The need for sports to unify, uplift and entertain is as important as ever, but sports in 2020 are unlike anything we’ve seen before.
In the wake of a global pandemic, shifts in content consumption have accelerated dramatically. Fans still watch live games and events, but audiences are hardly captive. They’ve embraced new ways to engage and interact with sports content and athletes, creating new opportunities for brands.
In today’s changing sports landscape, is the televised game the main event it once was? And if live events are overvalued, what are the new sports moments that matter for advertisers?
Live sporting events as multiscreen experiences
Since live sports returned this year—seemingly all sports at once—most have seen a sharp decrease in viewership. This year’s World Series, for example, was the least watched since Nielsen started tracking its ratings in 1968.1 When the pendulum swung from no sports to all sports, streaming highlight clips and posts from armchair critics helped fans keep up amid shifting schedules and competing game times.
Among those who tune in, attention isn’t what it used to be. In the U.S., 88% of fans use a second digital device while watching TV.2 Fans are evaluating real-time stats and commentary online, checking their fantasy leagues, streaming halftime analyses and breakdowns, having watch parties and sharing highlights with friends. Those moments offer more cost-effective opportunities for brands to extend existing sports sponsorships and get in front of fans during the game, where they’re engaging on second-screen devices.
Engaging, nontraditional sports content
More avenues for content provide fans with unprecedented, always-on access to sports information and entertainment apart from televised matchups. Nontraditional sporting “events” are drawing a lot of attention, such as this year’s virtual NFL draft, which reached a record 55 million viewers.3 And Mintel found that one in five fans streams sports-related highlight clips.4
Today’s fans aren’t just watching—they’re engaging in new ways. They’re streaming and creating videos online, reading and sharing posts and articles, taking in pre- and post-game analyses and participating in passionate rivalries and debates. Brands can get in on the action by meeting fans where they are consuming shoulder content and interacting with each other online.
Behind-the-scenes access fueling athlete fandom
Fans have always dreamed of getting to know their favorite athletes better, but in 2020 they expect to, as many players share their lives, beliefs and interests as influencers on social media.
While sports paused due to COVID-19, a YPulse survey found that nearly one-third of sports fans ages 18 to 39 said they would likely keep up with athletes on social media. Popularity around player stories is sparking conversations online. For example, ESPN’s posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter about “The Last Dance”—its docuseries co-produced with Netflix about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls—accounted for a combined 9 million engagements.5
More access to players as people is fueling fandom that transcends live sporting events and driving deeper connections among fans, players and the brands they love.
Seizing the new moments that matter
For fans, sports increasingly extend beyond the game. And for brands, sports advertising does too.
Fans, teams, athletes, creators, publishers and brands come together on apps and digital services. Facebook Watch, for example, offers people a go-to place to discover videos across Facebook for whatever they’re into. And sports fans are more likely to use Facebook Watch vs. nonsports fans. Through the game-changing video solution In-Stream Reserve, advertisers can connect with their audiences during the moments when they’re engaging with top-tier sports or sports-related video content.
After all, while today’s new normal brings different ways for fans to engage with the sports they love, it’s also providing new moments for brands to engage with the valuable fans they seek.
With Facebook’s In-Stream Reserve, advertisers have the flexibility to utilize different targeting levers that match their unique brand needs, with fixed pricing and guaranteed delivery. In-Stream Reserve also makes select professional league video content available to official league partners through sponsorships. To learn more about how Facebook’s In-Stream solutions can help capture new audiences and loyalists visit fb.me/reservefb
1“Dodgers-Rays game one had the lowest TV ratings ever for a World Series game,” CNBC,October 2020.
2Mary Meeker Internet Trends, June 2019.
3“Virtual NFL draft shatters records with 55 million viewers,” ESPN, April 2020.
4Lightspeed/Mintel, U.S., Marketing to Sports Fans, November 2019.
5“Michael Jordan and ‘The Last Dance’ Was a Social Media Phenomenon,” Forbes, May 2020.