Sports Fans & Brands: How fan behaviour is changing the advertising game

The change in consumer trends, particularly those accelerated by COVID-19, has altered how fan interact with each other and with the properties of sports. These changes in trends have seen escalations in changes to the brand partnership landscape and are presenting brands with challenges but also opportunities to connect and leverage sports fans' purchase and engagement behaviours. Sports brands are now moving towards more digitally driven activations, which help them generate valuable first party data to execute more personalised consumer messaging and products.
Sports fans present an attractive consumer demographic for brands sponsoring sports rights holders, given their strong brand recognition and trust that comes with such partnerships. Nielsen Fan Insights (2021) reported that "81% of fans completely or somewhat trust brand sponsorships at sporting events", while "sponsorships drove an average 10% lift in purchase intent".

These statistics highlight the strong demand for the attention of sports fans by brands and their continual search to find the best methods to engage and convert these fans to customers.

Sports sponsorship activations are evolving

With the evolution of the modern sports fan resulting in more digitally oriented supporters who want access to their sport content 24/7 across a number of different mediums, sponsors are looking at more refined, laser targeted activations that drive valuable fan behaviour insights and data.

With the amount of global sports sponsorship revenue estimated to have been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic sitting at $18.1B (Sports Innovation Lab, 2020), the sports sponsorship model is seeing a change right before our eyes.

Instead of the old fashioned methods of selling signage, naming rights and entitlements brands are transitioning to new models like off-the field causes, digital agility and disposable inventory.

Challenges in transitioning to digital sponsorship models

While the theory of converting sponsorship models from signage and naming rights models to a more digitally driven approach sounds sensible, the technology and design skills to design and implement digital sponsorship programs is not readily available to all sports organisations.
In addition to this, implementing new digital sponsorship initiatives requires the collaboration and mutual agreement between rights holder and brand to take this path and willingly contribute to its execution. Both parties' objectives must be aligned and this is not always the case.
The rights holders and brands who embrace this new data driven path of sponsorship will reap the benefits for the long term, despite the short term headaches it may pose. Sponsorship activations must be structured around fan motivations - what they want to do and why they want to do it. The more data that can be gathered about these motivations, the more tailored rights holders and brands can distribute their consumer messaging and generate revenue.

How sponsorships can capture the modern era of fan

Sponsorships can take form in a multitude of ways. Leading sports consultancy group Sports Innovation Lab categorises sponsorship activation into 3 types:
Association sponsorships - where data is captured through calls to action. Low data capture rates and poor conversion to purchases. Relies on impressions.
Activation sponsorships - aligns brand and rights holder with activation marketing such as a product launch. Can utilise digital methods to facilitate this.
Platform sponsorships - partnerships where digital platforms are at the core of the relationship. Not constrained to one activation and creates long term brand recognition using fan behaviour and motivation identification.
In order to maximise the revenue and growth opportunities for sponsors, it is integral that rights holders have knowledge of what their fan market does and what motivates them.
From here, properties can identify their platform partner targets and implement a long term strategy that develops long term fan value through digital products, acquires key data and generates key responses to use the data for targeting and fan experience personalisation.

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