The North American sports market is on a winning streak, poised to hit $83 billion in 2023. The industry is not just surviving; it's thriving, with digitization acting as its power play. From engaging second-screen experiences and sports betting to NFTs, mixed reality, and metaverse activations, the world of sports is being digitally redefined. In 2022, an astounding 80% of fans caught their favorite games via online channels, a figure projected to soar to over 90 million by 2025. With options aplenty - streaming platforms, broadcast channels, mobile apps, virtual worlds, online gaming, and social media - fan engagement is at an all-time high.
In this dynamic arena, sports organizations are morphing into multi-channel media companies, offering round-the-clock experiences. This forces sports marketers to level up their strategies to keep fans captivated and fuel the business of sports. Tech behemoths aren't sitting on the sidelines either. Amazon is making waves with sports media rights, Apple and TikTok are plunging into live streaming, while Netflix's sports documentaries are gaining fanfare. These moves are attracting diverse, multicultural audiences for sports like Formula 1 in the US and NFL in Europe, which traditionally lacked global appeal. Simultaneously, the sports fandom universe is undergoing its own transformation with NFTs offering unique investment opportunities and online sports betting predicted to rake in up to $22 billion annually by 2026.
So, how can brands navigate this digitally supercharged sports world? We've curated a list of seven key sports marketing plays to help you stay ahead of the game in 2023 and beyond. Let's kick off!
The 7 Key Sports Marketing Plays
1. Foster Digital Fan Engagement – Year-Round
Fan engagement is no longer a seasonal affair. Today's digital landscape allows fans to stay connected to their favorite sports, teams, and communities year-round! The Nielsen Sports Report reveals that almost 50% of viewers love a multi-screen experience, interacting with live content on social media while they soak up the sporting action. These second screens are a sports marketing treasure trove. In a 2022 survey, 69% of Superbowl spectators used their second screen to learn more about products or services advertised during the game. Matchdays, then, enriched by tweets, videos, and highlight reels, have become fertile ground for creative content.
But savvy marketers shouldn't limit themselves to live events. Beyond game days, there's a growing demand for consistent non-live content related to sports events, teams, and leagues. Regular updates peppered with "On This Day" throwbacks, athlete interviews, training highlights, draft updates, and sneak peeks behind the scenes are now the standard, satisfying fans' cravings for constant engagement with the sports universe.
Tito's aimed to capture golfers' attention all year round, not just during championship season. Leveraging their "Tito's Tasters" initiative, Snipp crafted a dynamic sweepstakes microsite where fans could sign up for a chance to bag one of numerous Tito's branded golf prizes. They could further increase their odds by voting for their top Tito's cocktail. To maintain continuous engagement, a regularly updated interactive map revealed each state’s preferred cocktail
2. Use AI and Personalization to Surprise and Delight
Personalization can transform the sports experience for a fan, turning a passive spectator into a true devotee. Sports brands are leveraging Artificial Intelligence to weave this magic of personalization, with customized highlight reels and tailored promotions and offers. Generative AI can elevate this personal touch, empowering fans to call the shots by requesting specific packages or sponsors to keep their preferred branding in constant view. The future even holds the possibility of crafting personalized NFTs as part of sports marketing blitzes, adding another dimension to fan engagement.
In 2022, the NBA introduced a membership service to deliver unique, tailored content to fans based on their preferences. NBA ID integrates a fan's experience across all its platforms, including its app and NBA League Pass, providing personalized features like exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and access to new mini-series..
3. Focus on First-party Data Collection
In the sports marketing arena, first-party data isn't just a strategy but a game-changer for personalized fan engagement. Sports entities are turning their massive fan bases into distinct data segments, ripe for engagement and monetization. But with fans becoming more data-savvy, brands need to offer enticing trade-offs like exclusive access and rewards. Strategies like contests, digital giveaways, and loyalty programs not only harvest data but also create rewarding fan experiences.
Loyalty programs, in particular, have become a treasure trove of voluntarily provided information, and looking ahead, many teams and leagues are exploring NFTs and tokens as futuristic enhancements to their traditional offerings. Imagine virtual 'loyalty' tokens offering special game access, shared decision-making power, and unlimited fan engagement opportunities -- even in the metaverse!
