A Complete Guide to Sports Marketing

Ever thought about how big the sports industry is? Maybe you’re not a sports enthusiast, but it doesn’t even take one to know big names like Lionel Messi, LeBron James and Tiger Woods.

Clearly, sports isn’t just a passing trend. It is a billion-dollar industry that capitalizes on skills, talent, and determination–and, of course, on-going mass patronage, which is further intensified by strategic, thoughtful campaigns.

And I didn’t exaggerate when I said ‘billion dollar’. In fact, the New York Times  rolled out a statement regarding the estimated earnings of the 2018 Fifa World Cup, which reached a whooping $6.1 billion.

What’s more, research shows that the value of the global sports market ballooned to almost $488.5 billion in the year 2018, with compounded growth rates of around 4.3% per annum starting 2014.

Add to that, the sports marketing landscape is constantly changing and evolving, thanks to digital platforms that don’t just drive people together, but create a strong, interactive community, too–something that small and big brands can use to their advantage.

But the real question is, how do you actually stand out in a sea of sports marketing giants? How do you cut across barriers and get connected–and hopefully, known–to an already wide fan base?

The sports industry is already a crowded space, and you don’t want to be just another number. So today, we’ll talk about the proven-and-tested strategies that I, along with my decade-old team, have used to create campaigns that really work and sell.

But First, What is Sports Marketing?

The concept behind sports marketing isn’t difficult to grasp. As the name implies, it uses sports (or anything related to sports) to help raise brand awareness, which can in turn increase service and product sales.

From alleyways to stadiums to your personal news feed, you’d see sports marketing in different forms every single day–proof of how far-reaching the industry is. Do you see live sporting events on social media sites? That’s sports marketing, too! So to say that sports marketing should be limited to just one channel is to say ‘no’ to multiple opportunities that can help you solidify your brand.

To simplify, sports marketing is a long-standing strategy that thrives on diversity. It’s not just about selling products. It’s about telling a story and, in the process, selling a lifestyle.

Challenges Faced by Sports Marketing

Sports is everywhere, so marketing is already half done,” says the newbie marketer in the block who’s completely unaware of the odds that are against her.

It’s easy to get excited about diving into sports marketing without a life vest on, but this huge industry can drown you deep into frustration if you aren’t prepared for the challenges you might possibly face.

The key: preparation. Experience is and will always be the best teacher, but you don’t have to go through the complete roller coaster of highs and lows if you’ve prepared yourself both mentally and emotionally. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it took us a lot of trials and errors before we were able to distinguish what works and what doesn’t.

To help you avoid mistakes before they happen, below are some of the challenges you need to prepare for when creating any sports marketing campaign:

Age Groups and Multimedia Mix

Sports, along with its fan base, knows no gender or age, making diversification an essential element in creating any sports campaign. As you might already know, there are huge differences in an audience’s perception in entertainment, depending on factors like age and individual preferences.

While the older generation continues to turn to traditional media channels, younger ones (or what we call the Millennials and the Gen Zs) crave for a more immersive experience, which social media platforms and other digital tools can provide.

And statistics strongly agree, too. Last 2018, the total number of social media users hiked to 3.196 billion, thanks to 11 new people who subscribe to these channels per second.

This leaves us to an important question: is your strategy able to touch important points that are relatable to both the young and old generation? Is your ad capable of making your audience feel connected without sacrificing factors like accessibility and usability?

Selling Sports as an Experience

Sports marketing is an umbrella of strategies that don’t just sell tangible products, but sports as a whole, making it extremely challenging to control random variables that can widely affect consumption patterns.

These variables include sporting facilities, injuries, and performances by athletes, which are all experiential in nature. We can’t control today or tomorrow’s game. No one can. And sometimes, it just takes one ugly experience to turn an avid fan into a critic.

With this in mind, how do you actually control the uncontrollable and improve the quality of a sporting experience as a whole? How do you directly (or indirectly) persuade your audience to 1) try watching a live sporting event, or 2) go back to the stadium for the 2nd game?

Live interaction is always a gamble, and knowing how to create fast, impromptu solutions is what separates a good sports marketer from the rest. Believe me, you don’t want to be a part of ‘the rest’.

