What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.
Ever since there have been sports, there have been sports partnerships. The admission to sporting events held at the Roman Coliseum was typically free – often sponsored by Roman politicians looking to curry favor with the public.
The forms of entertainment and things that capture public attention has multiplied exponentially since the days of Ancient Rome, as have the ways for people – or, more commonly these days, businesses and brands – to activate a partnership. Yet, sports remains at the center of sponsorship. And sports teams and leagues now operate extensive ecosystems of partners that deliver tangible and intangible value for the businesses that pay millions for the right to co-mingle with a league, its teams, and its fans.
At the recent Leaders Week conference, Rahul Kadavakolu, Executive Director of international brand and prominent sports sponsor Rakuten, beautifully articulated three key factors behind why a brand like Rakuten chooses to invest as a partner in sports, all strengthened by the unique, powerful emotional ties that bind fans (consumers) to their favorite teams and athletes, and to the brands with whom they partner.
It has been well-documented that sports remains one of the best ways to reach masses of engaged, attentive eyeballs on a consistent basis. And that’s why you see brands – big and small – investing in sports to help get their name out there. YouTube TV plastered themselves all over the World Series and now finds themselves on the jerseys of Major League Soccer club LAFC, while everyone that follows hockey now knows PPG Paints thanks to them putting their name on the Pittsburgh Penguins’s home arena. And it’s why Elk Grove Village continues to sponsor the ‘Makers Wanted’ Bowl, and even why an international powerhouse brand like Rakuten, seeking more US awareness, finds themselves on the Golden State Warriors jerseys and spending money on a clever Super Bowl ad. Impressions and eyeballs may be softer metrics, when awareness is the KPI, the scale and engagement that sports offers is a helluva value prop for partners.
In less crowded industries, the frequency of impressions and awareness detailed in the last point can drive business simply because, well, they may not know a ton of paint brands off their top of their head, but PPG Paints sticks with them. Then, in verticals where more options are more well-known, sports represents an avenue to drive consumer preference. This happens a number of ways we see every day in sports sponsorship – demonstrations, free sampling, first time trials or discounts, team-branded products, and players/teams using the product or service themselves. The emotions play a role, too, as many fans will opt for one brand over another simply because they do sponsor their favorite player or team. It’s why sponsors love NASCAR, in which 65% of fans surveyed were more likely to consider a product or service if they see it’s the “Official ‘x’ of NASCAR.” And perhaps all those fans of ‘Dub Nation’ will bookmark Rakuten on their browser or in their minds instead of opting for Amazon.
This is a quickly emerging element of sports partnerships – as sponsors of the same team or league congregate together, learn from each other with how they’re activating their partnerships, and often find and activate upon synergies or co-branded activations. It’s why you’re starting to see more teams host sponsorship summits the last few years and multi-brand promotions like a sweepstakes that involve purchasing a Coca-Cola product at a Pilot Flying J or perhaps even a company like Rakuten offering a discount on a fan’s next purchase of a Nike product on their site (both of these are hypothetical examples). Brand extension means partners can be so much more than the sum of their parts when they work together to win over the fans’ hearts, minds….and wallets. And sports offers entry into a community of sponsors unlike any other avenue.
Many of us who have worked in sports business don’t know it without sponsorship comprising a key piece of the pie. RFP’s come in, deals are renewed or reworked over decades, and certain categories continue to spend a huge portion of their marketing budgets on sports partnerships. And it was illuminating to hear from one of the world’s biggest companies on what makes sports special for them. So, why sports? I encourage you to watch the full video snippet below and you’ll understand the answer to that question.
In order to build a brand…there’s a certain emotional quotient that’s required. We believe that sports can do that better than other platforms.”
— Neil Horowitz (@njh287) May 21, 2019
Want to learn more about the Leaders group? Check out their site
The best part of working in digital and social media is that we’re surrounded by examples every day. Examples of marketing, of sponsorship, of content, of ads, of engagement – every swipe and scroll is an opportunity to learn. I’m always trying to continue learning – it’s no secret these platforms are changing daily and new ones are popping up, too. The tactics, the metrics, the algorithms – you have to be a lifelong student. There’s also incredible talent and creativity all over, and it’s an excellent ‘free’ source from which to learn.
