Future of media? Look to major league sport

Sports marketing has moved beyond a numbers game - it can solve business problems on a global scale.

When the Premier League started in 1992, sport sponsorship was simple: a badging exercise to raise brand awareness, plus a bit of corporate hospitality and perimeter board signage, sold to the highest bidder.   

Sponsorship took the brand into the heart of the content (where it was immune to ad-blocking) and, for 20-plus years, it has been a bull market as media proliferated and brand money flowed to sports rights holders. 

But because it was a media-driven business, sponsorship grew up using media-based valuation tools to prove its worth – a legacy that the sport and entertainment marketing industry wrestles with to this day. 

For some chief marketing officers, sponsorship is viewed through the lens of cheap media, which remains in thrall to numbers – eyeballs, impressions, clicks and visibility percentages. But this view of sports marketing is outmoded. 

Solving business problems

Today, the Premier League is the story of marketing and media’s journey: big brands enabled by sport and sponsorship to meet varying marketing and business objectives – on a global, not local, platform.

Sport and entertainment to showcase technology, especially mobile, to fuel the experience. In fact, smart tech solutions are key to delivering precious brand dwell time, which boosts brand preference and advocacy

This season, for the first time since its debut year, there is no title sponsor. The brands clustered around it are now partners, which represents a sea change in how they view sport as a marketing vehicle and how its effectiveness is being measured. Carling, Barclays, EA Sports, Tag Heuer and Nike have moved beyond using football as an awareness driver – they are using the sport to solve business problems.

Take the triumvirate of Carling (a Havas client), Sky and the Premier League. They have a shared business objective: using football to drive customers to the pub to drink beer and watch football on the big screen. That has led, among other things, to Carling In Off The Bar, a post-match show broadcast on Sky and online.

This is what the sports partnership of today should be about: a brand building a long-term customer communication strategy by working with like-minded organisations to explore innovative solutions.

But this requires sports rights holders to move from a sales-led approach to a marketing mindset. That means being able to understand fans’ passions and deliver on a wide range of demands from the client brand. 

Unlike media buying, sport and enter-tainment sponsorship resonates in the boardroom, where the questions being asked of the marketing function are about business transformation. 

Normalising new technologies

The line between sports marketing agencies and management consultancies is blurring. Activation programmes are moving to the centre of brand strategy as clients use sport and entertainment to showcase technology, especially mobile, to fuel the experience. In fact, smart tech solutions are key to delivering precious brand dwell time, which boosts brand preference and advocacy.

All this is being driven by a number of smart players that bring together the constituent parts of this new world: world-class creative, sport and entertainment expertise, and brand relationships joined with technology, broadcast and data know-how.

Working with the right partners, elite sports properties are at the cutting edge in our industry, from how it is broadcast to normalising new technology for a mainstream audience. 

This mix of art and science is marketing’s holy grail: the ability to supply mass, media-driven fame to a brand partner but also to deliver a one-to-one connection via CRM data analytics. The media industry has only part of the answer.

Pedro Avery is the global chief executive of Havas Sports & Entertainment

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