How Sports Marketers Can Fix Fan Fragmentation

Brands need to digitally complement game-day spots and sponsorships with context-specific conversations

Sports fans are no longer just passive spectators watching the game at home or in a stadium or sports bar—they’re watching augmented live streams, interacting with their fantasy teams and checking for the latest memes on social media.

Nielsen research suggests that 41% of fans watch at least some sporting events via OTT/streaming channels, but nearly half of them also turn on traditional TV at the same time. This “multiscreening” has risen 5% annually and 10% among Gen Z audiences—and brands need to respectively shift their sports-based strategies.

Traditional 30-second TV spots or league sponsorships need to be intimately tied to robust digital strategies that put fan identity front and center. By better understanding the fan and when and where they engage, brands can build holistic experiences that nurture the fan relationship across sports and seasons.

Update the conversation

The outdated concept of last-touch attribution still drives an alarming amount of sports marketing strategies. That means, even if you’re a Las Vegas Raiders fan, but buy a Buffalo Bills jersey for your sister-in-law, marketing and ad-tech platforms assume you’re a Bills fan. You might encounter duplicate offers or continue receiving a promotion long after you have already made a purchase, due to the lack of cross-channel communication and attribution.

The deprecation of the third-party cookie has started to drive the adoption of universal IDs—the identifiers that recognize the same user whether they’re in an app, on the web or watching streaming on CTV. These new identity markers offer the opportunity to start building out full fan profiles, which not only give more insight into what content a fan likes to engage with, but also the context where they’re currently engaging.

For instance, if you know a fan has the game streaming on the TV, but they’re interacting with their phone, you can deliver more precise or complementary messaging that doesn’t distract from their enjoyment of the game. 

By adopting these identity solutions, brands can storyboard an authentic fan journey, reaching them with specific messages throughout the season, without losing the context of when and where they’re interacting. These tools also let brands and teams finally fully understand the lifetime value of the fan across platforms (as opposed to siloed analytics), which allows spend to be managed more accurately and deployed more strategically.

Start with a session mentality

Just as ChatGPT has changed how people interact with the world’s information by providing a session layer that remembers the context that you’ve already asked, marketing and advertising platforms will follow suit, maintaining a session about everything brands already know about their specific fans across platforms.

That way, when you go to buy the Bills jersey, the platforms already know that you’ve had 200 more interactions with Raiders tickets, content and retail sites. Brands will know that they should keep their spend focused around Raiders events and personalized creative, rather than suddenly targeting you with information and ads you will never or rarely interact with.

This results in the relationship feeling more like a bidirectional conversation between brand and fan, as opposed to a one-way megaphone where the brand loses all context of previous conversations or interactions.

Give the fans control

Building on that trust, these frameworks are now built on the users’ consent and privacy. Before, marketers were guessing at a fan’s preferences behind the scenes and anonymously targeting with third-party cookies. Today, consent frameworks allow fans to opt in or opt out when they don’t want to be marketed to by a particular brand or team any longer.

When fans have more control over their own data and preferences, they also tend to be willing to share more information to get more personalized offers and be a part of the brand journey, rather than set apart from it. The large language models that are used to drive ChatGPT and other AI tools should be applied to your CRM, giving you the ability to understand individual fans and their preferences and behaviors across platforms and initiate relevant conversations that both sides benefit from. Giving the die-hard sports fan exclusive offers that wouldn’t be available to the casual fan can build loyalty and help the fan feel like they’re actually being heard.

By adopting a fan-first mentality and driving new technologies to curate authentic season-long experiences, marketers can build the loyal relationships that sports fans are best known for.

Manny Puentes is GM of Advertising at Genius Sports and a board member at the IAB Tech Lab. Previously, Manny served as CTO of MediaMath and is an advertising veteran who has built programmatic product portfolios for more than 25 years.