So, here are the latest Five Finds (examples of sponsored social media or marketing in sports and social/digital):
- Manchester City gave away a signed jersey via sweepstakes in its Instagram Story. The player whose jersey would be the prize was Vincent Kompany, whose thrilling goal was the game-winner. If you’re going to activate a sweepstakes, best to do so when more fans are paying attention and engaging, and IG Story views (in this case) will be above average. You may even throw money behind such a timely sweepstakes in the moment, to reach as many new fans as possible, too.Also, something that definitely stood out was the option to enter to win via Amazon. The Facebook and Google options are to be expected, but not often I encounter Amazon used for such a purpose – something to watch. I also imagine international clubs will other major platforms like QQ, WeChat, and WhatsApp, among others.
- Good stuff from the Boston Celtics, who have taken an asset they’re producing every game for social media – pregame entrances (aka in the NBA as the pregame fashion show) – and put a sponsor on them. Historic numbers and a proven commodity are attractive for partners looking for season-long awareness, and the JetBlue ‘runway’ tie-in (a la the fashion runway) works well here on Instagram (and IG Stories). Also always good to see digital and offline working together, as is the case here with on-site branding of the area players enter.
- Another example of a consistent, predictably performing digital asset – the starting lineup graphic for the San Francisco Giants, shown here on Twitter. While you can have some fun getting creative to showcase and activate a brand partner, when the one of the main KPI’s is awareness (as I’m guessing is the case here), this is perfect. If a dedicated fan sees that Biofreeze name/handle 75+ times during the season’s 162 games, chances are they’ll click to see what the heck it is eventually (I did! Their tagline is on the pic, too, so that gives some clues). Several teams brand their starting lineup like this.
- I wanted to jump to another platform for this example – a final score post on Facebook by the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL. There’s plenty of room for novelty and creativity with partnership marketing on social, but there are also classics like the final score to activate. After a win, these posts will get some good engagement organically and it doesn’t hurt many fans are seeing ‘Pedialyte’ late at night maybe right before (or the day after) a night out. (Pedialyte has not so subtly embraced one of its uses as a hangover aid)
- Even though my timelines and digital diet is chock full of sports, I know how helpful it can be to learn from other brands and other peeps. This cool promotion was one I read about online and my interest piqued further when Ad Strategist Jack Appleby posted a video sampling (see below) – Chipotle took to TikTok. The app – known as Douyin in China and owned by Chinese company ByteDance, and formerly known as Musical.ly in the US – is rapidly growing and teams and brands are taking notice. One feature are the hashtag challenges, where users create content (in the form of short videos) in response to a challenge. So Chipotle created the ‘Lid Flip.’ (read more here) These challenges can be fun, quirky and awesome highlights set to music do well, fun stuff like players dancing and high-fiving, and also the well-produced, uber-creative stuff that we used to love on Vine seem to have a happy home on TikTok.
The #ChipotleLidFlip: Chipotle’s TikTok influencer program to try to start a trend.
Looks like it’s rolling out today – curious to see how kids respond to sponsored trends (& ones that pretty much require you to buy a meal to play). Smart to get Dobrik – his fans love him. pic.twitter.com/dB5qqEuHFV
— Jack Appleby (@JuiceboxCA) May 5, 2019
What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.
Social Media ROI in sports is so much more than someone clicking on a Buy Tickets link or a sponsor paying for ‘x’ number of posts.
But when a team can integrate a partner into content they’d be posting anyway and content their fans would want regardless – that’s the sweet spot. Partners pay for content, fans enjoy content.
And there is no greater opportunity for NFL teams than activating their enormous social and digital audiences around game day. It’s when more fans are following, more fans are engaged, and are more thirsty for content.