Sports is a Unique, All-Encompassing Industry

Filling an entire stadium may be the holy grail for most marketers, but it doesn’t stop there. As a sports marketer, you have to continuously work on creating a brand that’s relevant, timely, and unforgettable, and you can only do so by adding other strategies into the equation.

What happened to your target audience after that sold-out sporting event? Did they purchase your new product line? If so, how did your products add value to them as a user? While live sports is all about the thrill and the action, quality always comes first when it comes to marketing tangible products.

Hence, sports marketing demands a perfect concoction of strategies that can solidify your brand as a whole. It requires creativity, dynamics, and a cohesive approach that can help your brand survive and rise above the competition.

The Demand for Connectivity

Live social media streams where fans can comment and become more integrated into their favourite athlete’s life behind the arena is also a huge challenge on the part of marketers who promote live gaming events. Why do they even need to buy expensive tickets when they can get a rich, participative experience online?

Also, athletes, who have involuntarily become modern-day influencers, are gaining a lot of attention from the media, which can be hyper-focused on negative stories that surround their lives. So solely putting the future of an ad campaign in the hands of one athlete is a risky business.

Simply put, sports enthusiasts getting too involved in the lives of athletes is a sign of strong patronage, but with consequences that affect live events and brands which their respective athletes promote. As in all types of marketing, positive imagery plays an integral role in keeping a solid fan base.

The Unpredictable Nature of Sports

Ironically, the only thing constant about sports is its unpredictable nature. You might be betting on the winning team today, but things can turn around next season. Remember that sports centre you visited last year? Heard a new stadium is under construction and is a huge threat in the area.

It’s easy to market and sell when you’re on the winning end, but what strategies can you put on the table when the boat gets rocky? How can you rise above failures and still effectively market your brand when you’re at an all-time low?

The Three Divisions of Sports Marketing

Sports is an infinite space, and it can be so easy to take wrong turns when you don’t have a clear vision of where you need to go. While it’s hard to set boundaries because all the branches in sports marketing are interrelated, you’d only be able to set clear goals if you concentrate on one area and work on it until you produce actual results.

Let’s divide sports marketing into three areas:

Advertising Sports

Marketing sports greatly impacts the two other sports marketing sectors. Who will buy products or attend live sporting events if no one is interested in the sport itself?

The ultimate goal behind sports advertisement is to increase audience engagement and participation across genders, age groups, and social statuses.

Advertising Teams

We all have our favourite teams and athletes, thanks to the influence of our family, friends, and social media channels. But while loyalty is a huge factor in gaining patronage, advertisements are also a major player in developing and intensifying team engagement.

From live on-game streams to random tweets and updates from famous athletes, strategic team advertisements keep fans glued to their favourite sport. So if you’re making a team campaign, it always pays to look for new ways to make connectivity more experiential.

Advertising Products

Sports product advertisements are literally everywhere. You don’t even have to go out to see good old logos and tarpaulins that promote sports-related products because they’re just there on your Facebook and IG feeds. And they’re selling like hotcakes.

Even better news: sports marketing isn’t just restricted to just selling sports-related goods because even other industries can profit from this huge fan base. It’s all in how you place your products and how you use sports–or sports personalities–to gain brand favorability.

Winning Sports Marketing Strategies

It’s 2020 and there’s an ever-increasing number of female sports enthusiasts. As evidence, Forbes released a report-based revenue projection of the 2019 Women’s World Cup for a four-year period. According to financial reports, the sporting event is expected to earn $131 million from 2019 to 2022.

But aside from that, traditional gaming channels are now submerged in the mix of innovative mediums that have completely changed the way we perceive sports. These days, get-togethers and sports marathons are being replaced by live streams that offer both entertainment and engagement. Sports is not just sports. It’s a lifestyle that you need to sell. And the earlier you get this, the better.

Now, while sports trends may come and go, it’s still important that you listen to your audience and create strategies that evolve simultaneously with their needs.

I’m not telling you to ditch timeless, proven-and-tested marketing strategies either because it would be foolish to do that. But at this time (and at all times), you need to create a sense of balance by mixing old and new techniques that can help you create winning campaigns.

