How can sports marketing utilise social media?

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 08 March 2012 08:00AM

Sports and social media are a natural fit, but brands have to find ways to provide fans with an enriching experience in an innovative way, two industry experts suggest.

Lucien Boyer

Lucien Boyer

JOSH ROBINSON - director of creative and integrated solutions, Sports Revolution

- Can the passion that sports fans have for their teams be redirected commercially via social media?

When sports fans and social media come together, you get a ravenous appetite for content in a super-transactional space. Rights holders who embrace social commerce by selling tickets and merchandise make the most of the opportunity, such as the NBA store in New York, which has its own Facebook page. Others are using new social assets, such as Uefa's PlayStation-sponsored fantasy football app, to create sponsor packages. This allows them to monetise their social fan base and their unparalleled knowledge of what their fans want.

- So-called macro social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have had tremendous commercial and marketing success. Can 'micro' social media platforms, linked to sport, duplicate that?

Most of us have a big bag of "warm interests", such as bands, brands and TV shows, and then a pocketful of "hot interests" - the stuff that's core to who we are. Specialist forums such as WWE's Facebook page or Footballfancast.com fall into the hot category. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: 59 per cent of sports fans say they're bigger fans since engaging with their team through social.

- What prominence will social media have in the marketing mix this summer, around Euro 2012 and the Olympic Games? Is one more suited to social media than the other?

Both are vast and intense social experiences, riddled with opportunities. Let's see if non-sponsors use social as the obvious way to share the limelight. Will the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games manage to enforce its very specific social media restrictions? (The International Olympic Committee's social media guidelines restrict Tweets, blogs or social media postings that "report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants" and those that do not "conform to the Olympic spirit and fundamental principles of Olympism". The first of which is very difficult to avoid, the second very difficult to define.) Will Danny Boyle use social to break down the walls of the opening ceremony at the Olympics? And which will trend harder: the Euro 2012 final, with its team fan bases, or the men's 100m final, the ultimate sports spectacle?

- Do the demographics of sports fans suggest social media marketing can work better than in other markets?

Social feeds on our innate desire to belong - a big part of why sports fans congregate - in stadia, in the pub and in social media. Sports fans over-index against social media usage. Those accessing sports information daily from smartphones grew 76 per cent last year in the US (comScore). Social media is the saviour of sports sponsorship, giving rights holders and brands a new place to learn what their consumers want. Social is the key driver behind a new era of sports fan engagement.

- Does social media marketing in sports have the ability to build brand awareness beyond the traditionally associated products such as beer, cars, soft drinks, gambling etc?

There are naturally "social products", such as beers and mobile phones, where sport and social are a natural fit. But every consumer is a sports fan at some point - even if it's just during Wimbledon. Look at Procter &Gamble's "proud sponsor of mums" - it's not what many would associate with a "sport campaign", but it uses sport and social to great effect. But social media is not a panacea. If your campaign isn't fed by strong sports fan insight, just like any other channel, it won't work.

LUCIEN BOYER - global president and chief executive, Havas Sports & Entertainment

- Can the passion that sports fans have for their teams be redirected commercially via social media?

Absolutely, if teams can get the conditions right to build active communities. That means supplying fans with unique content and incentives to sustain interest and then allowing them the freedom to set their own culture as they would in a sports venue. Social media enables fans to be surrounded by their teams 24 hours per day, so if you build a big enough community, the commercial potential is huge. For example, Manchester United have more than 20 million Facebook fans and a direct conversation that allows news about new products and services from the club is bound to produce financial returns.

- So-called macro social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have had tremendous commercial and marketing success. Can 'micro' social media platforms, linked to sport, duplicate that?

Simplicity is always crucial to growth, so sport should look to create apps that supplement the "macro" platforms rather than develop confusing micro platforms that compete with them. People enjoy having banter about sport in the pub, train station, cafe or wherever because they are already places of social interaction. By the same token, the best place for sport to grow a significant digital presence is on existing social media platforms. The key from there is to find ways of enriching that experience with new apps such as second-screen technology and social media conversation aggregators.

- What prominence will social media have in the marketing mix this summer, around Euro 2012 and the Olympic Games? Is one more suited to social media than the other?

Social media should be central to the marketing mix this summer. It will be right at the heart of the experience for both the Euros and London 2012 because it allows fans to have instantaneous conversations with other supporters. Euro 2012 will be more parochial, lending itself to debate and controversy. If the tournament is a success on the field, it will generate a huge amount of social media noise. The Olympics traditionally is about exploration, with less emotional investment from fans than football, so, by its nature, the conversation will be softer. However, many of the athletes will be less tightly controlled than in football, so there is likely to be more social media interaction between competitors and fans. UK brand budgets will be focused on social media around the Olympics, but if this summer is a success, they could be on another level entirely for the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil.

- Do the demographics of sports fans suggest social media marketing can work better than in other markets?

Fans have always been hungry for content and social media provides another channel for them to get hold of what they want, when they want it, to try and feel closer to their sport or team. Recent research by Global Sports Forum Barcelona has suggested more fans aged 18-35 are now watching sports online than on TV. This trend means that everyone involved with sport needs to develop content across platforms. The key will be to do this alongside the on-field action, with secondand even third-screen content coming to the fore.

- Does social media marketing in sports have the ability to build brand awareness beyond the traditionally associated products such as beer, cars, soft drinks, gambling etc?

There is potential for brands outside of the traditional sponsorship group, if they can find ways to give fans genuinely engaging content and experiences via social media that are relevant to their brand or product. The danger for brands that aren't intrinsically relevant to sport is that they could either develop great content that has no relevance to their product, and therefore limits the retention of their association, or they create content that doesn't fit with sport and is rejected by fans.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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