2020 is another huge year for sport. Most obviously, we’ve got the Olympics in Tokyo (or possibly in London, if the coronavirus worsens). Then there are football’s Euros, which will take place across the continent before reaching a climax at Wembley. And, of course, there’s the usual full programme of annual and ongoing events – now boosted by a long-overdue upswing in support for women’s sport. The rising popularity of esports and new twists on old favourites such as Rugby X simply add to the excitement – as does the incursion of new media platforms such as Dazn, Amazon and Twitch.
All of this helps to explain why sports marketing is booming: the field offers huge audiences, high-octane live experiences and healthy associations at a time when all of these qualities are in short supply. But as any athlete will tell you, runaway success can also breed complacency – and I think that there are signs of it in this area.
The mistake many sports marketers make is to assume that they are talking to a captive audience, who are obsessed by their team or event to the exclusion of everything else in their life and can therefore be served up average content, merch and experiences, because frankly "they’ll buy anything". Well, that might be true for some diehard fans, but it’s not reflective of most sports-related business challenges.
Frankly, I don’t know whether Professor Byron Sharp is a sports aficionado or not, but I’m pretty sure his marketing mantras (based on years of hard data) apply to the likes of football and fencing just as much as they do to food and finance. Of course, sporting organisations have to delight their most loyal fans (especially as they often create the atmosphere and credibility that attract others). But, to grow, they need to attract light users: people with a passing interest, sketchy knowledge, perhaps even divided loyalties. And that, in return, requires brands and rights holders to work really hard to be distinctive.
Thankfully, we’re no longer living in a society where blokes miss the birth of their kids to watch the big match (and then give their newborn the 11 names on the team sheet). Instead, we’re operating in a world where men and women watch multiple sports, leagues and clubs; a celebrity-driven culture where people follow individual players, not just teams; a leisure market where sport competes for our attention against other huge draws such as music, fashion, gaming and box-set TV.
Smart marketers will not only recognise these competing attractions but join the dots with clever collaborations: partnerships that find them new audiences rather than just preach to the converted. Now, more than ever, it’s not sufficient to slap a logo on a shirt or repeat last year’s bog-standard activation.
As with the athletes competing at this year’s big events, the marketing winners in 2020 will be those who take nothing for granted – the ones who raise their game for the big occasion, rather than assume it’s enough to turn up.
Andy Nairn is co-founder of Lucky Generals