2019 Will See a Change in How Sports Are Processed Over Social Media

Opportunities for engagement are seemingly limitless

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This past year in the world of sports has been full of new advancements, conversations and controversies on social media.

Through social sponsorship, brands moved into the forefront and commanded the narrative on social media during major moments, from Coca-Cola capitalizing on the Boston Red Sox’s triumph in the World Series to Fortnite launching a partnership with the NFL. Data privacy became an everyday conversation topic as the Cambridge Analytica story brought the topic to the front page. Esports continued to emerge as a powerful new vertical for branded activations, with new streaming stars and grander arenas for competitions seemingly popping up overnight. And that’s just scratching the surface.

As social media and the way we use it continues to evolve, it’s important to stay on the pulse of what’s to come and prepare for the trends that will define the next year. Reading the tea leaves based on conversations we’ve heard this year with key decision-makers in sports and entertainment, here are predictions for sports marketing and sponsorship on social media in 2019.

Incentivizing teams and leagues for high-engagement activation

Brands and properties (teams and leagues) are quickly realizing that the old ways of measuring their sponsorship investments like impressions and logo placements simply don’t add up in a digital-first world. That’s why more brands will adopt incentive-based sponsorship models. These deals will include a base compensation package for the team or league paired with different tiers of rewards that are triggered by activation performance metrics.

Now it’s time for brands to dive fully in and take advantage of the sky-high levels of engagement in the space.

Properties can no longer simply slap their partners’ logo on social posts in order to fulfill their sponsorship requirement. This new model encourages creativity and requires verified measurement to ensure activations drive engagement and meaningful results for all involved.

Social media will move into the forefront of sponsorship deals

Social media will move into focus for all sponsorship deals as a far more impactful way to generate value for a brand outside of an event. With the leagues’ vast social footprints and the cost to boost a sponsored social campaign being widely underpriced, there’s plenty of valuable opportunities to create a successful branded social campaign.

Since the start of 2017, entities from the big five U.S. sports leagues (MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, NHL) and NASCAR have posted more than 6.3 million social posts, resulting in 16.7 billion engagements. Brands realized the opportunity before them and are now more involved than ever. In the last two years, 19 percent of those 6.3 million posts were branded posts, resulting in over $2.1billion in attributed value generated for the brands featured in the content.

Facebook and Instagram will emphasize data security

After Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s late September 2018 security breach, social media giants will continue to place importance on elevating data security. This means that they will be scrutinizing and evaluating third-party data providers on a stricter scale, tightening their grip on users’ data to distance themselves from privacy concerns. Only a small handful of trusted partners will be approved to weed out players that abuse and misuse the data. The barrier for entry for leveraging Facebook’s and other social platforms’ data will only increase, leaving behind an elevated group of vetted and approved third-party data providers.

Brands will focus on creating intentional posts

While some traditional sponsorship activations can be seen in the background of social posts, brands are beginning to seek more strategic, intentional logo placements and mentions in social campaigns. There is a huge difference in the amount of value generated for a brand when a logo is picked up in the background of a social post compared to a creative campaign that drives fan engagement around the brand. Brands value this incidental pick up of their logo in a social post far less than intentional branded posts with meaningful engagement.

Different campaign types leveraging the moments in sports, including branded game score posts, starting line-up announcements and play-of-the-game highlights, will become more prevalent in 2019. Rate cards will reflect a higher price for such highly engaging content as properties explore new ways to drive value for brands in an authentic way.

TV viewership will continue to decline

In recent years, sports media has seen a decline in viewership on television and other traditional viewing channels, especially amongst younger audiences, which is causing leagues to leverage OTT media services like social to stream exclusive content. As a result, OTT has moved into the forefront as teams and leagues search for new ways to distribute existing and new content directly to their audiences. Look for properties to shift their focus to releasing exclusive, long-form content on these channels as the properties become much more content centric in 2019. They will heavily invest in content producers to create original content for these channels and leverage their reach to attract new audiences for their brands.

Esports will continue to grow as more brands invest in sponsorship deals

The esports industry has evolved with a lot of curiosity and skepticism from major brands in its infancy, but the time has come for brands to fully capitalize on this highly engaged audience.

In 2017–18, many brands were testing the waters, trying to find out how to work with esports gamers and streamers, publishers and events. Now it’s time for brands to dive fully in and take advantage of the sky-high levels of engagement in the space. Streaming stars and the esports leagues and teams will see more of these eye-popping numbers through sponsorships in the year to come as the industry leverages third-party measurement to highlight the attention they have captured from their audience. In several cases, this level of attention is overshadowing the engagements other sports are seeing across social media platforms.

As the year progresses, we’ll see which of these predictions come true. One thing is certain, though: The brands and properties that are most prepared to adapt to these trends and the evolving social media landscape will be the ones that win in the upcoming year.