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Volume 21 No. 2
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The marketers speak: Growth categories and the best activations

From digital activations to using athletes as social media brand ambassadors, those are some of the trends sports marketers are watching. They also have their eye on the gaming space, technology, content and health and wellness. To take the pulse of the sports marketing business, SportsBusiness Journal asked several marketers to identify growth categories, the trends they’re watching, and the most effective platforms for activation. We also asked them to share the advice they would give to properties on how to build better sponsorships. Here are highlights of their responses, which were submitted via email.

What do you see as an emerging category in sports sponsorship?

KIT GEIS, GENESCO SPORTS ENTERPRISES: It’s not exactly new, but athletes are more important than ever to a sponsor’s marketing mix because they are the access point to digital social media. We not only use Q Scores when evaluating players, but how many Twitter and Facebook followers they have. They are the stars of popular viral videos like the Manning brothers in DirecTV’s “Football on Your Phone,” Pepsi’s “Test Drive” video featuring Jeff Gordon and the Pepsi Max “Uncle Drew” spots with Kyrie Irving. [Editor’s note: Pepsi is a Genesco client.] And the more that sports intersect with music, the more we’ll see pairings like Russell Wilson and Macklemore, Jay-Z and Robinson Cano, Calvin Johnson and Eminem. We need the players to make digital and social work.

MARC BLUESTEIN, AQUARIUS SPORTS: Technology is always an emerging category in the sponsorship industry. There are so often new technologies being developed and manufacturers are looking for ways to be forward facing. A recent example in this area is GoPro and their sponsorship with the Winter X Games.

MICHAEL NEUMAN, SCOUT SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT: Health care (hospitals, diagnostic, training and wellness), gaming/online gambling and wearable technology.

Health care reform and the growing health crisis in our country has forced relevant companies to think differently about how they market themselves to target audiences and become consumer brands. … Recent deals like Quest Diagnostics with the New York Giants, Atlantic Health with the New York Jets and the partnership between HealthCorps (Dr. Oz’s company), the California Endowment and four California-based NBA teams are prime examples.

Leagues are loosening the noose on gaming and online gambling. Already a big team revenue driver in Europe, the category is heading toward $7.4 billion by 2017 in the U.S., and three states already allow online gambling.
PartyPoker’s deal with the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers will blaze new paths, and more and more casino licenses are being granted each year to support the need to shore up education and infrastructure deficits at the state level.

At CES last year, 1 in 4 products were fitness related and that number rose 30 percent this year. By 2017, industry experts predict 170 million fitness products will flood the market. Wearable technology will motivate, inform and educate weekend warriors and sponsorship will be a perfect fit, especially for fans who take great interest in athletes’ workout routines, nutritional insights and overall health regimen. Google Glass, Nike and Under Armour could be the leaders in this space.

JEFF SHIFRIN, OCTAGON: Technology would be the easy answer, but we’re seeing more and more clients in

Time Warner Cable Studios, staged in New York City during Super Bowl week, was  singled out as an innovative use of branding that was embraced by consumers.
Photo by: Getty Images
our marketing business that aren’t part of the traditional “power” categories. Companies that haven’t traditionally participated in our business are now seeing sports and entertainment as an important part of their marketing mix — everyone is trying to take advantage of the passion consumers have for sports, music and entertainment.

JEFF FILIBERTO, CAA SPORTS: Global soccer in the U.S. Between the impending World Cup and the emergence of foreign games now easily available for most Americans to access on TV in real time, the global soccer wave is crashing onto U.S. shores with a vengeance. Messi was recently ranked one of Americans’ favorite athletes.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the Ballon d’Or winner, has movie-star good looks and a tremendous U.S. fan base. The U.S. national team is more relevant and exciting than ever. U.S. fans finally have unfettered access to the best. Our clients are getting involved in big ways, from Intel to Mondelez. It’s soccer’s time here.

DENISE DURANTE, WASSERMAN MEDIA GROUP: Technology has created both brand and revenue opportunities through various platforms like the new fan experiences that are now available within the game and well beyond the game. For example, Xbox has created a new platform for NFL fans to connect to the game through differentiated content and personalized interactivity, and enhanced the way fans can consume the sport. [Editor’s note: Xbox is a WMG client.]

