How Sports Marketing Can Elevate Your Brand Credibility
Sports never sleeps. Except for a couple of days each year, you will find a “live” sporting event for professional or college sports. According to Gallup Research, more than 50% of the people in the U.S. are sports fans. Sports is a way for people to form a bond with friends, other fans, and family of course, to root on their favorite teams. Emotions run high when something exciting happens. Companies who align with sports teams at stadiums and arenas, or with local radio or tv flagship stations, are able to leverage their businesses with a loyal fan base. Companies further leverage their association with content marketing and social media. Since we are already aware of how the shoe and beverage companies leverage sports on a National level, let’s focus on how companies can elevate brand equity in local markets.
Find a team in your market that has a fan base which aligns with your products or services. Teams and media flagship partners have demographics of the fan base they represent. If you have an advertising agency (or internal marketing person), have them contact a representative from the team, radio or tv flagship station to request demographics of the fan base, radio listeners or tv viewers. If your business is not located in one of the larger commute markets, radio would not be as attractive. Even though fans can listen to games on their mobile apps, a radio sponsorship is much more impactful when you can capture hundreds of thousands of fans during their 45 minute to 90 minute drive home from work. As long as in-stadium and tv ratings are respectable, both options can be considered for any market. If you partner directly with a team, levels of sponsorship exist to use their logo and marks in advertising but likely at a premium.
What is your angle with this partnership? Will you include a special offering? Will you hire an influencer with high profile status with the team? This could be a popular member of the broadcast team or even a player or former player. Even though an influencer will cost extra, the exposure you will receive in your commercial messaging and on social media will accelerate your brand credibility. An influencer would make sense for in game tv and / or radio and social media. If we use Major League Baseball as an example, it occurs daily for 6 months and allows you to build your brand credibility with the fan base over time. If a team is losing badly, the audience will likely decline if they fall out of contention. Under the right circumstances, you can measure immediate response. A few years back we had a well-liked announcer do tv endorsements for our solar installer client. I specifically remember the day our first endorsement spot aired. I was at a Wednesday night swim meet with our kids and received a phone call at 7:30 pm from the company CEO. He said, “did we start our tv ads tonight? Our phone is ringing off the hook”. Even though I anticipated our campaign would work over time, I did not necessarily expect it to be immediate but it was and the response continued throughout the season. Although it didn’t hurt that the team they sponsored went to the World Series that year. If done properly, you can structure your ad schedule during evening prime time for many of your games. I admit, this is easier to do this for teams on the west coast or in mountain time zones. Only the die-hard fans of teams located in the central and east coast time zones will stay awake when their team is playing a west coast team that begins at 10:30pm on the east coast.
Story telling creative that aligns with your audience. If you are sponsoring on a national or local level, make sure your creative is interesting to your audience. Having an influencer with popularity will be interesting to a large portion of your audience, but it’s important to think beyond the built-in impact of the influencer. Whomever you hire to endorse your company needs to be one of your customers. The influencer needs to tell an authentic story about how your service or your product has brought comfort and joy into his or her life. With the solar client referenced earlier, we structured a partnership in which the broadcaster was paid for endorsements, but only after he paid for a solar installation at his home. He was able to convey a series of different experiences about his installation during radio broadcasts and during game telecasts. We took video of the solar installation and of our influencer expressing his experiences with his roof-top solar panels in the backdrop. We had enough different material to share multiple stories every few weeks for the entire season. The stories were also shared in abbreviated form on social media. Without the use of an influencer, you can still create messaging with themes associated with the sport you sponsor to include with your company story lines. Keep in mind that during telecasts, viewers will take time away to view content on their mobile devices, therefore make sure your creative is genuine, authentic, interesting and conveys an impactful storyline about your team and your company.
Call to action offer. I know what you are thinking. After spending all of this time with story-telling during our creative, how will we have time to get to what we are selling? In a :30 second tv commercial you may be surprised with the amount of content you can include without feeling like it’s rushed or crammed into your segment. In telecasts, your influencer’s story-telling content includes voiceover and visuals for :20 to :22 seconds. The final :08 seconds includes graphics and voiceover of your special offer. Yes, you can comfortably include both if executed properly.
Social Media Advertising. You can build your interest targeting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube to run your same creative with paid ads.
How can we justify the premium we pay for a sports sponsorship? Most sports sponsorships are more suited for companies with high ticket items or slightly higher profit margins. Depending on costs, a sponsorship could pencil out for companies with high volume sales and high frequency repeat business, especially if their sales cycle is during the season. All in all, when you consider all of the boxes you can check with a sports sponsorship compared to other advertising, it becomes evident why a sports sponsorship offers a lot more than just a transactional ad or post. Let’s consider what a sports sponsorship entails.
- Massive reach to consumers who are fans of this sport and / or franchise.
- Extended reach online and in social media with listenership / viewership and individual posts and shares.
- Actively engaged fans. Fan passion can transfer to brand passion.
- Predictable timing for games and broadcasts. Fans know when their team is playing.
- Consistent exposure to that fan base. Most major sports have six month seasons.
- Community Citizenship.
- Philanthropy and Cause Marketing Initiatives. All teams support a charitable cause and offer ways to become involved either with one of their events or a donation for runs scored, goals, points, touchdowns, etc.
- Employee Morale. How does it make your employees feel when you align with a local high profile team?
- Hospitality. Can you think of a better venue than great seats or a luxury suite to entertain your clients and convert more sales?
- Uncluttered advertising environment. Most play-by-play sports breaks are 2 minutes or less, just enough for a time out or inning break. The breaks are a little longer between quarters and half-time, but for major league baseball they only have inning breaks and pitching changes. In some instances, advertisements are now offered on split screen during time outs or a lull in the action.
- Least DVR sensitive tv programming. Unlike many weekly tv programs people regularly record to view later, it takes more planning and patience to record “live” sporting events to watch later. Yes, some fans certainly DVR sporting events. However, how many people take time to start their dvr at 7:15pm for their favorite MLB team to watch later? Another game will be on the following night and outcomes of the game just recorded will be visible online and on broadcast outlets the next morning.
- Brand Credibility. How else can you align with a passionate fan base for 6 months for a series of story-telling themes about your company?
- Short-term and residual sales impact. Like the example I provided earlier, our solar installer experienced short-term and longer term sales results with the local MLB team advertising on radio and tv.
One of the concerns by company executives who are more analytical is the tangible return on investment received from sports sponsorships. Return on investment is absolutely important. However, it’s not easy to evaluate a dollar value ROI with all of the benefits outlined above. Although sports sponsorships can deliver spurts of immediate response, I’d say most sponsorships build over time. The execution requires the expertise of a professional who understands how to leverage sports marketing with all the available assets. According to Statista Research Group, sports sponsorship revenue in the United States in 2018 exceeded $17 billion. Companies who know how to execute it properly are benefitting.