightly ground to a halt, but this has left thousands working in the sector in a strange limbo.
As head of football content and strategy for Budweiser, I was getting ready for some exciting end-of-season activations around our partnerships with the Premier League and the Spanish top-flight - La Liga.
Since last summer we have been celebrating the Kings of Football by quizzing Goal of the Month winners, crowning our ‘King of the Match’ in every single English and Spanish top-flight game, pairing footballers with fashion designers to create unique collaborations and delving deeper into the journeys of icons such as Sergio Ramos.
But amid the biggest global public health crisis in living memory, it has been absolutely right for Budweiser and our parent company Anheuser-Busch-InBev (ABI) to shift its focus.
At a time when staying home is vital, what do you do when your company revolves around bringing people together, in pubs, restaurants, and bars? We are being encouraged to think creatively about helping people get through this.
For ABI’s marketing teams across the world, we have diverted our resources to addressing a number of issues where we can make some difference.
In the US, for example, we are the biggest sponsor of the sport. As such, we are redirecting $5m of sports and entertainment partnership investments into donating to the American Red Cross and hosting blood drives in stadiums.
Across Europe, we have donated and distributed 50,000 litres of disinfectant and 26,000 bottles of hand sanitiser made from the surplus alcohol which derives from brewing non-alcoholic beers, to hospitals. Similar initiatives are happening in 29 countries across the globe.
Meanwhile here in the UK, we are proud to have launched the Save Pub Life initiative, which gives pub-goers the opportunity to help their local through purchasing a gift card. We match the value of that voucher and the revenue goes to the pub within a fortnight.
I’m now looking at how I can leverage my relationships in football to amplify this and ensure that those pubs beloved by match-going supporters are not left behind.
For draftLine, ABI’s in-house agency, being able to work on purpose-driven initiatives and play our part (however small) in helping people through these times, has kept us focused and driven.
But sport can certainly be a balm for people during these times and sporting nostalgia is as good as it always was.
I myself have gorged on sports documentaries (a big shout out to BT Sport 2 and its relentless schedule of ESPN 30 for 30 docs). My Fifa 20 skills might also be as good as they have ever been, although my 11-year-old son regularly beats me these days.
Between honing my gaming skills and laughing at memes about that oddly-compelling Tiger King show, I have been eagerly watching how football clubs and publishers have shifted their strategies at this time.
Many clubs have raided their vaults and streamed some of their most memorable wins ‘as live’. Others are helping fans feel closer to the players by running live Q&As across different platforms. For publishers and content creators in the sector, the opportunity to feed football-starved audiences is huge.
Writing about footballers taking TikTok challenges and endless transfer speculation will only get you so far. The best publishers are keeping readers engaged by launching strong appointment-view content.
Take for example The Guardian’s daily My Favourite Game series, in which its football writers pick out a match they will never forget. 433, which has a huge, engaged audience of football fans have launched ‘Plan B’ - a FIFA20 tournament with 32 players from 32 nations taking each other on.
Even though we have paused our football output on @BudFootball, I’m in regular contact with colleagues at the Premier League and La Liga, and we are sharing initiatives and learnings.
We’ve also begun planning our global campaign for season 2 of our Premier League and La Liga partnerships, which for Budweiser will be bigger and better.
While 99% of sport is on a hiatus, the challenge on the horizon is clear.
Get ready for the biggest celebration of humanity we have seen since the end of World War 2. Sport is already steeped in symbolism and emotion and will be a powerful beacon and confirmation that society has bounced back! Think about how you will feel when the referee blows their whistle to herald the return of our beloved football? I myself will never take for granted being able to take my son to Anfield, or indeed, a day in the sun at the Oval or a balmy evening at Wimbledon.
Such moments and experiences are indelibly linked to our cultural identity and when these strange, uncertain times make way for good times, sports marketers will be doing everything we can to make sure our brands are at the heart of a celebration like no other.
Amar Singh is head of football content & strategy for Budweiser. He tweets on @amarjourno