Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How can brands evolve and forge authenticity with sports fans through, and beyond, the coronavirus pandemic?

By Marvin Neufville, Founder of MNC Sports

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the sports industry, the stay-at-home norm creates a new and interesting sports fan conundrum. Repurposing marketing and sponsorship spend is essential if brands want to remain relevant in this new fast paced world. Digital activation is the mode du jour, with the pandemic driving a viewing evolution from virtual stadiums to player cut outs. Due to the decrease in costs of sponsorship packages, opportunity has arisen with more brands able to enter the equation that may have previously been priced out. Although some brands are experiencing financial difficulty since the pandemic, the new price points are more accommodating and considerate of this.

How can brands engage with fans?

There should be more focus on content away from live match days, such as fly on the wall style content at training grounds, showcasing a day in the life to help fans remain connected to their club and include brand visibility opportunities for partners. Brands should look at maximising input from the club’s players, including utilising their own social media channels. MNC Sports have put great focus on supporting brand clients by researching new opportunities and presenting new workable partnership packages.

A recent sponsorship rights deal between The Energy Check and Millwall FC has evolved due to the impact of COVID, to include brand advertising on the clubs iFollow live streaming service. This was a gesture from the club to compensate for other package assets which were abandoned due to the closure of stadiums impacting club hospitality. Rob Mitchell, Commercial Director at Bournemouth FC completely changed pre-match email comms when the season restarted.

Traditionally our direct communication around a match day was aimed at those coming to the stadium, but now we have opened this up to the wider fan base and included pre-match content and sign posts to where they can watch matches, which has been very well received. We also worked with the broadcasters on the live video fan wall, which showed our fans supporting the team from their homes.

Supporting local initiatives to help local areas and people impacted by COVID has been front of mind. Our charity partner work has continued through the pandemic, more recently also supporting local charities such as Bournemouth Foodbank, who received the matchday food that was no longer needed at the stadium. Due to being unable to provide our community outreach programmes we have taken these digital through downloadable activity packs and videos so that people can still interact with the club from their homes.

Continuing to engage fans should be front of mind for sports broadcasters, rights holders and clubs alike. Streaming behind the scenes content, archived content, classic games, newsworthy content and niche competitions are a strategic way to increase daily sign ups and bolster engagement. Sean Jarvis, Leicestershire Cricket Clubs Chief Executive Officer commented, “Instant gratification will only get bigger and sports clubs have to find ways to provide this. We have had to adapt, and cricket is evolving as a result of the impact of COVID, we are now looking at streaming more and more interaction through social media”.

Virtual technologies will grow in the absence of real sports presence. Immersive technologies could enable fans to experience games live, without having to be physically present ? an idea that once may have been counterintuitive but now seems logical. The role of digitalisation and home viewing will support the transition. There will be innovative ways to have closer brand connections from the start to the end of the fan journey from buying merchandise to social media whether that be live broadcasts on Facebook, Twitch or Periscope to player engagement on Instagram live.

How can brands survive the pandemic?

The breadth of tools available, taking advantage of social and digital channels, will help broaden fan bases for the future and drive much-needed alternative revenue streams. Clubs need to accelerate strategies to diversify their income streams. There are several ways to do this, including:

  • Building bespoke sponsorship packages that suit their needs, the one size fits all club sponsorship approach is no longer relevant
  • Consider using sponsorship specialists who examine the market closely to work on their behalf and negotiate options
  • Create an activation plan and allocate budget to make the most of contract rights, many brands have rights available that are not utilised. Upscale opportunities from the clubs assets such as behind the scenes footage during training, and maximising club players including utilising their own social media channels.

Authentically connecting fans and providing content that they can engage with and experience is essential. The opportunity for sponsors to build a deeper connection with fans is now available via communications and digital efforts. With football stadiums to reopen potentially as early as September and at a reduced capacity, there will be more opportunity to engage with fans that do attend before, during and after the game, potentially through experiential as well as additional stadium branding opportunities. Clubs should incorporate partner branding in new technology where possible such as pre-order food and beverage apps.

Value from partnerships is key, and both sponsors and partners need to openly communicate and continue to find alternative ways to keep fans engaged. It’s all about playing the long game.

Opinion

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