The public health response to COVID-19 has put a grounding halt to professional and grassroots sports around the world, with both domestic and international tournaments shifting to 2021. The impact of this delay and the cancellations will be felt across the industry, from rightsholders without tickets to sell and broadcasters without content to show, to fans with no sport to enjoy beyond playing it themselves.
However, this crisis does provide a unique opportunity for differentiated, original thinking by sporting associations, brands and agencies to create content that showcases their sponsorships and provide an alternative return on investment.
MKTG’s global Frontier survey of the sponsorship industry, explained last year that exclusive content is now king for sponsorship activation and social media is the go-to channel for brands to distribute and amplify this content. Sponsorship packages now span significantly beyond perimeter board advertising, utilising more innovative ways for brands to interact socially with fans.
Even before COVID-19, we saw the importance of social as a channel for sponsorship activation. The Rio 2016 Olympic Games illustrated the power of social media to reach and interact with fans, with 1.5 billion interactions related to the Olympics during The Games on Facebook alone.
More targeted examples for sponsors include RWC Daily, sponsored by Land Rover. These 44 videos, showing behind the scenes content from the tournament, were viewed 11 million times, a heightened visibility for the brand.
With no games currently broadcast, virtual sports have come to the fore with brands and sporting associations alike, ramping up their involvement in e-gaming to generate and develop content. The FA, in the absence of the FA Cup quarter-final, has simulated play on EA Sports' Fifa 20, with live streaming available across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. La Liga, the Spanish football association, has followed suit with a virtual derby between Sevilla and Real Betis. Away from football, Formula One follow a similar thread, setting up virtual races to take place at the same time as the originally planned live races. But perhaps most significantly in the UK, The Virtual Grand National raised 2.6m for the NHS and had an audience of 4.8m tuning in to see Potters Bar “win” cross the line.
But how long will the interest in e-gaming last? Is it here to stay or will it wane after a few weeks? Will it change viewing habits once live sport is back? All questions to be answered. While e-sports seem to be the current replacement for live content, brands also need to work out how they can cut through and engage.
Could brands use their sponsorship to help tackle COVID-19? Is there a way they could capitalise on the related social media challenges such as the toilet roll challenge and pledges that are arriving on our feed, without appearing contrived and opportunistic? Perhaps not, but we have seen brands such as Visa and McDonalds use their athletes and assets to highlight the importance of hand washing and supporting the WHO or government advice.
This feels like a safe and purposeful way to make your assets work for a brand, but the longevity is questionable. Perhaps now more than ever, brands should be looking long-term into content generation to demonstrate the impact of their investment when the peak moments of the Olympics or Euro 2020 come to life.
While the conversation on how and when sports will resume continues, the sports industry and brands have a vested interest in the meantime to continue demonstrating the power of sponsorship, from both a financial and a brand image perspective. Whether this is via e-sports competitions, social media content, or purposeful use of talent, sport still has the power to engage us even in these uncertain times.
By Joe Jackson, Insight Assistant at MKTG