For many of us, sport is a much-needed divergence from our daily lives. Historically, when the economy was down or when you were experiencing life’s daily discord, sports was a welcome aberration for the mind. As a fan, you could always count on your favorite team taking the field or court a certain time of year. Sports were an enjoyable form of escapism that rarely let you down—until Covid-19.
Much like the fans, sports marketers have counted on the industry to never cease. When the NBA announced it would postpone its season in March 2020, other sports—from youth clubs to the NCAA to professional teams around the globe—quickly followed suit. For the first time in modern history, sports marketers were faced with challenges they never thought they’d see: nothing to market.
Though some sports have slowly begun to roll out modified seasons without fans, sports marketers must get creative when delivering the fan experience in this new unpredictable future that lacks traditional ticketing and television revenue streams.
Pivot from traditional to social
Ticket sales for sporting events, which historically represent a large portion of the revenue for sports organizations, are less reliable than they’ve ever been. Sports marketers have unique opportunities to shift ticket focus to their fan’s social networks in order to build a more global community around their brands by creating exclusive digital content and selling tickets to it. In the college ranks, Wake Forest University Athletics recently introduced a virtual ticket experience for their football program that will offer fans an exclusive look into the program by providing proprietary video, live features, photos and written content.
Growing an organization’s digital brand should become a priority indefinitely. With the potential transition to a permanent remote or onsite hybrid workforce in addition to many fans being furloughed or out of work, sports consumer habits are quickly changing, including cutting nonessentials from household budgets like season tickets or paid entertainment and a hesitancy to integrate with large crowds in stadiums.
Create additional revenue streams
Sports organizations typically hire top-notch marketers, coaches, physicians, dietitians and other high-value professionals to service their teams. Instead of keeping the knowledge base of these professionals internal, they could further utilize the talent to create consumer-facing brands and products. Chelsea Digital Ventures, the digital-first consumer product business of Chelsea Football Club, recently launched a nutrition brand paired with a digital service. The club leveraged its athletes, nutritionists and coaches to test and then launch Blue Fuel, their first consumer product, into the market. Sports organizations should take advantage of their unique brand power and internal expertise to capitalize on additional consumer opportunities.
In recent years, we’ve also seen other sports organizations create tech startup incubators, providing venture investment for new products and services benefiting the sports business in general, not just their teams. Owners and sports organizations may double-down on these investment opportunities, like the Sixers Innovation Lab.
Tap into nostalgia
Though live sports have been slowly returning in different forms, fans have still been hungry for content. We’ve seen more athletes recognizing the entertainment value their personal brands have as they engage on TikTok, Instagram Live or podcasts. Sporting organizations must also realize this potential for content opportunities outside the field of play.
How can this be done without live sports? Nostalgia presents a great avenue for creating new content around old events. #LionsReplay was an activation where the team asked NFL fans to watch a past game together with them on YouTube while the marketing team engaged fans on Twitter with live interviews, score graphics and a post-game show. They also secured a unique sponsorship for the Twitter activation with Bud Light Seltzer.
Think entertainment first
Sports marketers need to compete for eyeballs within the sports landscape and on platforms like Fortnite, Netflix and YouTube. The Spanish athletics club and world-famous FC Barcelona soccer team, which has 350 million online followers, announced their plan to partner with Sony Music to integrate original animated content for children into their sports marketing strategies. Their production arm, Barça Studios, will launch a new online television show for kids called Talent Explorers, expected in 2021. Along with the recent launch of streaming service Barca TV+, the club has pivoted its strategy to generate new revenue through nontraditional sports marketing methods while also building a loyal brand following from children to adults alike.
Sports organizations and brands that have access to top talent, business resources and athletes should pursue original content creation as a viable part of their marketing strategy to build brand equity with digital savvy fans in this new Covid-19 era of existence. Fortunately, sports will never subside entirely, but sports marketers will need to rethink what the relationship with sports fans looks like as we move forward in the new world of digital-first—and sometimes only—interaction.