In a dynamic collaboration with the NHL, Danone reinvented their annual "Snack to Win" campaign into an exciting sweepstakes. By purchasing any Danone Oikos yogurt, fans got a shot at $25,000 in prizes, including a dream trip for two to the 2023 Stanley Cup finals. Plus, Snipp spiced things up with an instant-win feature, offering immediate prizes such as NHL Shop Gift Cards, Pre-Paid Visas, and Danone Coupons.
4. Foster Brand-Platform Marketing Collaborations
Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Facebook are becoming key OTT channels for sports marketing campaigns. Such collaborations offer vital opportunities for marketers to engage with wider audiences and collect customer data, as most subscribers create personalized profiles that can help brands know exactly who sees their content and when. Having a partner with first-party customer data is only going to grow in importance as the consumers become more complex.
Mercedes-Benz made a savvy play, joining forces with Amazon's "Thursday Night Football" to amplify its electric car advertising campaign. The Amazon stream scored big with the sought-after 18-45 age group, capturing 24% of viewership versus the NFL's TV audience of 14%. The allure of connecting with this younger, digitally-inclined demographic motivated Mercedes-Benz to back the first-ever halftime show.
5. Showcase Core Values with Purpose-Driven Marketing
Issue-based campaigns that promote worthy causes and raise nationwide awareness around topical social concerns are impactful ways to foster emotional connections with fans. The sports world is currently abuzz with the issue of gender inequality, as women's sports, particularly soccer, and basketball, are on the rise, drawing in new generations of sports fans who are inspired by individual players.
The industry is also embracing sustainability, with a rise in sports products made from sustainable materials and recycled plastics –and sports venues and leagues are highlighting the green practices they’re implementing to minimize their environmental footprints. These efforts are particularly crucial in maintaining the loyalty of younger fans who value such commitments. But the key to any values-driven marketing campaign is that it should resonate as authentic, with a natural connection between the cause and the brand.
Buick's 2023 #SeeHerGreatness campaign is propelling women's basketball into the limelight across all streaming platforms. As the automotive brand with the largest female customer base, Buick aims to amplify the WNBA's profile and stimulate discussions around it. This cause marketing strategy has proven successful - during the 2022 March Madness, Buick's TikTok viewership leaped from a modest 1,500 views in February to an astonishing 20 million in March!
6. Take GEN Z Off the Sidelines
Gen Z's sports interest falls short compared to older cohorts, with less enthusiasm for live games and TV viewing. Building a Gen Z fan base is high on sports marketing agendas, despite challenges like nearly 40% of Gen Zers lacking a favorite team and about half never having attended a pro game. The solution? Reach them on their home turf - social media and virtual spaces. TikTok is fast becoming a favored arena for sports marketers, with 83% of fans enjoying brands' participation in trends and challenges, and nearly half admitting to a purchase inspired by TikTok sports content.
State Farm's Super Bowl LVII strategy was a touchdown, harnessing the power of TikTok to engage Gen Z through second-screen experiences. The brand spotlighted State Farm Stadium via a TikTok contest, roping in top creator Khaby Lame and mascot Jake to challenge users to guess stadium name-drops for a chance to star with Lame. Their video, posted on Feb. 5, scored an impressive 164 million views, shattering the 2015 Super Bowl viewership record. By choosing TikTok over traditional ads, State Farm captured the attention of Gen Z and millennials, solidifying the platform’s position as key for future sports advertisers.
7. Showcase Athlete-Centric Influencers
Athletes are no longer just players on the field, they're shaping sports marketing with their unique personalities and styles, emerging as content creators and influencers – and becoming vital bridges between brands and fans. A striking 61% of Gen Z sports viewers trust their recommendations, while 45% have been inspired to buy clothing by these athlete-influencers!
Adidas is set to transform over 50,000 student-athletes into paid brand ambassadors with its innovative Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) network. Launching the program with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Adidas aims to foster inclusivity, equality, and entrepreneurial drive in athletics, transcending race or gender limits.
Sports marketing needs to keep up with the evolving sports landscape
There’s no doubt that the sports world is changing drastically to meet heightened fan expectations. The fan's battle cry has become 'Anywhere, Anytime, Anyplace', steering the future of sports content and marketing. Brands and marketers are scoring points by prioritizing first-party data collection, employing AI, and exploring Web3 developments to boost the fan experience. As these technologies pick up the pace, we can expect them to be more integrated into the sports marketing landscape, converting viewers into fervent fans and potentially, collective investors in the teams they root for. Keep our seven key sports marketing strategies in your playbook to navigate the year ahead and stay at the top of your game!
Read our full Trends In Sports Marketing Guide here!