Brands love to invest in sports and it’s easy to see why. Sports fans have a passion for their teams unlike anything else. Sponsorship dollars have traditionally been put into static advertising such as naming rights, dasher boards, and signage. The ROI on those partnerships can be difficult to quantify, and brands have been seeking more experiential ways to connect with sports fans. Match day activations and hospitality programs have become an indelible part of attending a sporting event.
One of the best opportunities to connect with fans, however, is the digital space. The following infographic from Excelacom is an astounding insight into what happens in an internet minute in 2016:
More and more fans are engaging with their favorite teams on social media. According to Keith Weldon, Director of Corporate Partnerships for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL, 70% of their website traffic comes from mobile devices! For better or worse, the second screen is becoming the first screen as fans are glued to their mobile phones while watching games in-venue and on television. That’s created massive potential for sports teams and their sponsors. Why limit yourself to the 20,000 fans at a team’s venue when you have the potential to reach millions more? Everyone aknowledges the value of digital activations, but how do you ensure their success?
Here are five tips to ensure a successful digital partnership between brands and teams:
- Know the Brand Objectives
Before you can create a successful campaign with a sponsor, you have to know what their objectives are. Such knowledge is critical to coming up with a succesful plan that builds brand awareness and value for your partner.
- Is their goal to gain followers?
- Create a plan to drive traffic to your partner’s page
- Help come up with a plan to keep those new followers
- Are they promoting a new product or selling an existing one?
- Know the product and its value
- Use your influencers (Team, Players, and Fans) to talk about the product
- Have an effective landing page with a call to action
- Are they trying to drive traffic to a retail location?
- Create incentives for fans (who love free stuff!)
- Promote social engagement at those locations
Nate Ludens, Founder of Digital Marketing firm Dentkicker Strategies, might have put it best by saying: “The first thing that’s vital to the success of any partnership is to openly and frequently discuss reaching a common goal. It’s obvious that the long-term objectives of a sponsor are much different from say, a World Series contender, however - the short term goal must be the same to achieve success. This can be as simple as “raise awareness by tripling impressions” or “sell 150 tickets.” Whatever it is, if it’s going to be a mutually beneficial partnership, both teams must be clear in what a “win” looks like.”
- Content is Key
Digital sponsorship is no different than traditional marketing. There has to be value for your audience. According to Weldon, the Ravens seek to create value for their partners by being “THE destination for fans to read and watch Ravens news or content because once you have the followers, you’ll be able to garner more impressions, visits and time spent on the website.”
The Ravens are among the NFL leaders in content creation, ranking #1 in the league for visitor time spent on the website reading content according to Weldon.
Content that drives traffic to your website is valuable for advertisers, but content is also critical for the success of more comprehensive digital sponsorship activations. You need to know the audience and create relevent content.
So what makes good content?
- Strong Headlines
- Engaging and Actionable Content
- Inside Access
- Content Tailored to the Platform
- Strong Visuals
- Put the Brand in the Spotlight
Put your partner’s brand in the spotlight and let them tell their story. The stories should educate and pursuade potential customers. Why is a sports bar the best place for fans to go on match days? Why is that grocery store the place for last-minute tailgate shopping? Why is XYZ airline the best for travel?
Teams have access to three key incluencers who can help tell those stories- your team, your players and your fans. Teams and players are valuable influencers because they have massive followings. A single tweet or Facebook can be worth thousands of dollars to a partner.
Fans want to feel engaged with your team and players. They will help spread the message if you give them engaging content and promotions. In turn, that organic social media promotion can lead to a campaign going viral. Fan are great influencers for brands because their messages come across as less forced and more authentic.
Putting the brand in the spotlight is not without risk. Fans can quickly turn against the team and brand. After all, fan is short for fanatic! This is especially true when a player or team doesn’t have a winning performance. It’s important to always monitor brand mentions and react if necessary.
- Manage Opportunities
Brands are going all-in on social media. Depending on the campaign, partners want access to a team’s Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Teams will see dollar signs, but they also have to be careful to manage the opportunities they provide. Too much advertising for partners could lead to losing followers.
The Ravens are very careful to keep their Facebook page football-centric and only sell a few advertising opportunities there. In order to avoid turning off their Twitter followers, they created a separate account, @RavensPromos, for fans who are interested in team contests, promotions, and events. The main @Ravens account is focused on team news and football content.
Reaching a wide-audience is an important objective for brands, but don’t annoy your fans in the process.
- Develop Measurements
Determining the success of a digital sponsorship often comes down to measuring social volume, reach, and engagement. Outputs such as impressions, visitors, clicks and in-person engagements are important measurables. Outcomes are just as important if not more important- did the campaign successfully spread the partner’s message and influence the audience’s attitudes and behaviors? Did you convert views into buys? Discuss those measurements at the START of a partnership.
There are a variety of tools to measure digital engagement, such as Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings, Sprout Social, and in-app tools such as Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics.
Post event recaps should include measurements showing the value created. It will also help prioritize other opportunities and assist with negotiating future deals.
It's always important to view a digital sponsorship as a PARTNERSHIP. With both parties working together, you'll achieve a successful outcome for the brand and create future opportunities for your team.