The best way followers take pleasure in sport is altering—right here’s how Fb may also help manufacturers hold tempo in 2021
It’s time to start a new evolution in sports sponsorship. We talk to industry leaders about the future of online content – and what brands can do now to move forward.
“Sponsorship has traditionally always been a good friend of the sport,” says Jerry Newman, director of EMEA sports partnerships on Facebook.
From the logos on soccer jerseys to the names of professional cycling teams, brands have long tried to harness the passion of fans.
Now, with fan communities going online and COVID-19 accelerating the move to digital media, sponsorship opportunities are developing rapidly – into a new age of bespoke content and agile, trackable campaigns.
In a year of disorder, sport has made an important contribution to the well-being of many people.
Cheers from home
Laura Williamson is senior editor on the subscription sports website The Athletic – a role that has given her an in-depth look at the way fan habits have changed in recent years.
“There was a shift towards ‘second showing,'” says Williamson. The fans watch a game on TV and at the same time follow the reporting on their mobile phones or get in touch with fan communities on social media.
“Ten years ago people might go to the pub to watch football. Now the joy of being involved in a community has gone online – and COVID-19 has only accelerated this. “
Mollie Pearse is the Marketing Director at Facebook EMEA and a competitive triathlete. In the last period of the disruption, she has also recognized the power of online platforms.
“In a year of uncertainty, digital platforms and the tech industry have helped bring the sport to us.”
Engaging with sports communities and online content has become an important part of the fan experience.
Newman has found brands are becoming more inventive when it comes to harnessing fan passion through their devices.
“We started seeing co-authored content with a narrative that was relevant not only to the brand but also to the club,” he says.
This means that campaigns that, for example, give fans a look behind the scenes of their favorite players.
Products like Instagram Reels, which sponsors can use to create short, playful videos of athletes, are perfect for this type of content.
For Williamson – who believes that sports fans have a higher thirst for knowledge than is often attributed to them – the key question is, “Will this media tell them something they don’t know?”
Mobile content can help sports fans look behind the scenes.
Exciting and authentic
Newman gives an example of a recent partnership between Chelsea Football Club and Beats by Dre headphones.
“They ran a campaign with one of their youngest players, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and their first black player, Paul Canoville, and had an interview about what it was like to be a black professional footballer at two different times.”
For Newman, the partnership demonstrated the power of an authentic connection.
“Beats were willing to sacrifice the classic,“ This is the product and why you should buy it ”to instead cover a major issue in sports. It felt more like the sponsor was contributing to a real partnership. “
“Brand content must have an affinity. If not, fans on the platform will not respond. “
Branded content must have an affinity
It’s not just the tone of the partnerships that changes.
Sports sponsorship traditionally follows a media law cycle. In the English Premier League, for example, many title sponsors would work on a three-year contract.
Now, Newman says, the dynamics of platforms like Facebook are messing things up.
As brands can quickly assess performance, sponsors are increasingly interested in shorter campaigns.
“Publishers are now realizing that there are different types of sponsorship, and the tools on platforms like Facebook allow them to track additional revenue from new ’boutique’ sponsorship deals – which they don’t think can exploit their main partnerships.”
Fans can increasingly exchange ideas with their favorite athletes on the go.
“We’re seeing a path from brand activation to conversion using the tracking pixels available through Facebook’s Insight tools,” he adds.
This type of insight enables brands to not only see how their sponsorship affects things like brand sentiment, but also to keep track of what that means for sales.
Prepare for 2021 – and beyond
This type of sponsorship could be particularly useful at events like the European Championship where footballers play for their national teams rather than the clubs that many brands have sponsorship deals with and the newly scheduled 2021 Olympics.
At these events, tools that allow brands to track sales down to the level of a specific post by a specific athlete will play a vital role.
“To get confirmation from an athlete and then say, How many boots have I sold? How many leads will this campaign generate? “
“I think this will change the structure of the sponsorship,” says Newman.
While the future of in-person sporting events is uncertain, online spaces will continue to provide a place for the excitement of fans.
“The sports calendar for next year (and beyond) is filling up again with or without fans in a physical sense,” says Pearse. “At Facebook, we’re passionate about working with brands to ensure they continue to capture the hearts and minds of their customers and fans.”
In any case, online platforms will continue to be an opportunity for sponsors.
“We don’t know when the stadiums will be fully open to fans again,” said Pearse. “In the meantime, our digital stadium is very open.”