Rio Ferdinand: manages Rebel FC
Rio Ferdinand: manages Rebel FC
A view from Will Pyne

As sport winds down this summer, how do brands reach fever pitch?

Online video content is no longer a second-rate sports strategy, writes Brave Bison's chief creative officer.

It was a nail-biting Europa League affair in Stockholm last night as Manchester United took on Ajax, winning 2-0. Nail-biting in the sense that if Man U had lost, their sponsorship deal with Adidas would have been dented by a cool £21m – a good example of the cost of "top tier" marketing around the big clubs and the big tournaments.

We now face a summer of limited sport. No World Cup, Euros, Olympics or Ashes. It’s tempting for brands to ease off in their marketing – which would be a huge missed opportunity. There may not be a big tournament to build a marketing strategy around but that doesn’t mean there aren’t millions of eyeballs tuning into digital sports content and it’s time brands wake up before they reach fever pitch.

Big brands utilise live events all year round to market their products – but there are growing audiences tuning into less traditional, more alternative online video content, which is often driven by fans themselves or social influencers across sport, music and fashion. This content is highly relatable – fan punditry, challenges and skills demos make up a lot of it.

Taking a broader "entertainment" approach is key – it’s all the stuff around the actual playing of the sport that this audience loves the most.

Only 13% of football video content consumed online are match highlights. The top tier plays a vital role – but it’s now not the only side to the story. These online communities should be directly informing a brand’s programming and audience growth strategy, especially during a summer where they are going to be more captive than ever.

In fact, you see the likes of record labels now using these platforms to break new artists and data from Tubular Labs has revealed that these highly engaged consumers cross industries into music, fashion and gaming.

So how can brands become great tacticians in this space? First up they need to understand that they’re talking to a considerably younger audience. The millions who tuned into last Sunday’s Sidemen vs YouTube Allstars live-streamed charity match on YouTube are a very different crowd to those who watched Sky Sports for the last big Premiership game.

It’s an audience that values relatable, fun content fronted by talent they deem as accessible and relevant.

Taking a broader "entertainment" approach is key – it’s all the stuff around the actual playing of the sport that this audience loves the most. Online channel, Slash Football’s Park Life series which focuses on Sunday Leaguers Eltham SF doesn’t pride itself on the brilliant football action – it’s all about the larger-than-life characters involved in the club and has clocked up some 6 million views in the space of a few months.

Content like this around "everyday" football is more relatable and is a smart move for some brands. For example, take Sure, which created Sunday League comedic videos with the massive DreamTeam platform, known now just as much for the quirky and hilarious content as it is the fantasy football game.

The same Unilever brand teamed up with Goal.com, which boasts 16 million Likes for a live Facebook show. The season might be over, but there’s no reason for the football content to stop – this audience isn’t going anywhere.

Authenticity is key. Tapping into football culture is clever, but it’s not done overnight. In recent years Adidas has been given kudos for their cultural cues – the most exciting highlight being their Pogba X Stormzy masterpiece. Adidas, too, demonstrates its respect for raw and behind-the-scenes football content through their partnership with Copa90.

But this is the Wild West of sports content. There are no rules, but embrace this and brands can win over new audiences. Rebel FC, a team fronted by YouTube influencer "Calfreezy", who boasts over five million fans, don't even have a league or a fixture list that limits them to the football season – so imagine sponsoring a one-off summer football event that, at short notice, can be live-streamed to millions of eager fans?

This market is crucially undervalued but as more brands cotton on to the opportunities in working collaboratively, they’ll see the creative freedom as well as the financial benefits and audience growth. 

Is there a position in this formation for the big football stars? Rio Ferdinand recently took on a management position of Rebel FC (main picture, above), and then we saw KFC and Pepsi Max creating branded fan-content on social media as opposed to straightforward ads with a top-flight footballer like Sergio Aguero.

Despite these examples, this market is crucially undervalued but as more brands cotton on to the opportunities in working collaboratively, they’ll see the creative freedom as well as the financial benefits and audience growth. But it’s not a quick fix and shouldn’t be seen as a bolt on.

The brands doing this effectively have the knowledge of the space that has meant they’re building long-term, credible partnerships that have formed major parts of their strategy rather than a half-hearted attempt to break into a scene in which they’ve not invested time or passion in.

Online video content is no longer a second-rate sports strategy. If brands are prepared to behave more collaboratively and with less hubris, and are truly multiplatform in spirit they stand to reap the rewards of tapping into a highly engaged new audience.

Will Pyne is chief creative officer at Brave Bison.

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