It is known that sport sponsoring has established itself as a fixed component of the communication mix of advertising companies. Whatever is implemented as advertising within the context of sport sponsoring, is subject to continuous, significant change. Particularly in recent years, various developments in the markets and in the sense of entitlement of the advertisers have lastingly changed the industry. What are the drivers of these changes and how has the industry reacted to them? The global leading research and consulting firm, Nielsen Sports & Entertainment, has identified and evaluated current trends as part of the “Sponsor Trend” study, an annual survey among market participants, as well as comprehensive research in the sport and sponsoring market.
“Branding only” was yesterday – creative (also digital) storytelling is today
The strip or jersey and the logo presences to be found on them are still always classics and important constituent parts of sport sponsoring. But in the meantime, these classic elements are being supplemented by another supporting pillar: Storytelling. In addition to the comprehensive branding options, in sponsoring, the advertiser also requires a creative way of telling a story, this is what happens in the well-versed cooperation between Hertha BSC and Deutsche Bahn and Lagardère Sports, which has existed for many years. Emotionally and socially important topics, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and diversity, were implemented using the creative storytelling approaches presented here. The message as a key element of communication cannot exclusively be the brand. In particular, the emotionality of the sport and the passion of the fans opens up a comprehensive field here for brand-related storytelling with the involvement of the unique values and emotions of the sponsored party. The plausibility and connectivity of the advertising message turns out to be an important element of successful sponsoring communication. The digital channels play a particularly important role in this. Sport fans are increasingly pursuing the object of their passion via digital channels. This opens up completely new brand communication opportunities for sponsors, as well as interactive and more target-group-specific addressing of the fans. That not only requires the effectiveness of the initiated measures. It also leads to a shift in the sponsoring and activation budget from the analogue to the digital media world. But these changes also increasingly require comprehensive technical expertise in relation to digital media: from the marketers, agencies and advertisers.
Picking up the target groups – sponsoring for generation Y and Z
In spite of different interpretations and perspectives of generations Y and Z, one thing is clear: Communication with these generations is more complex and difficult. This also applies particularly to sponsoring. Fans in these age groups are no less discerning. They want to be addressed authentically through the media channels that they use – with topics that are relevant for them and their world view. On the other hand: once they have been convinced, they have remarkable brand loyalty. And brand not only means the consumer brand here, but also the club, the event or the player can also benefit as a brand. This additionally includes more and more companies not just advertising their products and services (what/how) in sponsoring communication, but also performing their “why” brand maintenance. This also implies taking a stand on certain socio-political issues and showing this in the communication. For rights holders, this means that they must show these brands can make this “why” particularly plausible, if the rights holder publicly advocates similar values.
Beyond sports – from sport-centricity to holistic entertainment commitments
Over many years, sport dominated the sponsors’ budget distribution. A majority of the money flowed into sport. In addition to the international and national major events, investments were also made in popular sports and local sporting events. But sport sponsoring and sponsoring is increasingly being thought of holistically. In addition to the classic sport, exciting fields are developing for sponsors in the direct environment – such as eSports. In addition to this, festivals, cinema events or musicals are other prominent examples of sponsoring fields, with increasing popularity and rising budgets. A commitment to sport is frequently enhanced and supplemented with corresponding entertainment elements. This trend is also reflected in the area of OTT platforms, such as the BVB documentary on Amazon Prime. In short: In the meantime, a commitment to sport is frequently enhanced and supplemented with corresponding entertainment elements. This way, brands can shape quite an exclusive environment for themselves, reach exciting target groups highly emotionally and also advertise cost-effectively. Sponsors, who recognise this trend, have good opportunities for highly effective communication with extensive coverage and an unmistakeable brand identity.
From testimonial to influencer
Testimonials have dominated personal sponsoring for a long time. Their charisma was outstanding and their ability to actively sell brands and products was very pronounced. But digitisation created new heroes of sport, digital heroes. In the meantime, influencers, bloggers or social media stars can show similar, and in some cases, even higher coverage rates, in comparison to classic testimonials. Furthermore, they are a fixed component of the fan experience and have strong persuasive characteristics for advertising brands.
But, classic testimonials in the conventional sense are naturally well advised to make the digital channels the focus of their communication and their public appearance and particularly athletes have already relied on this form of fan loyalty for many years, such as the French football world star, Kylian Mbappé, who provides his nearly 40 million followers on Instagram with products from his marketing partner, Nike, on a regular basis. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and others make it possible. In addition, the marketing partner also receives further opportunities to generate contacts and stage the brand and product.
Complexity and big data
Complexity and heterogeneity are increasing in sponsoring – which also challenges a research and consulting company like Nielsen Sports, as well as the entire industry. The measurement of effectiveness, recording the characteristics of fan target groups and the current availability of data relating to sport affinities of global fan segments, lead to market and media research also needing to forge new paths. Current data, quickly available via interactive dashboards and focused on the elementary KPIs, are a must today. It must be possible to adequately map and evaluate all marketing channels and target groups. An in addition to the question “What was the point of it?”, the question “How can we do it better?” must also be answered. We are happy to rise to this challenge – but it shows that sport sponsoring is a vibrant and increasingly developing discipline, which is utilising its potential more and more – for the fans, the sponsored parties and the advertisers.
The five outlined trends in sport sponsoring document the liveliness of this industry, as well as vibrancy of this industry, as well as its constant aim for innovation and perfection. This marketing discipline is also very adaptable to new trends and developments. Therefore, it remains an important driver for the further development and sustainable financing of the sport (“and beyond”, see Trend 3) and for the achievement of the communicative goals of the advertisers – a classic win-win situation.
What is your assessment of this topic? Which trends are missing in this list, in your opinion? Please let me know! I look forward to the discourse.