DAVID ABRUTYN, IMG: Online gaming is one category to watch. Historically, the World Series of Poker did big business with these companies, then U.S. laws changed and the category basically collapsed. The legal environment is changing and this will lead to a rebirth in certain markets. … Internationally this has been an active category for years where online gaming is part of their culture. As U.S. laws change and open this form of entertainment to consumers, sports will be used to drive awareness and business to these companies. The benefits of a lifelong customer are substantial, and competition with bricks-and-mortar entities with their own off- and online business will create competition for the key properties and assets.

What are the top trends you’re watching when it comes to brands sponsoring and activating around sports?

GEIS: Sportsbook in New Jersey — if that passes, it will be a domino effect throughout the nation; pay for athletes in college sports; real-time marketing or “planned spontaneity” — Oreo did it well during Super Bowl XLVII when it created a viral video about the blackout in real time.

DirecTV made use of social media channels with its viral “Football On Your Phone” spot featuring the Manning brothers.
BLUESTEIN: Several of the brands we are working on activations for include product sampling, and we are exploring ways to utilize social media to prompt and encourage product sampling, creating unique hashtags and other call-to-actions which provide experiential rewards for folks who are becoming social brand ambassadors.

NEUMAN: Sponsors (brands) seeking to curate, create and own content that can be shared across multiple media channels that also gets fans (and consumers) engaged in a conversation, driving organic advocacy.

Brands and their agencies are digging deeper to those who are Internet relevant to fan bases. More and more bloggers are being tapped to connect brands with the “hyperpassionate” fan as many bloggers maintain the same credibility as their print counterparts.

Nothing sparks a conversation with media-savvy fans like a compelling, innovative and memorable sponsorship activation. Fuel that conversation by integrating hashtags into print, broadcast, on-site, digital, talent and experiential channels.

Shifting spending priorities from brand dominating presence to building experiences that enhance the fan experience.

SHIFRIN: Brands are focusing on fewer properties, but doing more to leverage their current partnerships. Brands

are taking more of a 360-degree approach than they ever have. What BMW did for Team USA and the U.S. Bobsled Federation through their USOC partnership is a perfect example of a 360-degree program that delivers on the brand’s objectives. [Editor’s note: BMW is an Octagon client] Now, brands can truly create a holistic program because the Internet and mobile provide an unlimited delivery system to reach the consumer. Brands are only limited by their creativity, their imagination, and budget.

KERN EGAN, HAYMAKER: Sponsorships are being held more accountable to deliver against purchase funnel objectives. Historically, many activation programs were developed and executed to simply be in front of fans and add to their experience, with the key success metric being general brand lifts against the designated fan base.

Strong brands understand the key brand equities that drive consumer behavior at each point of the funnel and, today, the most effective sponsorship activation programs are designed to specifically strengthen these equities.

FILIBERTO: Content creation is a big one. It’s easier than ever for anyone, anywhere to distribute content, and brands have this incredible opportunity to create and distribute some of the most impactful and talked-about content in pop culture. This is due to the fact that sponsorship deals can provide brands access to the most compelling athletes, teams, and celebrities. …

DURANTE: Digital: Brands are getting smarter with the use of digital to leverage sponsorships, including branded content — but there is plenty of room for greater success.

ROI: They are also under more pressure to justify spends before entering deals — further increasing their need to validate their marketing goals, metrics, and ROI.

Collaborative partners: Brands increasingly are looking for more than sponsorship, but a brand story with the sport (property or team, even player). They are looking for joint initiatives — community, technology, multicultural, etc. — where they can meaningfully contribute.

ABRUTYN: The passion and consumption of sports in all forms is driving all kinds of innovation in activation. Content is king like never before for many reasons. These are two that come to mind where ideas, content and communications are intersecting to drive trends.

1. Digital rights converging with sponsor rights — the ubiquity of personal devices, quality, quantity of video and desire for content as simple as stats to complex as locker room video. Sponsors and brands are working hard to find the authentic connection points, and those that do it well are being rewarded with great returns.

