2012 Trends: Sports Sponsorship Meets Digital Media And Entertainment

This may be jumping the gun a bit – typically these annual prediction pieces come out in that slow week between Christmas and New Year's – but I figure it’s good to get these out now so you can do more important things that week (like eat a lot of unhealthy food!).

So here goes, three predictions, actually more like “trends,” that will thematically connect the worlds of sports sponsorship with digital media entertainment.

Pent-up Demand Unleashed in 2012

Let’s face it, 2011 has been a bit of a drag in the sports world. Two lockouts, no great positive news stories to keep us enthralled (where’s Brett Favre when we really need him?), and enough global debt crisis black clouds to scare off even the most optimistic media buyer.

So just playing the law of averages means that 2012 will be a big year. Labor peace pervades the NFL, NBA and even the MLB. Marketers can actually now build long-range marketing plans around the properties that they are investing. In the case of the NFL, the TV deals are going to run for the next 10 years – imagine how many ad impressions Tim Tebow might get over that span?

Layer on top of this the fact that 2012 is an Olympics year and that Tiger Woods won a tournament in late 2011 (imagine what happens to golf if he wins a Major next year?), and the macro outlook for sports sponsorship and advertising spend looks very positive in the coming year.

Leaping to Emerging Digital Platforms

On the digital front, marketers will turn their focus to where sports fans are going – and that means mobile and social platforms. With another big holiday season of new smartphone and tablet purchases, more fans will be accessing sports content and entertainment through these smaller screens so sponsors will be smart to figure out how to embed their brands and messages into those experiences.

From a social media perspective, Facebook and Twitter will continue to explore ways to connect top tier content publishers with brand advertisers. Part of this will take place on those dominate social platforms directly, but a big part of the experience will come through the smart integration of social elements within the publisher’s digital media experience.

Of course, the perfect storm here for marketers will be the opportunity to partner with content publishers and properties around experiences that combine the social and mobile consumer experience. Expect to see a major shift towards innovation around this theme in 2012.

Sports and Entertainment – Lines Continue to Blur

Okay, we’ve been talking about the confluence of the sports and entertainment worlds for years – how long ago did ESPN Hollywood launch – and sunset? But we know how much entertainment stars love to hang out at sporting events and be around athletes, and in turn, athletes all want to be entertainment stars (e.g., case in point, Shaq’s latest ad promoting the NBA on Turner).

But 2012 truly feels like the year this sports-meets-entertainment theme really takes off. Part of it will be driven by the two trends above: labor peace means athletes will have their public stages for a full year without distraction and no group has embraced social media more than the athlete cohort. We should not overlook other data points that infer an inflection point here -- thank you, Kardashian sisters, for helping to really define “NBA Entertainment” and thank you to the WWE for pushing for your own TV channel.

Why does the acceleration of this sports-meets-entertainment trend matter for sports sponsors? Well, many advertisers have smartly caught on to the fact that by connecting with this theme they can keep a 24/7 narrative going with fans that doesn’t have to end when the game ends. For example, it’s great for Visa to be associated with what happens on NFL fields, but it’s even better if they can figure out how to stay in front of fans through an association with athletes and teams when they’re off the field or court – which will increasingly take place in that arena we’ve traditionally considered an “entertainment” setting. Consider the lines officially blurred in 2012.

So there you have it. Three trends to wrap your head around if you’re sitting anywhere on the spectrum between sports sponsor and publisher/property. Happy sports new year to everyone!

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