For every week of the 2018 season, I picked a NFL team and checked out their sponsored content. That’s 17 weeks of learning (woo!) and picked out a few from each team to share here. I hope you are intrigued and inspired by the following list of ~ 52 pieces of sponsored content from NFL teams on or around game day:
New York Jets
- The Jets exhorted fans to share their ‘Gameday Green pics, which is sponsored by Miller Lite (as tagged on the image). I noticed Miller Lite doing something similar with multiple teams.
- This was unique – the Jets have a ‘Fan Hall of Fame,’ in partnership with IdentoGO
- The third example is cool – the Jets are among many sports teams that offer a ‘pass’ to their game (usually a monthly subscription for guaranteed general admission / last-minute assigned seat for all home games); the Jets’s version is the ‘Jets Boarding Pass,’ sponsored by jetBlue.
San Francisco 49ers
- Gotta love interviews with players in cars — the Niners have a 1-on-1 interview segment presented by Toyota, and it takes place — while driving in a Toyota!
- Pregame live hits on social/mobile do pretty well with fans, and the 49ers have Ticketmaster sponsor the ‘Keys To Victory.’
- Not a content piece here, but a great illustration of integrating partners in their app (they also have Uber, Lyft, and local transit in their app) with In-Seat Concessions presented by BevMo and a Bud Light Quick Pay feature that allows fans to pay for beer at the stadium with their device
Los Angeles Rams
- A handful of teams will put out a post on social to mark 24 hours until their game; the Rams did so while drawing attention to partner 24 Hour Fitness.
- The Rams created an ‘asset’ for a partner by sharing ‘Halftime Notes,’ presented by Cornerstone
- Not as many NFL teams as teams in other sports activate a food partner for an in-game achievement, but when the Rams score two touchdowns, fans get a free Jumbo Jack from Jack In The Box.
- Multiple teams will do a gameday recipe of sorts and the Lions do a Tasty-style video showcasing their own recipe recommendations, from Henry Ford Health Systems.
- Cool mobile game in the Lions app that drives awareness and engagement around the Quick Lane Bowl.
- Wanted to call out an easy, engaging post prior to the game with a Bob’s Big Boy Matchup to Watch, done via the easy-to-engage Twitter poll (and easily duplicated in IG Story).
- Not sure if they replicate this every week, but a solid piece of content in partnership with Sleep Number is their ‘Inside Look,’ featuring a player talking about rest and recovery.
- UPS presented a Player Spotlight across digital/social.
- The third sample is a fun ‘vIQ,’ which is a crossfire-style video in which a player answers some fun quick-hitting questions, as host and player follow along on their clearly visible Microsoft Surface tablets.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Teams will often provide fans How To Watch info and the Bucs throw in some analysis, too for ‘how to watch,’ all sponsored by Bud Light. Good pregame content.
- Another mobile app game activated on game day – Bucs Bingo, inside their app, easy and fun to play, sponsored by Coca-Cola.
- On an off-day leading up to the game, we get to see some player personality and something fans may enjoy on its own merit – a cooking show with a player guest chef, sponsored by Teco People’s Gas.
- Several teams run sweepstakes on behalf of partners and here they tie a ‘Road Trip’ sweepstakes with a relevant partner, Speedway, run via web and includes an opt-in.
- An infographic branded with a relevant sponsor as the Teachers Credit Union presents By The Numbers
- During the game, the Colts posted action photos in their Instagram Story (that were actually linked to highlights if a fan tried to swipe up) branded with sponsor Allegiant.
Kansas City Chiefs
- It was hard to pick just a few to share from the Chiefs, who do a lot of good content and other activations with sponsors on and around game day. First, take a look at a ‘Chiefs History’ Twitter poll [enhanced by a video!], in conjunction with an education partner, Park University
- The Chiefs get their fans to have ‘Big Macs for Sacks’ on their minds, as a BOGO offer is activated by a #BigMacSack for the Chiefs
- Nice way to draw relevant attention to a partner within their gameday photos, including Missouri Lottery in line with a celebration pic (just you celebrating winning the lottery) and a Protein House ‘strong’ pic of a player making a strong play
- The Cowboys teamed up with a couple partners – Sleep Number and Blue Star Families to help out a military family, with an assist from Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper. Good content as a result, too.
