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Volume 21 No. 26
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Marketers aim to decipher shifting media, brand patterns

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n a quest to determine the most nettlesome problem facing sports marketers in 2018, we heard a good paradigm from 29-year industry vet EJ Narcise. He was at a friend’s house with around a half-dozen teenagers when the late hit that got New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski suspended happened. None of the teens were watching the game.

However, within minutes, “They’re all running around screaming about Gronk’s cheap shot, because it popped up on all of their phones,” said Narcise, co-founder and principal at sports marketing/sales consultancy Team Services LLC. “There’s probably more NFL video being consumed than ever, we just need a better way to measure and monetize. The popularity is there — maybe more so than ever — but I would not tell a client to go plunge into NFL TV ads. They’re not being watched.”

Figuring out those shifting media-consumption patterns is not a problem restricted to the NFL by any means. Regardless of whom we talked with, cracking that code was identified as the leading industry imperative heading into 2018 — and likely for a few years thereafter.

“I’m sure we’ve got really valuable content, most of which has to be consumed live,” said Sam Kennedy, Boston Red Sox president and CEO. “I’m not quite as definitive looking to the future about how our fans are going to get that content and how they’re going to pay for it. We’re looking for ways to monitor and understand that.”

When Gronk’s hit filled social media feeds, that’s when young fans noticed.
Only the terminology changes as you go from one industry expert to another.

“The primary thing everyone’s thinking about is disruption within the media ecosystem,” said Wharton professor Scott Rosner. “We’re all curious about what the next round of rights deals will look like, but anyone who tells you they know is lying.”

“[Media] consumption has changed so quickly it’s scary,” said SportsNet New York President Steve Raab. “Scary because we’re heading into the unknown, but exciting because we’re building something new and transforming into something that’s not exclusively a linear TV business.”

There are all kinds of new uncertainties to confront. Some principal sports sponsors are equally befuddled by their own sorts of disruption. Beer and soda brands have forever been among the biggest sugar daddies in sports. Now, like sports itself, their businesses are being transformed by changes in consumer habits and distribution.

“Packaged-goods brands in general are quite challenged,” said Chris Weil, CEO at Momentum Worldwide, with a client roster that includes consumer-packaged-goods stalwarts Coke, Chobani and Kraft Heinz. “Their whole model is getting upended, so they are trying to figure out where to spend within their new worlds.”

Of course, those 14-year-olds screaming about Gronk are consuming social media in ever-increasing chunks. So, within the new demand for analytics comes the search for a metric that takes social media beyond the most basic measures and into an engagement measure. Given the influence of social media, this also was described as mission critical for 2018.

“It drives me crazy to see social metrics based on impressions, instead of objectives,” said Mike Reisman, MKTG president of sports and entertainment. “Brands are clearly more willing to spend on social media and content development, but it’s got to be centered on brand building, as opposed to ‘Let’s check the box on social media.’”

What capabilities will everyone be adding next year? No one we talked to answered anything other than data and analytics — even if they already had those abilities in house.

“We’re looking at a new frontier of leveraging data and metrics in decision-making and measurement,” said Tony Schiller, Paragon Marketing executive vice president and partner. “This business has come a long way, but there’s still too many people looking at how much TV exposure that sign in center field got.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.