Extend Your Reach by Going Digital

Everywhere you go, you’d see a cellphone, a laptop, or just about any gadget that connects you to sporting events and athletes. The global market is going digital, and so should your strategies. There are many ways you can do this, but for now, let’s stick to the essentials:

Explore Social Media Channels

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels are the perfect avenue to increase audience engagement and brand awareness. If you’ve been reading through this guide, you’d know by now that a huge percentage of sports fans are more inclined towards following their favorite athletes and watching live streams.

More so, according to a report, Millennials and Gen Zs engage even in non-gaming content where they can be a part of the narrative not just by following and supporting athletes, but by sharing and creating content themselves as well–and I can’t say this isn’t an advantage marketers should grab.

Social media makes athletes more reachable and personable, making it an efficient marketing tool. It gives fans a sneak preview of who athletes are as real people, which eventually creates new interests.

As connection intensifies, sporting and non-sporting brands are now putting these platforms into good use by using influencers to develop brand recognition.

But, of course, social media marketing isn’t just about posting new updates everyday. Since it’s a world full of visuals, the focus shouldn’t be just on relatability, but on playing with graphics and creating feeds that spark creativity. And, let’s not forget to keep track of key performance indicators (KPI), which measure the success of ad campaigns via metrics like engagement, social interactions, and traffic conversions, too!

  • What You’ll Need: Regular KPI monitoring, consistent posts, and graphic design

Create Engaging Content

Nothing beats timely and relatable content not just in sports marketing, but in other niches, too. And when we say content, you’re not limited to just articles, blog posts, and newsletters because you can also dive into other types of content like photo and video production.

Content creation is a huge industry with endless opportunities. You just have to find the right voice to keep your target audience engaged and excited–speaking of which, did you know that over 70% of sports fans look for pre-game content to fuel their excitement? Quite a great start to build connections and engagement, if you ask me.

But just like in other digital platforms, the competition is also stiff when it comes to building a sports website. It doesn’t matter how great or how timely your content is if it’s not optimized and visible to your target audience. You want your content to rank well so it would appear on the first page of Google’s search pages!

Needless to say, content generation is not just purely about finding the right content, but putting SEO strategies into practice. Get this powerful combo and your site is going to soar.

  • What You’ll Need: Timing, great content and timeless SEO practices

Check Out eSports’ Growing Potential

eSports is a multi-million dollar industry that just keeps on growing and giving, making it an important arena to explore. In 2017, its total revenue climbed to an astounding $696 million, and it is projected to hit its billion-dollar target by the end of 2020.

Starting off on the right foot is League of Legends, which created a massive eSports campaign by bringing the video games to mega-arenas where gaming enthusiasts gathered to cheer for their favorite teams.

Add to that, more and more brands and athletes are sealing partnerships with eSports leagues and tournaments, and it would only take so long before eSports continue to reach more fans at a global scale.

Be Interactive

Match days are the ‘Fridays’ of every sports enthusiast. Live and interactive, these digital sporting events use Facebook and Twitter as a platform where fans can meet, cheer, and cry for their favorite teams. So if you want to gain brand recognition within an extremely engaging environment, this is a sure win.

Budweiser used this as a marketing tactic when it agreed to be the 2016 European Championships’ Tweeter sponsor. The sweet deal: Budweiser’s advertisement pops up everytime game sneak previews or ads were published on Twitter’s feed.

Mix Old and New Multimedia Channels

Reaching a huge fan base requires a holistic approach, and by that, I mean that you need to be more explorative and creative when it comes to where and how you advertise your sporting products.

While TV advertisements have been dominating the marketing industry for years, statistics show that the spending on these traditional ads has been plummeting as marketers capitalize more on placing advertisements on social media platforms like Youtube and Facebook. What caused this shift? Let’s ask the Millennials and Gen Zs.

But then again, to say that TV advertisements are a failing approach is a huge lie. Many sports enthusiasts are still tuning in to this channel, making it wise to rethink strategies based on your target market’s behavioral pattern.

Let’s take studies on two sporting events as an example. The highly-renowned Super Bowl is considered one of the largest events on TV, with ratings peaking at 46.1% in 1996. Although this figure dipped to 40.7% in 2005, there’s still no denying that this sporting event, along with the Olympics which once drew 3 billion viewers worldwide, offers you a great opportunity to advertise.

