Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The power of sport and fandom in today’s digital world 

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By Amelia Dabell, Digital Planning Director, Fuse

For decades, sport has been an enticing proposition for brands to align themselves with – delivering against traditional sponsorship metrics and providing a sure-fire way to reach highly engaged audiences.

However, as the world continues to evolve digitally, so too, do contemporary fan behaviours and the digital channels in which these are expressed. Rights holders are only now beginning to get to grips with the evolving demands of this and sports marketing is a territory that no longer delivers solely on long-term brand awareness and TV driven ROI. The continued digitisation of the sport industry, combined with its power to command attention and drive fan engagement, has unlocked compelling, rich brand opportunities.

The pandemic accelerated and catalysed many media behaviours; people had more time on their hands for media, but increasingly, we saw communities and fans immerse themselves more fully in the content they love, and even creating their own content. Platforms like TikTok are at the heart of this shift and prove that creativity and the ability to go viral can literally come from anywhere (and go anywhere).

This shift in behaviour, in the context of sport, means that we’ve transitioned from seeing big brand moments in linear, to a world where users can experience and engage with their favourite player or team whenever they want. Whether it’s watching behind the scenes content on TikTok, a livestream on Twitch, or daily highlights via – the opportunity to engage with sport is more abundant than ever.

The ubiquitous nature of modern fandom has given brands that partner with sport properties considerable additional exposure – albeit often incremental – that sits outside the traditional rights package value. A good example of this is Trivago, Chelsea’s current training partner – including rights such as front of training shirt sponsorship.

They’ve seen their branding featured in behind-the-scenes pieces of content, which now – thanks to today’s highly discoverable and creator-led social algorithms – are reused, and edited into numerous multi-platform reels, streams, and polls for fans to view and engage with. They’ve gained exposure in some of Chelsea’s other partners advertising content too, where players are featured in the Trivago training gear – Yokohama and UEFA being recent examples of this. Within this context, brands should reap lucrative returns, well beyond what would be initially expected.

As consumers demonstrate greater autonomy over the content they watch, engage with and create, we’ve seen a shift in behavioural patterns; away from passive media consumption and towards active participation. Brands need to ensure that their strategies are aligned to react to this transition. This can be tricky to navigate whilst maintaining authenticity and fluidity within their campaigns.

However, viewing this shift through the lens of sport, the strategy is much easier to adopt as it provides an environment that is participatory by nature. Sport organisations have already started to bring the energy, immediacy, and excitement of in-person experiences to the digital realm, aiding the fan experience and encouraging participation. There’s been a surge in livestreaming via social platforms, either of the matches themselves for partners that have the broadcast rights, the pre and post interviews or behind-the-scenes content.

This isn’t always necessarily informative but often entertaining. In fact, one of the primary reasons F1 driver Lando Norris has attracted such a large following can be accredited to his streaming success on Twitch in addition to his generally strong media presence. Beyond streaming, City Football Group are in the process of building a virtual reality version of their Etihad Stadium -enabling fans to see the action and be part of it through an alternative manner.

The final exciting proposition for brands in my view are the advanced capabilities of social commerce in which brands are able to drive fan participation and deliver tangible revenue through product sales. Whether executed in-feed, through livestreams, or AR – the appetite and excitement of sport fans fuels the scarcity and desirability needed to make this strategy a success.

There is no better illustration of this than Nike’s Air Jordan’s selling out in 23 minutes via an exclusive Snap code at an NBA game. When 5G becomes commonplace Globally and immersive tech becomes more accessible and affordable, we’ll see this space really take off, with more brands creating fully immersive campaigns to great effect and success.

Many of these innovative propositions and strategic shifts illustrate that sport as a marketing proposition no longer delivers solely on long-term brand awareness and broadcast-driven ROI. Our goal at Fuse is to modernise the offering of sports sponsorship within the modern-day marketing mix alongside demonstrating that the digitisation of the industry is a watershed moment within advertising. Sport organisations are quickly advancing their capabilities which in turn, enables short term offerings without the overheads of long-term deals.

When pairing their unrivalled digital scale and engagement with sophisticated planning and AdTech, it will result in a compelling and rich opportunity for brands to deliver successful and exciting campaigns across the marketing funnel that compete with and outperform those executed traditionally.