Social Sharing Has Become the Biggest Thing in Sports Marketing

Will digitally connected game experiences be next?

Sports sponsorship is big business. The cash investment —before a brand even activates the sponsorship—is under more scrutiny than ever in corporate boardrooms as shareholders look to drive sales through these partnerships. The aggressive demand for accountability is on the rise.

Illustration: Gluekit

What most brands and agencies don’t know, or don’t act on, is that sponsorship is a new game now, one most are playing by old rules. If you are still slapping logos on stadium signage and hoping that counts as “unique impressions,” you’ve got a problem.

This isn’t unique to sports. In many areas of marketing, people are keeping score using old point systems. But for sports, the new ROI is not getting the most media for your money. The real priority for brands should be engaging fan participation in their sponsorships by creating ownable, measurable experiences. And the technology that exists today means we have no excuse not to live up to that ambition.

In fact, the trend just waiting to be explored is digitally connected experiences at sports events. Shares, Likes and experience measurement are the new sponsorship currency and priority for brands and fans.

So from the perspective of fans looking to get closer to what they love and from the viewpoint of brands under pressure to justify their multimillion-dollar spends with something beyond an impressions figure, what will these new experiences look like?

The new lightning in a bottle for sports sponsorship is harnessing technology that can track each fan’s engagement through the course of activation. From RFID (radio-frequency identification) wristbands to QR codes on bracelets, to Facebook logins that capture fan data, brands need to know the whole story. And the cool part is that the means to connect those dots is actually here.

We’re seeing high-profile examples of early traction, and, no surprise, Nike is at the forefront. Recently the brand used QR-code wristbands to track fan engagement at its digital pre-World Cup soccer experience in New York. Through its technology, Nike captures data about every single attendee to the soccer experience and can market thoughtfully to attendees, post-experience.

Likewise, Verizon leveraged fan data during this past Super Bowl, sponsoring the Fan Zone on Super Bowl Boulevard. Touting its NFL Now streaming app, Verizon personalized each fan’s interests: fans indicated their favorite team, fantasy players and which videos they like/dislike. Content then dynamically personalized each user’s experience with news, analysis and highlights. Verizon got it right—harnessing the data narrative of every single point of the consumer experience in an effort to give fans the ultimate experience.

Want to elevate your sponsorships, experience and sales? Here’s a new playbook to consider.

The old model prioritized scaled reach and “eyeballs,” with consumer value as a by-product. But consumer value is the priority, so start there and see how your sponsorship can provide it at scale. People and their behaviors are more sophisticated than ever, but that’s an amazing challenge. Make it your goal to improve the attendee experience. Give personal memories instead of mass messaging.

Also be actively respectful of fans and their space. This ushers in a whole new world of uncharted territory for sports marketers, regarding privacy. Do fans feel like Big Brother is watching? Revisit privacy policies. Actively tackle these elephants, instead of relying on assumptions.

It is also key to remember that mass exposure isn’t your goal anymore, but mass engagement might be. Determine the few, important goals you want to achieve; decide how you expect success to look; and measure specifically for that success.

Finally, explore technology opportunities through the lens of whether they measure your new goals and desired fan behaviors; whether people will enjoy interacting with them; and whether they will give brands the full fan storyline, to inspire better work down the road. It’s not tech for the sake of tech; it’s about understanding a story, then making it better.

If you’re a brand, get excited about the answers and results you’ve always wanted from your sponsorships. If you’re a fan, get ready to enjoy sports more—on your terms. Game on.

Hallie Johnston (@halliemass) is vp, group account director of sports sponsorships at Momentum Worldwide.