I’ve used this forum, in the past, to draw analogies between sports properties and exclusive and coveted communities that sponsors seek to become a part of. As one who runs a sports marketing research firm, my colleagues and I often play a key role in helping our property clients to better position that community as one that fits the marketing objectives for prospective partners. For the potential sponsors themselves, our work often centers around better understanding the behaviors, need states and interactions of consumers within those communities so as to guide brands towards better inserting their message into that space, in ways that are perceived as genuine and mutually beneficial.
Clearly, either task inevitably relies upon substantial and rigorous quantitative analysis. Admittedly we get geeked out on this stuff. Numbers don’t lie. There’s power to the demographics, behavioral data and the inevitable reach, frequency and ROI metrics that fill the pages of proposals and presentation decks. But in a marketing environment that continues to move at warp speed, laden with an increasing proliferation of opportunities and activation vehicles, it’s inevitable that the numbers can often blur together. And there are so many compelling cases put forth that any real cognitive decision making can be mind numbing.
As a researcher, this worries me somewhat, because in our quest to make fact-based decisions, we often don’t have the time or resources to really dig behind the numbers, and I’ve lamented all too often about the proliferation of poorly designed quantitative research and the liberties that some sellers take in the interpretation of the results. This is compounded by the fact debated hotly among us “propeller heads” that much of the third-party data accepted as “currency” is particularly flawed within the rapidly changing audience measurement environment.
One could rightfully question whether much of this currency is even appropriate given shifts that we and others have observed in both consumer media behavior and the efficacy of various research data collection processes. But those are bold assertions for future discussion. The sad fact is that none of this makes the task of selling or buying sports properties any easier. And while it is essential to support decisions with data, the subliminal truth is that many of the decisions that we make as consumers and as sports marketers come down to emotion.
Recognizing this fact, it compels me to acknowledge that the whole emotional quotient of the fan relationship with sports properties is really the crux of what is being bought and sold. To my opening assertion, we’re about building and activating around platforms that connect with a community, and transform these consumers beyond the walls of the stadium, arena or playing field. And with this reality comes an opportunity that I feel has been under-leveraged in sports marketing … the platform from which we all can tell or listen to a story. After all, we are trading in people, here … people who value their sports as a central component to complex lives and relationships that intertwine.
Our data consistently shows many segments of sports fans to over-index for affluence as well as influential reach that far exceeds the reported attendance or audience numbers. But too many of the presentations that I’ve seen over the years, fail to articulate that story. They fail to depict the emotion and personal connection that is the essence of what a successful sports marketing relationship is tapping into. I’m not suggesting that we eschew the numbers, for they remain essential. What I am advocating is that the qualitative side of marketing research can help bring those numbers to life in ways that the majority of presentations fail to address.
To borrow another cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve found some of our most effective work to be that which tells a story, coupling a respondent’s articulation of their experience through quotes or even video excerpts from qualitative interviews, and then backing it with the projectable numbers that amplify and substantiate the breadth of the illustration across a large audience. The data supports the emotion captured within the qualitative work. In best practice, both modalities work in concert to paint a holistic portrait of the audience and their engagement with a property. It’s that kind of integration of story telling and data that can best break through the clutter and clearly illuminate the potential synergy between sports properties and supporting brands.