Although millions will watch this Sunday's Super Bowl, fans say brands are missing the mark if they only air a TV spot. Rather, they want brands to engage with them on deeper levels across multiple channels.
"Consumers really enjoy interactive brand experiences and appreciate when brands provide and create content that they can interact with particularly around the Super Bowl with things like online campaigns or social campaigns," says Elisabeth Riedl, Director Consumer Strategy, Initiative.
Seven in 10 Americans (71%) will watch the Super Bowl, with 48% of women and 52% of men calling themselves sports fans, according to Initiative’s latest research.
These avid watchers are more likely to multi-task while watching the game, with 30% streaming additional Super Bowl content while watching the game, 14% are consuming other relevant content via their tablets and 11% on their smartphones. Some 26% watch NFL Sunday Night Football Extra to see live interactive broadband broadcast and in-game video highlights.
Still, there is an unmet need that 54% of the sports fans called out as "something" they're actively seeking from brands affiliated with sports. One in three, 36% and 34%, respectively, want deeper brand experiences via online and social media channels, and 77% of fans say it is important to them for sports content to be as personalized as possible to their needs.
Above all, brands need to provide enjoyment. “Fun, amusing sports content that makes me laugh” is the number two driver of sports engagement out of 28 possible responses, according to the report. "Passionate fans usually take their sports so seriously, and often times its broadcast in a serious do or die fashion," says Riedl. "But fans want to see the fun, amusing side of their sport and its players. Therefore, a sense of humor is key for brands and athletes to connect with fans. More than half of the respondents also said that they like to follow fun or funny athletes on social media.”
Also, added Riedl, “the most engaged fans follow their favorite sports not just during the season, but also throughout the rest of the year, even in the off-season. The NFL Draft for example is an event that keeps people tied to football in the off season."
Another big marketing opportunity is leveraging athletes themselves. Some 39% of respondents to the Initiative survey said they enjoyed funny content featuring athletes, and 38% want to see content on behind-the-scenes, all-access sports stories. Featuring exclusive interviews with athletes or coaches (36% like this) or sponsoring how-to content about playing sports from athletes or coaches (17%) presents an opportunity to align a brand into a positive sports experience.
Meanwhile, although all fans care about sports highlights and funny content featuring athletes, they can be further categorized into four groups:
The Mainstream Fan skews female, consumes sports for entertainment reasons and likes behind-the-scenes, all-access sports content (40%). They like interviews with athletes detailing life outside of sports (31%).
The Insider Fan consumes sport content for inside info and enjoys sports talk radio (34%) and other sources of insider information.
The Biggest Fan is all about knowledge and enjoys exclusive interviews with athletes or coaches (44%), behind-the-scenes, all-access sport content (40%), which allows them to stay abreast of the latest development and gives them in-depth knowledge.
And the younger, more multicultural Participation Fan enjoys the interactive nature of following sports. They enjoy behind-the-scenes, all-access
sport content (45%), exclusive interviews with athletes or coaches (37%), but also sports trivia (34%), fantasy sports (33%), and sports content that benefit a charity or cause (27%).
However, there are some important demographic differences. For example, the higher household income, the more engaged fans are with their respective sport.
In terms of ethnicities, Hispanics are the most engaged sports fans overall. Also, older and younger fans enjoy sports very differently. While fans ages 35-54 enjoy gathering inside-info about the sports, teams and athletes themselves, fans ages 18-34 care more about the entertainment aspect/value of their sports, teams and athletes and also the analysis of the games and the athlete’s performance.
One quality that all sports fans share is enthusiasm both on- and off-the field. Nearly half (45%) say they are more likely to recommend a brand to a friend or family member if that brand is associated with a favorite sporting event, team or player. "We looked at the types of sports being most followed and from that standpoint there were no surprises there – Football, Baseball, Basketball and the Olympics rank highest," says Riedl. "However, one surprise was the continued emergence of MMA [mixed martial arts] as a popular sport."