Discussing the Impact of Digital Marketing in Sport
An image promoting the broadcast of FIFA 2010 World Cup matches in 3D The opportunity to witness first-hand the impact of the actual process of digital marketing in events I have actively been involved in such as the FIFA 2010 and 2014 World Cups and several CONCACAF Championships over the past ten years including the prestigious CONCACAF Gold Cup has got me thinking; Digital Marketing has truly changed the way sport is consumed, packaged and sold to consumers. And as a fan, observing the various digital marketing strategies at different events is even more convincing in recent times. Let’s take a closer look at what I mean.
Digital Marketing is a term that encompasses modern marketing techniques used online, for example, Social Media, Blogging, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Pay per Click Management (PPC), Branding, Content Marketing, Video Marketing and App creation.
As for the Sports Industry, well, this really is as broad as it gets. From a performance point of view, this could be the marketing of a sports event, an athlete, a club/team, as well as sporting professional such as coaches, physical trainers, psychologists, physiotherapists, nutritionist and products through sports marketing with businesses and retailers offering sporting goods and services relying on Digital Marketing as a key driver for their business.
Whether it’s your favourite football or cricket team, athlete, sporting organization, your most anticipated annual competition final such as the European Champions League or Caribbean Premier League (CPL) cricket, retailer or competitor, being seen online, as well as engaging with supporters and customers, is now a vital aspect for effective sports marketing.
The advent of the social media has been the biggest change to the sporting industry. In 2006 when Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2006, the social media crave and options were nothing like it is today. In order for fans to access photos of the Trinidad and Tobago team during its activities in Germany, as Press officer, I would have to email a zip file of photos to a webmaster in Port of Spain to be then uploaded onto the Association’s website or fans would simply have to wait on the publication of the following day's national newspapers. The advance in technology is now allowing anyone to publish images from the palm of his or her hand using a mobile device. We are now able to broadcast our events in realtime via livestreaming on Facebook and Youtube.
"Managing Digital Marketing is like playing sport. It requires strategy, teamwork and a large degree of focus for there to be success."
With platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat among others, there are millions of users for sports brands to promote themselves to. Sports people and their respective clubs and organizations utilise such platforms to harness branding as well as engagement to make their fans’ online experience all the more rewarding. The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association is now able to feed sporting networks with its latest video updates in less than an hour as compared to ten years ago when unless a network sent a cameraman on tour, there would be little or sometimes nothing for fans to view on a regular daily basis.
For the average sports fan, affording expensive tickets to see an event is often extremely challenging, both in financial and often geographical terms. What social media does is bridge the ever increasing gap between the expense of live fandom and the free exposure of social media. In effect, this has created a new form of fandom, one which takes advantage of the new digital age.
Many sporting organisations or brands focus on engagement. By engaging fans via social media, sports rights holders can open new communication channels with their audience that can be measured and valued as a new commercial opportunity with sponsors. Businesses that get involved through sponsorships and social media promotions, meanwhile, benefit from increased brand affinity and loyalty. In 2016, Barcelona Football club became the largest sport club on social media with 145 million followers. The club worked with sports marketing agency IMG to examine what value social media adds to its shirt sponsorship rights. Over one weekend, there were 61 million web impressions of the Qatar Foundation’s sponsorship of the club’s shirts.
In motor racing, the Formula E Championship for electric cars has introduced FanBoost, where fans vote for their favourite driver to have a power boost in a race. Through social media, fans are having a real impact on the result of a race. It’s no longer 100pc about the skill of the driver and performance of the car. It’s also about fans’ input.
Event hosts and broadcasters can also offer virtual advertising through the use of digital technology to insert virtual advertising images into a live or pre-recorded coverage. This is when broadcasters replace real advertising panels with virtual images on the screen when broadcasting the same event in other regions which are not concerned with the local advertising; an English Premiership game will be broadcast in Mexico with Mexican advertising images. The viewer has the impression that the advertising image he/she sees on screen is the one in reality.
As with social media, the use of club or event specific Apps are now more important than ever. Whilst many sports events have become increasingly difficult to attend, due to costs and logistics, following a specific sports person or team with the use of decent application can help bridge the increasing gap between fans and their sporting idols or clubs. This is especially true for sports that have become increasingly popular as well as increasingly expensive. A new type of fandom has been created, and Apps are a fantastic way of keeping such fans engaged with their brands.
The football business has entered fully into the digital era and other sports are right there with it. Clubs are creating more personalized content to connect with fans and generate new revenues, changes that are due to the continuous advances in technology. As the saying goes, “after the game, the game starts”. The internet and social media have opened a new avenue of communication between clubs, fans, sponsors and all those involved in this business. Fans can now access exclusive behind the scenes content online or via television by subscribing to official club channels and apps. Several football clubs such as Manchester City and Liverpool are now offering fans free wi-fi at their stadiums enabling not only more interactions onsite but more commercial activity too. Spectators now have the ability to make additional purchases or seat upgrades from the venue.
There are indeed challenges also. For instance, activating sponsorships through digital platforms faces challenges with generating visibility to drive engagement and justify the investment. There are so many apps, websites or initiatives using digital that you need the ‘wow factor’ to attract (new) viewers or participants. Fans can be quite fickle and are always seeking fresh content so they hop from one provider to another. With Digital engagement, there is a need for segmenting fans carefully and ensure ‘right content for the right audience’ is being delivered.
Another benefit of digital marketing as it relates to players come in the form of scouting. Ten years ago, players or agents could not attract the interest of top clubs around the world unless a scout was physically able to travel thousands of miles to view a match involving a player of interest. Now, players and agents are able to market themselves by uploading highlight videos on Youtube and clubs are now offering contracts based on online viewing.
In conclusion, Digital marketing has a lot to offer current and potential advertisers and of course the fans and hosts. The number of paying supporters coming through the turnstiles each week doesn’t tell the full story, with thousands more are lurking at home in their comfortable seats on mobile devices and laptops, not just on a matchday. This ‘hidden army’ of support is the Holy Grail for professional sports, organizations and clubs… a rich but untapped seam of digitally-savvy content consumers. It is clearly no longer just about television and newspapers.
by Shaun Fuentes, an appointed FIFA 2010 World Cup Media Officer, CONCACAF Champions League Media Officer and head of communications for the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association.
This content was an assignment submission during the FIFA/CIES Post Grad Diploma in Sport Management at the University of the West Indies.