So if the budget permits and your aim is to reach a huge fan base, why not mix both traditional and contemporary channels?

Take Advantage of Incentive-Based Sponsorship Models

Gone are the days when small and big brands need to bet on athletes with their blindfolds on, thanks to social media, which completely changed the sponsorship landscape. Now, marketers can use different metrics to gauge returns of investment via data that includes engagement and conversion rates–which are, frankly, some of the only figures that matter.

Through the incentive-based sponsorship model, brands can set clear targets and pay athletes based on the pre-agreed goals they have met. This way, it’s easy to set winning and losing campaigns apart, and make adjustments where necessary.

This is no different with the pay-per-performance sponsorship model, which was rolled out by Anheuser-Busche in 2018 in an effort to maintain sustainability in the sports marketing industry. The idea is simple: incentives are built based on an athlete’s on-field performance, along with metrics that can trigger bigger investments.

In-game or on social media, this partnership model can help you make incentives where needed and create an educated, results-driven approach to sports marketing.

Capitalize on Authenticity

Odd it may seem but sports enthusiasts crave for authenticity as they continue exchanging live, in-the-flesh sporting events for social media channels–proof that real-life and real-time experiences still matter even in this digital age.

So what do you need to do? Give them exactly what they want by exploring these strategies:

Focus on User-Generated Content

Content generated by fans for fans–if that doesn’t speak authenticity to your target audience, I don’t know what will. User-generated content (UGC), which gains user trust by 92% more as compared to other traditional marketing methods, is a timeless approach that can help you identify consumer patterns.

The great thing about UGC aside from its rawness and authenticity is its strong potential to gain engagement from fans with common grounds. Through UGC, you can reach out to your target audience and understand their needs and priorities as a consumer.

What makes them excited? What draws them into buying a product? How can they say that a product is adding value to them as a user? You only need UGC to figure it all out.

Learn from Analytics

Nowadays, it’s not just content generation that matters, but actual feedback from consumers. What is the best time to post content? When is your livestream gaining the most engagement? Are your UGCs fairing better than other types of posts?

Fortunately, you can use in-depth social media analytics to pinpoint strategies that work and those that don’t–and differentiating between the two depends on the goals you have set for a particular action.

For instance, based on a report by Sprout Social, around 70% of marketers who use social media as a marketing vehicle aim to intensify brand awareness, while 59% target sales. The chart also reveals that 72% of marketers define engagement through the number of post likes and comments, while around 60% use shares and retweets as a parameter.

By using these metrics and studying behavioral patterns, you can make changes where applicable without soaking up too much on strategies that don’t work.

Build Campaigns that Hit the Heart

Real story from real athletes–that’s what makes Nike standout in the sports marketing industry. More than selling sports gear and apparel, Nike’s heart for honoring athletes is a timeless approach that’s hard to beat.

And, of course, who would forget Always’ #likeagirl advertisement? Removing the stigma behind how to play sports ‘like a girl,’ which implies that girls are the weaker gender, the advertisement hits the nail in the head by leaving audiences a very inspiring message: girls and boys have equal abilities even when (and especially when) it comes to playing sports.

Although these brands belong to different industries, they both have one thing in common: their marketing campaigns hit the home run because they come straight from the heart.

Stay Relevant by Listening to Your Audience

If there’s one important lesson I’ve learned throughout my sports marketing journey, it’s to never argue with statistics. More than just figures, studies and poll results are your audience’s voice, and that’s where you need to base your strategies from.

For instance, while it’s true that mainstream fans are going digital, a recent poll suggests that majority–around 60%, to be exact–are either excited or interested for livesports to make a comeback, thanks to Covid19.

Quarantine may have emptied seats in sporting arenas for now, but, more than anything, it has fueled sports fans’ excitement and hunger to smell sweat and to see athletes live in action, making it highly likely for sports marketing strategies to change when the pandemic ends.

Final Points

A mix of the old and the new, a dash of creativity and story-telling initiatives, and a whole new world of engagement driven by authenticity–that’s what sports marketing is and always will be. Channels may have taken new forms, but it’s your heart and your ability to adapt and embrace new changes that can help you leap towards your marketing goals.