Technology to drive more activity
Gone are the days when sports sponsorship was restricted to jerseys, equipment and stadia. Digital technology means that social media, which now dominates fans' lives, will play an increasing role in sponsorship over the next few years.
Supporters are now quick to like or follow a brand on social media that sponsors their favoured team or player and it's reported that 30% who connect with a sponsor in this way buy one of its products.
They clearly prefer the new ways that brands seek their attention – such as radio frequency identification wristbands and facial recognition – and so do the rights-holders.
“Sports is a people business, so we’re looking for ways to use technology to further engage with people,” said John Abbamondi, vice president of the NBA’s Team Marketing & Business Operations division. Recently we've seen Nike develop their "connected" jerseys for the NBA and at KRPT we're having numerous conversations with UK Football teams about developing their own connected strategies, whether that is the stadium or otherwise.
There will be less use of physical sponsorship activation in 2018 – for instance at a major sporting event – and more digital sponsorship because of the number of social media platforms. That sponsorship could include digital video and LED boards as leagues and teams upgrade their facilities to provide increased connectivity to their fans.
Data to drive higher value deals
Sponsorship is set to become the latest area of the sports industry to use data more effectively as rights-holders seek to attract more fans.
Brands have started to work with rights-holders to create interesting content with their data and this is likely to increase massively in 2018 due to the resultant increase in revenue.
Mars have already worked with the Australian Football League (AFL) to launch a fantasy competition, in which around 10,000 players participated, delivering 1.5 million page views on desktop and mobile, and engaging over 50,000 fans.
Increasing role of influencers
As sport's principal social influencers, athletes remain a key vehicle for companies to enhance the reach, popularity and influence of their brand.
But as Puma's $10 million-a-year deal with nine-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt demonstrates, the cost of getting elite athletes on board can be incredibly expensive. This has seen companies looking for alternative strategies and 'guerilla' endorsements.
'Accidental' endorsements see a celebrity athlete using a product or service 'by chance', instantly boosting its popularity. To the general public, it appears more genuine than a commercial sponsorship as it's perceived that the celebrity actually uses and favours the product, as opposed to being paid to appear as if they do.
Savvy sports brands have cottoned on to this merging of the sporting, lifestyle, fashion and music worlds already. It’s this trend that led Manchester United kit sponsor Adidas to team football star Paul Pogba up with grime singer Stormzy in a music video, which quickly went viral. Reflecting on the campaign, the brand explained that sports marketing activations which combine influential social media personalities like Stomzy with its signed players will be its focus going forward.
Sports fans demand more immersive experiences
Brands are realising that plastering a logo over a stadium or shirt isn't going to deliver a truly engaging message. Fans are looking for more interactive moments and sponsors are having to deliver through new experiences.
Esports to continue playing an important role in wider strategies
Big football clubs have been signing up eSports players and teams and it won't be long til we see sponsors and clubs combining in this space to develop new strategies.
Since Wolfsburg signed two FIFA players in 2015, football clubs around the world have invested in eSports. Paris Saint-Germain and Schalke have League of Legends teams, West Ham’s number 50 is a FIFA player, while FC Copenhagen own a Counter-Strike team.
With eSports predicted to reach 600 million viewers by 2020, it’s easy to see why sponsors & football clubs want to get involved in the scene.
Music will be used a medium to develop campaigns between clubs and sponsors
Pogba x Stormzy
One of the most effective music campaigns in football
Pogba & Stormzy, AJ Tracey & Tottenham and Gorillaz & Chelsea were all campaigns that achieved success this year.
Sponsors will continue to explore how music can be used as a way to collaborate with their partnered clubs and engage new audiences.