2014 Sports

Why Sports Is the Ultimate Winning Play for Engagement

U.S. Sports Market Expected to Hit $67B by 2017

By Published on .

Every marketer seems to stand up and cheer for sports. From jewelry retailers to automakers, brands dole out millions of dollars to have access to one of the last DVR-proof offerings on TV, an arena where "mass market," "reach" and 30-second spots still mean something.

General Motors' Buick unit is a sponsor of NCAA basketball's Final Four.
General Motors' Buick unit is a sponsor of NCAA basketball's Final Four.

Robert Carter, VP-automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales USA, puts it simply. "You have a better opportunity to get your message in front of a sports viewer vs. somebody that DVRs a drama, then commercial-skips," said Mr. Carter at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit.

But modern sports marketing stretches far beyond TV. It might be the best place to get creative in both message and media: data-based mobile marketing plays at NBA arenas; virtual ads behind home plate during Major League Baseball telecasts; real-time tweets during NCAA's March Madness; and b-to-b plays at the U.S. Open and Nascar races.

Why? Because people engage with sports like nothing else. If you want to talk passion points, think of those Red Sox fans after the team won its first World Series in 86 years; consider the buzz already building for the World Cup; or just Google "Auburn Alabama final play."

The North American sports market alone is expected to hit $67.7 billion in revenue by 2017, up from $53.6 billion in 2012, according to PwC. That figure includes gate revenue, media rights, corporate sponsorships and merchandising.

Gate revenues are projected to remain the largest segment at $19.1 billion in 2017, growing at a rate of 3.9%. But PwC notes that media rights and sponsorship segments will grow faster, 7.7% and 6%, respectively.

Which makes sense. With the economy limping along and ticket prices continuing to climb, attendance over the past few years has been flat or declined, according to numbers provided by the four major U.S. sports leagues, plus the MLS and NCAA.

And the home experience has only improved with flat-screen, high-definition TVs carrying more and more sports, as well as the proliferation of social media that allows hardcore fans to talk smack in real time.

That has allowed marketers to stretch valuable TV dollars. Mark LaNeve, president of Hudson Rouge and chief operating officer of Global Team Ford, said marketers are increasingly buying media packages that include both traditional TV ads and an extension into the "second screen."

Said Mr. LaNeve: "A lot of the media companies now are selling packages that include both broadcast and the second-screen experience. Twitter has become huge in the second-screen experience. We tend to look at them as integrated media buys, where we're trying to get the customer both in the 30-second and an extension into their home or mobile device."

When Taco Bell renewed its NBA sponsorship last year, the partners launched a digital and social-media platform called "Buzzer Beaters" that highlights last-minute, game-winning shots.

"Our fans are so actively engaged in social," said NBA Senior VP-Global Marketing Partnerships Emilio Collins at the time the deal was announced. "Whenever there's an exciting play ... it just becomes the most-viral thing out there. During the NBA Finals alone, we had over 27 million tweets from our fans."
There's plenty of value beyond the TV, computer and mobile screens.

General Motors' Buick unit is a sponsor of NCAA basketball's Final Four. The appeal of college hoops and its fan base is obvious, but the deal also offers Buick access to all NCAA championships. "We activate at other events, such as Lacrosse Championship, Women's Final Four, Frozen Four, and College World Series," said Tony DiSalle, U.S. VP of Buick and GMC Marketing. "We also had a significant presence at many of the BCS Bowl Games."

Coors Light, an official sponsor of the NHL's outdoor stadium series, is activating its partnership with promotions such as "Super Cold Week" in New York timed with the Jan. 26 and Jan. 29 games at Yankee Stadium. Events include a concert headlined by Jason Aldean and Questlove and in-stadium beer deliveries, from the brand's "Explorers," who star in Coors Light ads.

Of course, the biggest play in U.S. sports is the Super Bowl. Even there, the game has gone well beyond those much-anticipated and extremely expensive 30-second spots.

The playbook for NFL sponsors and advertisers this year calls for a blitz before, during and after Fox's telecast to get a return on investment. And it's coming from every direction.

Native ads? Check. In the first such ads on FoxSports.com's redesigned website, Nissan's sponsoring a series of "My Super Bowl Moment" video interviews with former star performers. In the first, former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree talked with Fox's Mike Hill about his miracle helmet catch against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Product placement? Check. Media Day (broadcast by both ESPN and NFL Network) will be "Fueled by Gatorade," with Gatorades bottles on each podium.

Experiential? Check. General Motors' GMC will be title sponsor of "Super Bowl Boulevard" along a 13-block stretch of Broadway from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1. Not to be outdone, Bud Light will turn a cruise ship docked on the Hudson River into the "Bud Light Hotel" featuring concerts by artists such as the Foo Fighters.

"You have to plan for a four-week period, not a one-day period," said Adam Komack, chief client officer at Mediacom, who advises clients to bookend their Super Bowl spot with weeks of promotions and digital marketing.

Which is good advice for any marketing effort -- sports-related or not.

Contributing: E.J. Schultz

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