Spring Brings Fans Out, Marketers Calling, 'It's Event Season!'

May is finally here, and it marks the beginning of a vast calendar of sports and sports lifestyle events which bring out fans en masse. Attendance at these events is an increasing, leading indicator of the health of our economy. From the NBA and NHL Playoffs to baseball, soccer and the PGA, there's literally something for everyone. Like the blooming of spring flowers, the time is ripe for marketers to deploy a variety of hand-to-hand "relationship building" experiences (called event marketing) to help boost brand awareness, accelerate engagement and, of course, spur sales. Like technology, though, the event marketing practice is changing at an exponential pace. Here's a brief background.

Sports and the event marketing business historically have had a particularly cozy relationship. That's because sports attract the world's most coveted audiences in the mood to buy. When it comes to selling products and services, it's the point where the relationship takes root that tips the scale in favor of the consideration funnel. This occurs frequently at sporting events. Just ask Budweiser what happens at a Cubs home game.

Research shows that the popularity of sports has a direct correlation with the growth of investment by marketers in the use of event marketing. According to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, spending on sports sponsorship deals will be the fastest-growing component of the sports market during the next four years, with global spending increasing from $29.4 billion in 2009 to $35.2 billion in 2013. "The Events Industry White Paper" states that the events industry has actually grown at an average pace of 6.2% each year globally since 2003, and is projected to grow 5.5% per year through 2011. A large part of this growth can be attributed to how marketers rely on event marketing for deepening relationships with consumers or, in the sports world, fans.

According to "EventView 2010," when marketers were asked to list the top three marketing elements for accelerating and deepening relationships, event marketing led at 64%, followed by social marketing at 55% and Web marketing at 54%. What's further interesting about this data is that the "handshake," whether live or virtual, drives most large marketers' strategic planning conversation in today's economy.

The most effective and engaging use of event marketing in sports are those that are integrated across multiple communication channels, i.e., social media, digital marketing, public relations, custom content, mobile and live event. Integration of the idea through multiple channels produces greater results. The speed at which marketers changed the old paradigm of event marketing took less than a decade. Reliable, cost-efficient technology had something to do with it. But, it was also the marketer's increased investment in the sports platform along with a handful of specialty agencies that could coordinate and deliver the service mix.

The fan data have spoken, too. Looking at the "EventView 2010" report, the findings show that three-quarters of consumers said they would be more likely to communicate with a company using social media as a result of a good experience with that company at an event. And according to an ESPN/Knowledge Networks report from 2009, sports fans are heavier users of all media, especially digital, consuming more than 20 hours per week spent online and on mobile.

But we can't get ahead of ourselves -- agencies and brands, first and foremost, must deliver a world-class event experience. In sports, particularly, this goes back to understanding your audience and communicating to it in an authentic manner. This helps the fan become an activist in promoting a brand message as a result of the event. Data from the same survey showed that half of respondents said they have posted a photo/video/message from an event to their own social media page. Furthermore, another 80% said they have visited a brand's Facebook page post-event. And a near whopping 90% "liked" that brand, with another 60% of that group inviting friends to also like the brand's social media page.

The growth of sports and the advancements of event marketing, now called experiential marketing, are innovating and evolving rapidly as we enter the 2011 "event season." Marketers that use event marketing but do not integrate social and digital channels of communication are missing the proverbial boat. So, as we all head full steam into May and the upcoming summer tour of sporting events, consider this an industry service announcement; sports and sports activities are sure to bring out the fans. Amplifying an event's content to connect and live on with a savvy fan is the recipe for success and is guaranteed to show up in the sales report.

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