5 of the biggest sports marketing trends of 2019

Once, big-name sponsorship deals were enough to satisfy sports marketers. But amid a saturation of advertising and proliferation of new channels, fresh opportunities are arising for brands and clubs alike to cultivate deeper relationships with fans.

From women’s leagues to AR and eSports, the sports marketing playbook is growing into a number of new arenas. Here The Drum charts some of the biggest trends in sports marketing for 2019 that brands should be aware of when entering, or developing their work, in the space.

Women in sports
A Nielsen Sports report stated that 84% of general sports fans find women’s sport more “inspiring” and “progressive” than the male version, sport371 which is seen by many as being more “money driven”. These figures reveal the receptiveness of the public to women’s sports and the opportunity it presents for sports marketers to explore. Phil Carling, head of global football at Octagon, touches on the significance of women’s football in this changing landscape for advertisers: “Consumers want their brands to stand for something and equality, diversity and inclusion would rank highly in any list of causes. In light of this, it is easy to see that women’s football can add a highly emotive cause-related string to its bow, offering advantages over its male counterpart.”

Brands are taking heed. Nike, for instance, put women’s sport at the heart of its ‘Dream Crazier’ campaign at the beginning of the year. Starring and narrated by tennis legend Serena Williams, the ad is an open call for women in sports to fight back against gender bias and unfair stereotyping. Its message resonated after the controversies that plagued Williams throughout 2018, including criticism of her Nike catsuit worn at the French Open and her hotly contested loss at the US Open final. The viral hit helped to drive conversation around leveling the playing field for women in sports.

Regardless of the moral reasons for supporting women’s sport, it makes commercial sense for brands to capitalize on the female consumer market. Currently in the UK, women are estimated to own half the personal wealth, a figure set to grow, and they are said to influence up to 80% of purchasing decisions. This presents a huge opportunity for sports to open up their marketing appeal to women and reap the economic rewards.

This surge in popularity is perhaps seen best in women’s football, where earlier this year we saw huge corporate sponsorship deals inked between Barclays Bank, Budweiser and Boots cosmetics and UK female football teams and leagues. Walgreens-owned Boots entered the sport for the first time to support Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Republic of Ireland. Helen Normoyle, marketing director at Boots UK, said: “We are excited to give the inspirational women in these teams the chance to tell their stories and to hopefully encourage other women to experience the amazing confidence that sport can bring”.

This is a global trend. The Drum reported on a growth in interest for advertisers and sponsors in the Australian women’s Football League earlier this year. This is due to findings that more than half of the Australian population regularly tune into women’s sport, which represented a massive 48% increase on the previous year.

AR and VR
Although we are in the early days of virtual and augmented reality technology, there are examples of teams and brands making use of pre-existing platforms like Snapchat or Instagram to create immersive experiences for increasingly global audiences inside and outside stadiums.

In 2017 FC Bayern Munich created a fun interface for fans where they were able to virtually insert themselves into selfies with the team’s star players like Manuel Neuer or Arjen Robben. The feature was available to fans via its app, which could also personalize strips on the club’s online store. This immersive experience is reported to have bumped up the club’s revenue.

Major League Baseball has introduced AR to its ‘At Bat’ app, which shows data on each player including errors, fielding percentage and home run statistics when fans point their phones at the field. When a player hits a ball, the screen shows a trail tracing its trajectory with information on exit velocity, launch angle, apex and distance. The aim of the app is to enhance the game you’re watching on the field, said Chad Evans, senior vice president, product development, mobile at MLB. “AR is going to bring new experiences to the fans, and baseball will be at the forefront,” he added. “There are so many untapped possibilities of what this technology can do.”

For advertisers and broadcasters, there are benefits too. Technology has already been trialled to personalize TV viewers’ experience of football games, most notably in 2018 when the FA and ITV ran a test during the England v Costa Rica friendly. Dynamic perimeter ads around the pitch were streamed to audiences based on location using Virtual Replacement Technology, allowing different viewers to see different ads. The ad offering was split into two feeds: one to the Americas, and the other to Asia, Australasia and parts of Europe.


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