Sports marketing – playing to win

As traditional broadcasting media reach fewer and fewer consumers, brands and business are turning to alternative avenues to engage with consumers.  One of the areas with a significant rise in expenditure over the past 10-years has been sports marketing.

This trend was accelerated in the UK by London 2012 when businesses began to understand the value of interacting with the engaged consumers that follow sports.  No longer the “choice of the Chairman”, sports marketing has moved from an art to a science.  Brands, big and small, are now targeting consumers based upon the sports activities they follow and/or are active in.

Take cycling for example.  Department of Transport figures show cycling was less popular ten years ago, now thanks in part to the boom started at the Beijing Olympics and carried through London 2012 we have more opportunities with bicycle related sports marketing than perhaps ever before.

This year alone sports marketing opportunities ranged from the 2014 Tour de France that started in the UK, but also Barclays’ bikes in London and other local communities, there are also numerous cycling events throughout the country delivering a consumer audience as well as active participants that can engage with your brand or business.  British cycling membership has swelled to its highest level since the group was formed in 1959.  One stimulus has been an increase in various bike schemes within many UK companies’ benefits packages. This in turn has led to an increase in local bike rides as cited by the department of transport, many looking for sponsors, to satisfy the needs of burgeoning cyclists.

Perhaps the best attribute of sports marketing is that it’s really scalable.  Our most infamous UK-centric platform, The English Premier League now appeals to bigger, more international firms, but smart teams have also carved out a space for multiple local/national companies to provide greater connectivity to their avid fan base.

It’s the fan base that is really driving the growth in sports marketing.  With increased fragmentation of mainstream media, Sports is the final bastion that still has both a large TV and live audience making it very attractive to the brands and their business.

But how can a company get involved and make sure its investment is providing value for money?  Here are some top tips for companies of any size;

1. Start with your goals. What are you trying to achieve? (e.g. awareness, internal motivation, sales)

2. Understand what your budget limits are and don’t get caught up in the negotiations which is often compared to buying a used car

3. Never, ever forget to budget adequate funds to get the partnership off the ground and into the word of your target audience.  The quickest way to kill any sports marketing investment is to not support it properly.

Point three about activation is probably the difference maker between long-term successful sports sponsorships and short-term “tactical sports buys.”  The costs of sponsorships vary widely (e.g. Olympics versus local youth team) and there is no industry standard about how much to spend on sponsorship activation.  So my rule of thumb is to spend what you can to make the investment successful – just as you would with any other business investment.  Often “creative conversion” is something you will see many big companies do whereby they insert their sponsorship investment into existing plans for creative work throughout the year.  Sometimes this is overt like Nissan’s airport advertising with Usain Bolt and sometimes it is more covert like Mercedes TV ads with a hint of their F1 program.

It’s important to remember the reason there has been substantive growth in sports marketing spending worldwide is because it works.  It can also work for you if you take the time to pre-define your objectives and then deliver continually against those at every opportunity.