Over a three-part series, we have been discussing the impact of the coronavirus on the sports industry. Parts one and two in the series explored the impact of the pandemic on rights holders and broadcasters. Now it is time to look at how Covid has impacted sponsors.A big part of sports sponsorship is visibility, helping consumers to continually associate your brand with the sport they are passionate about. The pandemic has completely changed the sporting landscape, with organizations facing disrupted schedules and dealing with the impact of empty stadiums. Following on from this upheaval, how can sponsors engage with fans in new ways and get better value from their sponsorship?Prior to the pandemic, sports teams and federations were typically sponsored by large corporations and luxury brands. Lately, there has been a rise in unconventional sponsorships, such as this hygiene partnership between Dettol and the FA. These types of partnerships create hype around the brands, as well as delivering value to the viewer. This increase in alternative sponsorships mirrors changing consumer habits. Over the coming years, topical sponsorships that respond to current events and the wider concerns of fans, are likely to increase.
There is a difference between brand awareness and brand engagement. Sports fans are exposed to branding multiple times a day through merchandise, advertisements, and products. The goal is to get consumers to really engage with the offerings, which ultimately leads to brand loyalty. Sponsors need to make sure they can leverage both the excitement of matchday and the community surrounding the sport.There is a natural loyalty surrounding sports, and OTT services offer a platform for serious fans. Consolidating content into one place, delivers a premium service to users and enables them to engage with relevant content. An OTT platform allows sponsors to create interactive branded content and connect directly with the consumer.Sports sponsorship positions brands between the fans and the things they love. Creating adverts that don’t feel like adverts, allows the brands to exploit their position to the fullest. There is a strong association between certain brands and sports, i.e. Guinness and Rugby, or Red Bull and Formula One. Leveraging the natural loyalty around sports and exposing the consumer to the brand through partnerships leads to trust. So how can sponsors present their brand in a way that will drive activations and engagement?
An increasing number of sports organizations are moving to their own direct-to-consumer (D2C) video services. According to Mediakind’s 2021 Sports D2C Forecast, D2C is an increasingly important element in rights-holders media strategies. Mediakind analyzed 40 sports rights-holders from around the world and found that most rights-holders now consider it essential to have a direct relationship with their base, beyond an official website. Rights-holders and sponsors are exploiting the benefits of a devoted OTT audience and extracting value from platforms with new activations. This was a trend pre-pandemic but has certainly been accelerated over recent months. OTT services provide a branded hub that enables the user to access a wider variety of features and content in one place. As well as delivering value to the viewer, they also allow organizations to better understand the viewer's behavior. This in turn allows providers to serve more targeted content and ultimately direct sponsorship messages to the most viable consumers for each specific brand.For sponsors, OTT offers a wealth of opportunities to reach fans in one centralized video hub. It is widely recognized that video is the most engaging form of content, in a recent survey, 84% of people said they have been convinced to buy a product or service after watching a brand’s video content. If the sports organization or broadcaster has a video service, then leveraging it allows sponsors to speak directly to a dedicated audience. OTT providers have the data and analytics available to offer sponsors a deeper understanding of how fans are consuming sports content. This allows sponsors to adopt digital strategies and brand activations that lead to more meaningful engagement, enhancing the sports experience for consumers by leveraging new technologies.
The rise of technical innovations positions sponsors to understand their target demographics in more detail and develop content to target them. Utilizing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) generates insights into users’ psychology and viewing habits. AI offers a chance to develop stronger marketing campaigns by boosting interaction, with a tailored consumer experience that leads to higher engagement. Rather than treating all OTT subscribers as one large group, analytics allows sponsors to target the audience segments which are the most relevant to their demographic. There is a huge variation amongst Rugby fans for example, but by analyzing metrics such as the content formats they usually consume, the athletes they favor and the platforms they stream from, sponsors can pinpoint who will respond most favorably to their message. This approach even opens up opportunities to create multiple brand campaigns that are directed at different audiences within the OTT platform.The use of Augmented Reality (AR) delivers further formats to encourage fan engagement and create value through brand interactivity rather than passive consumption. Features can be embedded into OTT solutions, meaning viewers are covertly exposed to sponsors. The creation of branded mini-games offers a higher level of interactivity and prompts fans to spend more time with the sponsor's brand. There is also the potential to develop AR photo filters so users can create their own branded images, such as this solution by Tennesse Titans.
Another way to drive interaction through AR is by offering personalized content. Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) is soon to integrate Accedo’s Sponsor Solution into its recently launched OTT video service, HKRU TV, which will enable users to immerse themselves deeper into the clubs’ content offerings and expose them to leading sponsors.As live sports begin to take place again, sponsors need to continue to adopt ever changing technologies. Working closely with content providers and rights holders to analyze data, sponsors can create relevant content that encourages interaction. The pandemic has shifted the focus from typical sports sponsors and opens doors for alternative brands to captivate new demographics. The sports industry is changing and bringing new opportunities to immerse sports fans into the action. By providing fans with a tailored experience, sponsors can ensure they feel valued, leading to better engagement and long-term brand loyalty.