G Srinivvasan, chief of Sporjo, a platform launched to help build careers in the Indian sports industry, writes about the potential of sports as a tool for new-age marketers, in the backdrop of its evolution from just a ‘game’ to a ‘sophisticated data-applied fan-led event’. For a large part of his career, he has worked in sports marketing roles with organisations like Reliance Sports, Indian Super League, Indian Premier League and Nike.
The turn of the century saw the world breathe a sigh of relief from the Y2K scare. Tiger Woods won his first US Open, and Pete Sampras his seventh Wimbledon – a record at the time – while the Olympics found their way back to Australia for just the second time. And elsewhere, India was emerging as a cricket superpower.
In the ensuing 20 years, the genre of sports marketing has undergone a vast change marked by the evolution of media, digital platforms, technology and capturing of data, all of which have had a significant impact on sports. The impact of this has been for the entire ecosystem – on the product, the packaging, broadcast options, fan engagement, gaming, connected stadia, data and analytics – but, most importantly, the marketing to the end consumer.
Evolution of the sports media plan beyond the 30-second ad
There was a time when a marketer’s job would be done the moment an ad went up on TV or got printed in the newspaper. In today’s scenario, a marketer's job has become much more real-time and involves keeping a close watch on the data that helps break down and analyze a brand’s relationship with its fan or consumer. It is a relationship that has to be kept continuous.
Marketing of sports has evolved from 30-second ad spots, full-page ads, radio spots or outdoor advertising to understanding the philosophy of fan culture, building influencer communication through athletes, using key insights and having innovative creative collaborations.
The shift from viewership to engagement
One of the biggest shifts in sports marketing over the years has been the shift of focus from viewership to engagement.
In India, broadcast still commands a large audience, and the price of rights is a testament to that. Marketers continue to look at traditional viewership data they get from a live broadcast as India is still more of an advertiser and not a subscription market. That data still drives marketing budgets across the sporting universe. However, as digital platforms improve, and their ability to capture data at the click level becomes more sophisticated, marketers would need to tweak their strategies accordingly.
Data: the new oil of sports marketing
Fixed duration ads on TV are slowly evolving into content pieces of multiple duration across various platforms. Every like, comment or site visit is closely monitored. Data from these actions is then collected to help sports marketing strategy evolve in real-time.
Technology, for example, can now track how many seconds a brand logo that is placed on the sidelines of a football or basketball game appears on television. This level of minute data both gives the brand the ability to get a bang out of every marketing dollar spent and gives a league or a team the ability to showcase, in very real terms, the value that an association brings.
The single biggest evolution: the birth of the new age data-savvy fan
Sports marketers are also tracking the journey of a consumer going from just being a follower to becoming a fan, and then becoming an avid fan. For example, a Kerala Blasters follower in the Indian Super League will just watch a few matches, a fan would see almost every match and go to a few in the stadium, and an avid fan will know everything about every match, visit the stadium for most games, own merchandise and make the team part of their life. All three will be extremely active on social media, in varying degrees.
The point at which a consumer is on the journey of building a relationship with a sports brand determines the strategy to be applied to effectively market to them.
Marketing guru Philip Kotler had defined the journey of the ‘sports fan’. Here a consumer goes from being indifferent to watching the sports, then buying tickets, collecting merchandise, attaching their identity to the sporting entity, becoming an insider, and then becoming ensnared by their passion for the entity. This is seen clearly with the Mumbai Indians or Chennai Super King teams in the IPL, where the fans went from following key players to become avid fans of the franchise in just 13 years. Thus the potential to leverage the millions of fans in India is unlimited for all IPL teams.
Making sense of the diverse platforms and formats
Even though much in the ecosystem has changed, marketers and media planners ought to remember that the fundamentals have not.
Any marketing plan still needs to answer and set metrics (platform-wise) against three key questions:
- What’s the campaign’s objective?
- What is the campaign’s key message?
- What is the campaign’s desired response?
In addition, sports marketing has an added advantage of having multiple avenues and platforms a brand can associate with.
A brand can choose to associate with a team, an athlete, a league, an event or a federation. The entity chosen would be based on the metrics determined in the three questions above.
Changing face of sponsorship contracts
The diversification of media platforms available and the hyper-targeting that is possible with social media tools has given brand marketers a vast array of options to choose from.
It has also evolved sponsorship contracts, making them more cost-effective and efficient. A brand can choose between having a year-long national campaign with an ambassador athlete, or have the athlete share just a couple of promotional posts on their social media platforms.
Sports marketing has evolved and become more sophisticated, and it is for the brand owners to figure out the extent of their involvement.
G Srinivvasan is the chief executive officer of Sporjo, a new-age platform to help build careers in the Indian sports industry.