From the rise of e-sports, to the triathlon replacing the fast car as the new mid-life crisis, to strong becoming the new skinny, sports marketing is in the midst of significant transformation.
This transformation and the opportunities it affords for brands was at the top of the agenda at Campaign’s first ever sports marketing conference #FutureFit, held at the Curzon cinema in Soho. Here are the five key takeaways from the event:
1. Embrace power of sport to bring people together in difficult times
Sally Hancock, managing partner at Y Sports, emphasised the power of sport to bring people together in difficult times. She urged brands to think big and play small, a strategy powered by investing in grassroots sports. She added that sponsors need to be true to their beliefs, do less and achieve more and celebrate sporting success.
2. Creative brand campaigns deliver longevity
"'This girl can' shows us the power of a campaign and the power of the use of real role models." She added that Sport England is working with Y Sport to work out how to bring in commercial partners to bring the campaign to its next stage."
Jennie Price, the chief executive of Sport England and the chair of the event, credited its agency FCB Inferno for creating a campaign that delivered a new breed of local sports superheroes. She emphasised that making sport accessible is crucial for success.
3. Brands need to be more assertive with sports rights holders
Traditional rights deals which offer brands an immovable and restrictive rights package are no longer fit for purpose. Lucozade Sport’s head of partnerships, James Young said that brands need to be more assertive when they strike deals with sports rights holders in order to make sports marketing more effective.
Young added that he is seeing rights holders becoming more creative and that brands need to push for this.
"I’m seeing green shoots with rights holders being more creative," Young explained. "The ones I enjoy working with is the ones that will sit down and co-trade with you rather than saying ‘here’s what you can buy from us, you’re one of eight categories, here’s the off-the-shelf stuff you can have just like everyone else’.
"I’m hearing less of that and maybe it’s that brands need to become more assertive and say what it is they want, buy what they want and don’t pick up all the things around it that they’ve got no interest in."
4. Embrace the media ecosystem beyond the ‘guys in ties’
"The guys in ties, the diet of old sports media can no longer serve the fans," explained James Kirkham head of Copa 90. "Everything has been redefined by social, so many people are watching games in Dark Social it is alive," he explains. Pointing the rise of meme culture Kirkham explained that "moments matter more".
5. Reappraise who your influencers are
The biggest influencers aren’t necessarily the most authentic, according to Gareth Leeding, creative director at We Are Social Sport, who spoke alongside Stephen Cleary, social media manager at Adidas Football Global. The duo revealed that authentic voices are the key to successful influencer marketing.
Cleary shared the learnings from its groundbreaking "Tango squad" programme, which saw the brand partner with young footballers, give them access to exclusive content and events, and which helped them to grow their own social media reach.
"We already had influence at the top level of football; the question was, 'who creates influence and where does it come from?'", he explained. The result was a grassroots campaign which has effectively enabled Adidas to build its own influencer network.
Hancock explained that brands' reliance on celebrity is less than it was and instead "we are creating new stars".
"We rely too much on the notion of celebrity," she added. It is a shift that demands that brands break the mold from the traditional, hyper-masculine "blood sweat and tears" approach favoured by the sports marketing industry in years gone by in favour of more diverse and meaningful connections.