2. Platforms vs. promotions — integrating communications with sponsorship activation is essential to maximizing activation opportunities and returns. We have evolved from a world of traditional advertising, consumer sweeps/promotions windows and disconnected in-venue promotions to year-round integrated marketing of sponsorship investments. Said another way: Integrated sponsorship, communications and media is the new rule of thumb. The NFL/USAA military appreciation platform and the Kia Performance Awards platform are two partners that have worked with properties to create custom programs that are carried through all channels throughout the year. [Editor’s note: USAA and Kia are IMG clients.]

What specifically have you seen change when it comes to effective platforms or channels of activation?

GEIS: The biggest change has been in advertising creative. The big-budget 30-second spot created by a well-known ad agency is being replaced by the long-form viral video that goes up on YouTube. And if it gets a lot of hits, we’ll cut the 30-second spot from that.

BMW used its sponsorship with the U.S. Bobsled Federation to highlight its innovation.
Photo by: Getty Images
BLUESTEIN: Media partners developing off-air platforms for brand engagement. We are currently working with a national radio partner who has always done their pregame show from in-studio and it now will be in a fan-friendly area that can include sponsor branding, special events, talent appearances and more.

NEUMAN: How brands are inserting themselves into the fan’s conversation via the most fan-relevant social media touch points, including but not limited to Facebook and Twitter. This is driven by shareable and “ownable” content as well as “data driven by design activations” created to capture email and cell information so social media listening analytics can be utilized. Smartphones and social media environments allow fans to share their opinions seconds after it happens. Sports and live content will continue to be the ultimate catalyst for social media growth.

SHIFRIN: Today, properties are doing a better job of giving brands the tools they need to reach the consumer, including content vehicles and activation platforms.

FILIBERTO: Brands are helping to change the landscape. Borders are being pushed. Cookie-cutter deals are a thing of the past. Brands are pushing properties to embrace and try new things. From Intel’s sponsorship of the inside of FC Barcelona’s jersey to Time Warner Cable’s first-of-its-kind step inside the cable box at Time Warner Cable Studios around Super Bowl, fans are much more accepting of brand presence than ever before, as long as the presence is authentic and brings something cool, creative, or meaningful to the game [Editor’s note: CAA consulted on those programs].

DURANTE: Access to specialized data and new technologies have allowed for greater targeted marketing efforts, providing not just additional new channels through the likes of social media, but more means to authentically communicate with the brands’ targeted fan. This is driving greater depth of activation — and some real-time learnings.

ABRUTYN: The ubiquity of social media has empowered influencers in the digital community. Our recent fan engagement study … showcased the reality of this new channel and the importance of engagement versus simple exposure. It is critical to have a plan to find your brand voice and connect with each layer of this segment in meaningful and consistent ways if you want to make the most of your investments.

In fewer than 20 words, what advice do you have for properties selling — or looking to renew — sponsorship inventory today?

GEIS: Understand your client’s objectives and customize a proposal that meets those objectives. No more “off the shelf” “find-and-replace sponsor logo” proposals. And as sponsors increasingly want experiential assets and consumer engagement elements, properties are going to have to staff up to support what they have sold.

BLUESTEIN: Ask what the brand’s goals and objectives are with the sponsorship before telling the agency/brand

Health and wellness should be a growing category based on product rollouts at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
Photo by: Getty Images
their property is the perfect fit.

NEUMAN: Brands don’t have three- to five-year plans anymore; enter agreements knowing that changes will be made to support ever-changing brand strategies.

SHIFRIN: Figure out return on objectives.

EGAN: Remove ambiguity and subjectivity. Partner with your sponsor on specifying program objectives. Then deliver against and measure those objectives.

FILIBERTO: Demonstrate an authentic, creative and/or unique passion for the brand by the property.

DURANTE: Find ways to create partnership. Listen, and identify platforms where sponsors can truly create impact and a brand story.

ABRUTYN: Agencies are not the sales prevention department. Use them to help build what works for their clients. They know.