rEvolution Looks to Add Sports Sponsors to the Social Conversation

Throughout the 2013 US Open, social media numbers surrounding the event spiked with 1,198,675 posts and 274,076 conversations talking tennis. Even with all that fan engagement, however, it was the event’s sponsors who felt left off the court, with only 7-percent of users even mentioning a single company forking over the big bucks to have their brand associated with the championship tournament.

This is exactly what marketing powerhouse rEvolution hopes to change, as they are launching a new Social Assist program, powered by Tracx, in order to help sponsors be included in the sports conversation without force-feeding Tweets or interfering on the fan experience.

“We understand that most of the brands that are capable of sponsoring sports have pretty deep community management teams, but what we found is that nobody was going down to the micro level to really engage people around what’s really a passion point for them –- their favorite team, their favorite athlete, their favorite sport –- so it was a natural for us to reach in and take what we know about good sponsorship and the rewards that we know come of that for good brands, and try to help these brands become more relevant in the conversations happening around that sport,” says Kent Thomas, Sr. Vice President, Business Intelligence, Consulting for rEvolution. “Most sponsors are taking the check-the-box approach, where their rights holder deal gives them ten social media mentions a month, and as long as they get those, they can go to their CMO that everything is great. But we know that’s not great engagement and can really put a rift between the brand and the audience of the thing that they love because these people are really into the minute details of what’s going on with their favorite teams and favorite players.”

To Thomas, the goal is for the brands to become enhancers of the conversation, and not intruders.

“Our tribal reward theory is that if you enhance the experience for the tribe who loves that thing the brand sponsors, and you can enhance their experience, then they’re more likely to reward you with their business,” adds Thomas. “Give that tribe something that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s about making that brand’s voice relevant in social media conversations, and driving campaigns that get people talking about your brand.

“We’ve been doing a lot of analysis about sports fans, really cataloging the behavior to find out what gets sports fans talking, and how sports fans from tennis to golf to the NBA to European soccer differ. What gets them talking? What drives the conversation? There’s a major auto brand that we work with who sponsors Major League Baseball and they also sponsor a number of teams, so we looked at the content surrounding them and helped them focus more on, instead of being all things to everyone at the top of the funnel, move down and really just engage the people who are in-market buyers who are fans of Major League Baseball. A lot of what we’ve been studying is not only what gets people talking, but where their loyalties lie, and not surprising, it’s things that they really like and things that they don’t really like. We’ve actually had to work with out clients not to shun any negative conversations around a sports or an athlete, but to be a thoughtful participant in those conversations.”

So while “A-Rod’s a fraud, buy a Toyota,” might never happen, it’s closer to what rEvolution is after than just aimlessly tweeting out sponsor deals during a game.

Says Thomas: “If you’re always trying to play the middle and play it safe, that’s when your brand is overlooked.

“When we looked at the NBA Finals, most of the conversation surrounded LeBron James. He has a pretty split tribe, and the people who feel negatively about him, might even outweigh the positive, but what we found that might be useful to brands is that if a brand initiated a hashtag campaign around LeBron and they were thoughtful with the way they handled it and were topical to the conversation, what we found was all of the negative posters disappeared. That was a very telling moment for us because we’re in the business of consulting on the broader sponsorship. We don’t want our clients just to be wallpaper in the background. Social media is a way that a lot of people can share their opinions very quickly, and that bodes very well for what sports can be. The challenge is, you have to be on top of it. We’re here to be the eyes and ears from the tribe to the sponsors, helping these brands get in the conversation the right way.”