- Another team highlighting a relevant partner tie-in 24 hours out from kickoff, in this case luxury watchmaker Hublot.
- Throughout the week and on game day – the Cowboys review the ‘Blueprint’ for success in the matchup, along with sponsor Xerox.
- Wanted to also highlight a unique partner integrated with the oh-so-common travel shots, with Jack Black men’s skin care.
- The Dolphins brand almost all of their press conference / presser recap posts with “I Said It,” presented by Verizon, including the branding on the photos and tagged in the post.
- Miami activates a relevant partner, music streaming platform Deezer, as fans learn what pregame pump-up songs players prefer on their playlists. (Yay alliteration)
- Lastly, some cool content and nice activation as a couple old-timers talk about a past game in a barber shop setting, sponsored by Capilla Therapy and Hair Club, both businesses dealing with hair restoration.
- Easy and fun to interview coaches over a meal/drink, bringing a partner into the content – here the Bears have Coffee With Coach, from Dunkin’ Donuts, and Lunch With Larry, thanks to a pizza partner.
- Dunkin’ also sponsors an incredible ‘Game Face’ feature on their mobile app, with an extensive selection of AR lenses fans can wear and share.
- An easy sponsor integration as the Bears make note of Montway Auto Transport for their transactions, in this case activating a previously injured player.
- The Bills draw attention to bus / rideshare partner Rally with a discount for fans coming to the game and a sweepstakes to amplify the reach, for tickets to a game.
- The Bills have an activation for scoring two touchdowns, with fans winning Tim Hortons coffee.
- Just about all of the Bills live content – for pregame and postgame – is presented with ECMC, hammering home their brand association with the Bills.
- All fans have to know about Elk & Elk as a Browns sponsor, and their logo is just about every graphic the Browns post on game day.
- Good and organic partner integration with FanDuel for Stats & Facts.
- As many do, Cleveland shouts out airline sponsor United Airlines for their travel photos.
Green Bay Packers
- Many teams tag Bose with photos of their players warming up or entering the stadium sporting headphones, but the Packers do that and more – making Bose the sponsor of all-access content.
- Nice ‘Drive Summary’ graphic branded for Chevrolet.
- Cenex is the sponsor of every Packers ‘Inbox,’ and related content, including such content posted on game day.
- Similar to the Jets (See above), the Ravens have a neat ticketing option that also activates a partner – as fans can purchase and use their ‘Southwest Boarding Pass’
- When the Ravens win, fans get a free coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, as long as they’re registered as a DD Perks member.
- Baltimore calls out a personal injury lawyer partner for their injury report / Who’s In, Who’s Out
- Nice way to brand a game preview story with a relevant sponsor – as Pest Management Services is the sponsor of ‘Defending Our Turf.’
- Invoking one getting an insurance ‘quote,’ the Redskins present Top 10 Quotes with Geico.
- Tough but impressive mobile app game, sponsored by Bud Light.
New Orleans Saints
- Miller Lite is featured prominently in the Saints’s ephemeral social media, with the Miller Lite Fan of the Game shown on their Instagram Story and a Miller Lite can on their Snapchat geofilter.
- ABC Insurance Agencies sponsors ‘Xtra Downs,’ a game for fans to play on game day inside the Saints mobile app.
- A lot of ways to brand keys to the game, et al., and the Saints have ‘Key Ingredients’ for a win, presented by pizza partner Papa John’s.
No, not every sponsored social media campaign in sports starts with a catchy pun (but it doesn’t hurt), and as this creative collection shows, there are ample opportunities to tie in relevant partners into content that would be posted anyways. Content that fans are happy to see and consume. Content that brings in sponsors in a way that make sense. We’re still in the early days of sponsored social media content in sports, but it has already come a long way from years ago. The best is yet to come, and the winners should end up being the fans.