How the World’s Top Sports Marketers Learned to Love Mobile, Social and Female Fans

Industry's leading execs say rapid evolution is key

The business of professional sports has never been bigger or more complex. Games are seen via multiple media and screens, and are time-shifted. Social and mobile have become first-string players. And sports is the last true collective viewing hearth at scale. Ours is a golden age for the avid sports fan and casual spectator—and a busy and intense inflection point for sports marketing teams.

Four executives stand at the leading edge of this transition. They also happen to be judges for this year’s inaugural Clio Sports Awards, to be presented in New York on July 17. They are Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC); John Miller, CMO of NBC Sports Group; Lisa Baird, CMO of the U.S. Olympic Committee; and Robert Gottlieb, evp, marketing for Fox Sports Media Group.

They took time out from their Clio judging duties in New York last month to talk about the state of sports media and marketing now. Following are some highlights from the roundtable.

Adweek Editorial Director James Cooper: Your audiences are diversifying at a rapid pace, and are digitally sophisticated and highly mobile. How do you keep pace and in touch with them?

John Miller, NBC: Well, they use virtually every device you can because the audience is so diverse and so spread out. And one of the things we’re judging today about the Clio Awards is creativity. To a large degree, there’s a lot of ways you can reach the media and everything else, but still the magic bullet for prime marketing and reaching the American public and getting motivated to do something is a creative message. And everybody here has creativity at the heart of what we do. There’s all sorts of ways to reach people, but a great creative message, wherever it happens to be, is the real stopper and the equalizer.

UFC head Dana White  

Dana White, UFC: Since day one, we’ve been out there, in tune, in touch with our fans, whether it’s social media or whatever platform we’re on. We’re on pay per view, we’re on Fox Sports 1, we have our own over-the-top Internet channel now, UFC Fight Pass, we’re on phones. We are everywhere our fans are. It’s been very interesting and fun and a unique adventure for us over the last 13 years. We’ve kind of run alongside technology as technology gets better. When we first started this thing, our options were pay per view and sometimes television. And now with the Internet and social media, we take advantage of all of it.

Robert Gottlieb, Fox: With the UFC it’s really interesting too because the demographic, your audience is so young and male and probably more tech- and social-savvy than traditional league audiences. So being an early adopter to it made perfect sense. What you were doing, you were way in front of a lot of this stuff with Twitter and live tweeting.

White: Yeah, I was one of the first guys on Twitter. We’re different from all the other leagues. We embraced social media. Our fighters would tweet in between rounds if they could. We would let them do whatever they want with social media. And it’s been very successful for us. There’s been very few problems.

And with the technology, it’s really helped us in our initiative to go global. I mean, our people probably don’t realize this, but we’re in 175 countries and territories in 23 different languages and over 1 billion homes worldwide on television. [Besides] our deal with Fox here in the United States, we have a 50/50 [joint venture] with Globo, the biggest television network in Brazil where we started our own channel down there. We just started UFC Network all throughout Latin America, and we’re continuing. Like I say, as technology gets better and better, we’re running right along with it. And our content is perfect for it.