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Sports Marketing Partnerships are Changing

Aliyah Mallak Jul. 2, 2020

The lack of live sporting events since the COVID pandemic hit has been nothing short of heartbreaking for millions of fans across the globe.

At their core, sports and entertainment events create emotion-evoking and passion-filled moments that are embraced by millions across the globe. The void in these moments that the pandemic has created, has fans on the edge of their seats, waiting for the day they can finally tune-in again. And has the sports leagues and their sponsors waiting in anticipation as well.

Cancellations and postponements of events and entire seasons have forced leagues to reimagine the entire experience of both playing and viewing sports. While major sporting events are slowly returning and will ultimately thrive again, it's still too soon to know what tactics will be effective in connecting audiences with their beloved teams and athletes, and how a “new normal” will reshape the marketing dollars that teams and brands depend on to connect with their high-value audiences.

While reimagining how the remaining 2020 sports seasons will proceed and how fans can interact with their teams, leagues and players have strived to keep the attention of fans and connect with them through other means. For example, the NBA was an early adopter of Esports which allows players to “conclude” their 2019/2020 season by competing on NBA 2K20, as well as raises money for those affected by COVID. Now that most states are reopening, the NBA has officially announced that the rest of the season will take place in ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida sans live fans. Practices will resume at the beginning of July, with the season lasting no later than mid-October.

Fans will tune-in to watch games, likely in greater numbers than ever before, and viewing behavior will actualize the start of its own coronation.

The nuances of the in-home sports viewing experience will prove to be far more layered and intricate, i.e. the television you use, the food you eat, the couches you sit on, the people you invite over, and the apps you use to share experiences with those who aren’t sitting right next to you will become more important than ever before. The emotional connections built within the confines of new viewing behavior will undoubtedly form a new spectator culture.

Considering the viewership volume of the “handful of competitions that have already aired” since the Pandemic hit, brands’ eagerness to get in front of loyal viewership will prove to be a meaningful indicator for the TV ad industry’s post-pandemic success.

It’s not just about television, sports sponsors have had to find ways to provide value during the downtime. No longer will a television audience or on-premise attendance single-handedly constitute the entirety of sports marketing value.

While traditional events pressed pause, sports marketers flocked towards digital experiences in search of finding ways to interact with their audiences in a meaningful way. A prime example of this is exemplified by the behavior of T-Mobile, partner of the MLB’s Home Run Derby. With the absence of this year’s event and no rescheduled date on the horizon, they executed a social campaign for a What If Derby, where fans could vote for their favorite home run hitter of all time in a bracket format. Now that baseball is resuming with a 60 game modified season at the end of this month, and teams will only compete against other teams within their respective divisions. There will, however, be no fans in the stands which will give birth to a new baseball viewership culture.

Other prominent sponsors, such as State Farm, are pivoting their spending to other sports-related content to reach their same target demographic. The insurance giant sponsored ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” in lieu of their media spend with the NBA.

Some brands found ways to interact with various sports properties and fans through “The Real Heroes Project”. Featuring the big four (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) plus many other entities (NASCAR, ATP, MLS, etc.), brands that engage in these sports supported front line workers by honoring them in their partnerships. For example, even though traditional NASCAR races were postponed, the sport sanctioned a temporary iRacing league in esports featuring top drivers and teams. Sponsors were able to champion front line workers’ contributions in some of the most-watched events on television during the crisis.

Sports and entertainment sponsorships deliver value employing various methodologies. Whether measured through media equivalency value, social engagement, brand lift, or direct B2B sales, sports properties have to work harder and with more imagination than ever to attract partners and show value. But brands are constantly drawn to the passion and fandom associated with sports. Moving into the future, sports marketers will expect a diverse set of value propositions to validate their spend in sports marketing.

In the meantime, while we are waiting for sports to start back up and for viewership to return to normal, check out our partnered course with Spire Sports + Entertainment on Fan Demographics. It's important to understand the different kinds of fans each league has and how to market to them for a successful sports marketing campaign.

About Spire Sports

Spire Sports + Entertainment connects brands to consumers through the hair-raising moments that only exist in sports. We've partnered with them to bring their knowledge and expertise to you. With decades of experience consulting with brands from startups to Fortune 500’s, they deliver value to clients by being a trusted voice when evaluating and mastering sports marketing spend.

Their agency provides:

· Sports Marketing Research and Evaluation

· Sponsorship Consulting and Strategy

· Sponsorship Management

· Activation Planning and Execution

· Hospitality and Entertainment

· Measurement and Evaluation