advertisers know Everything in the media world is the same as it was a few years ago. Viewing habits are evolving by the minute, networks are being acquired and the influence of big tech companies is rising. On a more global level, recession fears are looming. An increasingly common question for advertisers and investors in the space is: does sports advertising have a future? Absolutely.
Before launching our brand, I built careers in traditional media and digital content at Comcast and NBCUniversal, and worked on the team that created Hulu. The impetus for our company comes from combining my television and advertising experience with my passion for sports. I’m a home team fan and love sports fans all over the country.
Sports aren’t just engaging — they’re emotional. Even advertising can be tied to this sentiment. Based on my experience, here are some dos and don’ts for brands interested in sports advertising.
The Live Sports Experience: A Natural Place for Advertising
Sports audiences are growing. Active fans provide opportunities for awareness and engagement. No matter what technological changes occur or how the media develops, sports will always have a live, in-person element. Nothing can take away from the experience of watching a game, and stadium advertising evolves year after year.
A simple online search for baseball outfields from 1985 to 2023 can attest to this trend, and technological advancements will only increase the effectiveness of this form of advertising. From the NHL’s new digital dashboards to QR codes and team apps, fan engagement with brands has increased long after they leave the stadium. Franchise valuations are at an all-time high due to impending economic uncertainty.
The biggest concern stems from rapidly changing consumer trends in the media. Regardless of the format, sports are often a good fit for advertising. Natural pauses and breaks in gameplay still exist as marketers present their products and services.
Even if you remove the now-ingrained “television timeout” in professional leagues, basketball, baseball, hockey, and football still have natural breaks between games. At halftime, between innings and halftime, there is plenty of room for marketing, and advertisers can continue to capitalize on those moments.
While there are fewer breaks in college sports and football, the opportunities for advertising aren’t any less. Sponsorships and advertising are critical to these teams.
How brands can go about creating sports ad campaigns
Brand leaders can ask themselves whether sports advertising is right for their business, evaluating which marketing techniques will best support their desired outcomes.
Each sport in the landscape has its own nuances to consider when developing a sport strategy in the field. At the top level, sports ad campaigns work best when they focus on topics that are contextually relevant and directly related to an individual’s sports environment. For example, you might communicate your brand message differently to baseball fans than to basketball fans, etc.
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Additionally, brand leaders should consider sports advertising’s greatest value opportunity: owning the experience. Sports fans and consumers embrace a 360-degree connection that goes beyond the traditional 30-second commercial spot. In our experience, avid fans are about twice as likely as the general population to seek out new experiences.
Brand leaders exploring this space should consider how to improve the fan experience. Whether it’s live activations, online or broadcast, this enhanced value can help brands cut through the clutter.
understand the limitations
Depending on the desired outcome, sports advertising can present some limitations.
If a brand is focused on pure conversions via a quick, bottom-of-funnel approach, then sports ads may not be a good fit. The sports advertising and marketing funnel has traditionally been a higher funnel strategy focused on generating long-term brand loyalty.
Also, as in the advertising space, many brands must compete for influence and attention. Backing your campaign with appropriate investments commensurate with the economy and ratings of the sport can be a limitation, but can ultimately contribute to overall performance.
The future of sporting events
There is no doubt that the format of sports advertising will change over time – such is the nature of technological advancement.
One of the talking points surrounding this topic is the future of sports in the Metaverse. The NBA already offers fans a way to watch games in virtual reality and has launched a VR environment for fans to participate in. Does this pose a threat to advertisers?
Instead, it opens up more opportunities. Instead of playing 30-second videos during the pause, fans can enter the virtual store and interact with a variety of brands and products tailored to their preferences.
The basic equations haven’t changed. Are athletes still competing in stadiums? Are there natural breaks in the game? Are there still highly engaged sports fans? Yes. Many developments in the sports world are creating new distribution channels that do not pose a threat to advertising, but instead can open new avenues for customer interaction and brand recognition.
While sports are changing, I suspect they will hinder growth. With investment and advertising in place long into the future, we can all shift our focus from the changes in front of us to how we can take advantage of the changes that are coming.