Commentary

The Shortfalls Of Sporadic Digital Investment in Sports

When tent-pole sports events such as the Super Bowl, Masters and NCAA Tournament live-stream online, they earn headlines and spark discussion among enthusiastic sports fans as well as members of the digital media and advertising communities. Subsequently, advertisers relish the opportunity to buy and associate their brands with this engaging, high-profile content.

However, while buying around major online broadcasts might earn scalable, engaged eyeballs for a finite period of time, disregarding ongoing sports advertising opportunities for the majority of the year can be a detrimental strategy.  Those who want their message to resonate with dedicated sports fans need to look beyond the spotlight of the big events and develop holistic strategies that keep their brand top of mind throughout the year.

The first step for any advertiser looking to capitalize on sports is the year-round audience discovery process, as sports enthusiasts often take their passion from one sport to another, flocking to digital platforms as they consume video throughout the year. Brands that are willing to experiment with new media mix models can stay focused on sports content audiences and follow this loyal consumer base as it transitions following the culmination of a major event or season.

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Advertisers often assume that their audience is only interested in a single athletic event, but by experimenting with other sports throughout the year, they may find that golf viewers also watch auto-racing highlights online, or that they can reach the Super Bowl audience by advertising around baseball content in the spring and summer months. Digital media models ensure that brands are no longer locked into one channel or event as they are on TV and enable experimentations against new sports content with nominal financial risk.

A lack of flexibility and constant activity could lead a brand to miss most of its audience throughout much of the year.  Brands that sponsored CBSSports.com's live coverage of The Masters Golf Tournament likely received lots of strong exposure. But the next major online sports event is NBC’s Olympic coverage, which doesn’t kick off until the end of July. Any momentum the brand previously gathered with the engaged sports audience during The Masters is completely lost by the time of the Olympics.

Following the audience to other sports in the downtime is a start, but brands also need to build campaigns that extend the messaging from season to season. This requires a lot of planning ahead, just as with every other form of marketing. John Squire of IBM recently wrote that now is the time to start planning digital campaigns for Black Friday, reinforcing the need to plan significantly ahead, building seasonal, relevant and nimble creative. This is especially important in online sports marketing, given the constant activity and desirable content that sports creates on a nightly basis.

The more savvy advertisers are seeing success when they thoughtfully program their brand experiences, as consumers can tell the difference between a brand that simply slaps its normal creative onto sports content, and a brand that actually incorporates sports themes into their creative concepts. Look no further than campaigns like State Farm Insurance’s “State of Imitation” spots that utilize members of the Green Bay Packers, or AT&T’s tailgating themed “Speed of Messaging” ad, integrating AT&T’s messaging but also aligning closely with the spirit of college football and the super-fan’s need for real-time information. Superior advertising is a marriage of relevancy and contextual brand messaging, which is achievable through thinking about sports marketer year-round and planning ahead. This type of creative is relevant to fans during tent pole events, but it’s also relevant to the supplemental video coverage they consume across premium and mid-tale sales. 

Bottom line, online sports marketing should not be a culmination of one-offs, but the result of looking across the landscape to build a holistic year-round plan. Sports marketing platforms should more closely mirror loyal sports fan activity, moving seamlessly from season to season and developing the appropriate brand messaging to do the same.

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