On Jan. 27, Comcast’s deal to control 51 percent of NBC Universal finally became a reality. about a week before the deal closed, NBC Universal (NBCU) illustrated how the vast marketing capabilities would be leveraged when it announced the formation of the NBC Sports Agency. The in-house unit will stitch together broad-based, multiplatform marketing campaigns that marry the considerable sports-related assets of NBCU with those of Comcast, including Versus, the Golf Channel, ExerciseTV and more than a dozen regional sports networks.
John Miller, the NBCU executive who has been tapped to build and then run the Sports Agency, says the agency will maximize the potential of new media platforms.
Ron Seaver, the president of the National Sports Forum, an organization that stages pan-league summits and the annual ADchievement Awards, agrees. Seaver believes sports marketers need to engage with their audience in a 360-degree experience that comes before, during and after events. He says today’s technology tools are ideal for doing just that.
“Social and mobile are great ways to get out in front of your audience and stay there,” he says. Many of the large advertisers in the sports-marketing arena— automakers, banks, real estate firms and investment houses—have scaled back on programs. As a result, teams and leagues are looking at new business opportunities that can raise their profile. Case in point: In an unconventional gambit, Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres signed on to sponsor military appreciation activities at a recent Torrey Pines golf tournament. “We have to get away from the same, old way of doing things,” Seaver contends. “That’s not going to cut it anymore.”
Indeed, the entire sponsorship area appears to be showing impressive resiliency, despite the tepid economic turnaround. A report released in January by IEG found that sponsorship spending in 2010 fared better than expected and that 2011 would also be strong. Sports sponsorships, which IEG estimates accounts for 68 percent of all sponsorship spending in North America, generated $11.66 billion in 2010, a 3.4 percent increase over the previous year. This year, spending will rise another 6.1 percent, to $12.38 billion.
Another potentially fertile ground for sports-minded marketers is taking shape on the media side. ESPN continues to expand its offerings. The cable sports channel already has birthed highly targeted online hubs around cities including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York. The network followed that up recently with a novel arrangement with the University of Texas. The 20-year, $300-million initiative, which is expected to launch in September, will cover about 200 sporting events per year as well as a variety of academic and cultural happenings at the Austin school.
Richard Didow, the owner and CEO of Catch the Moment, a Houston-based event marketing firm, says such blockbuster deals enable advertisers to reach their target in unprecedented ways. Didow says new media platforms are integral to marketing success, particularly among tech-savvy younger consumers.
“Anything that allows brands to engage consumers in a meaningful way and then allows them to begin sharing the experience with friends via social networking channels has become paramount to our clients,” he says. “When you consider the role mobile devices play in everyone’s lives, it’s apparent that incorporating another fun way for fans to use their devices and tie that action into your brand is important.”
Likewise, Vince Thompson, president and CEO of Atlanta-based integrated marketing agency MELT, knows about the strength of mobile and social in the sports marketing world. The company has developed innovative campaigns for Coca-Cola, including event marketing programs tied to the NCAA Men’s Final Four.
“Technology allows fans of all generations and ages to follow a favorite sport, team or athlete constantly,” Thompson says. “That high level of communication fuels the fan’s desire to purchase tickets and to consume media at home, on the road or in the stadium or arena. From an advertising and marketing standpoint, that will create more opportunities to customize the consumer experience of the sporting event.”