The time has come, the stage is set. FIFA 2018 World Cup draw takes place at the Kremlin Palace today and while the fans will be eager to find out who their teams are playing, the big story has been the lack of sponsors. There has been no shortage of opinion as to why this is the case but this is not just a FIFA issue. Sponsorship industry is going through a transformation so it’s best to focus on how to adapt for the future.
Football remains the world’s most popular sport but it’s now operating in a global entertainment business. That means it’s in competition not just with other sports that are emerging and gaining in global popularity (think eSports, MMA, etc) but with other entertainment options like Netflix. Yes, football is indeed in competition with Netflix because people are spoilt for choice and now have many options at the tip of their fingers.
“Football is in competition with Netflix.”
Those who understand and embrace this change are going to win while others who continue to operate the same way as they have in the past will quickly become irrelevant.
So what exactly is this change that football needs to embrace?
Content, content, content
There appears to be an unending appetite that fans have for any content that brings them closer to the teams and players they follow. This engagement, be it on social media or through other owned platforms, needs to become part of the DNA of any football club or competition to maintain its relevance and connection with supporters. Pre-game, post-game, training, locker rooms – the fans want to see it and the rights holders need to think carefully about addressing those needs. Manchester City and Real Madrid are two excellent examples where the clubs are evolving from traditional sporting organizations into global entertainment businesses. While they continue to excel and prioritize on-field performance, they are investing in social, digital and media capabilities that allow them to connect and engage with millions of fans all over the world, in countless languages 365 days a year. It’s no wonder that Manchester City have recently hit 1 million subscribers on YouTube. They are building for the future and engaging a new generation of fans.
“The challenge for the likes of FIFA is to maintain relevance outside of its high profile events like Men’s and Women’s World Cups.”
The challenge for the likes of FIFA is to maintain relevance outside of its high profile events like Men’s and Women’s World Cups. The development of a 365 day marketing platform is fundamental in an environment where there is so much competition for marketing dollars and pressure on brands to make those high level investments deliver returns.
Creativity is not just for the creative industry
Speaking to most people working at football clubs, you’d be hard pressed to find many who think they are creative. Now not only is this inaccurate, this thinking prevents many football clubs from reaching their commercial potential. The logic is that creative capabilities sit within other businesses, like ad or creative agencies and there are creative types who work there. This is simply not true. Anyone can and should be creative, especially in a world where creativity makes you stand out. Just because you work at a football club, doesn’t mean you can’t look for creative ways in which to collaborate with partners and develop truly innovative marketing solutions. Many continue to think of assets and inventory rather than bespoke solutions designed with key outcomes in mind. This requires a change of culture, encouraging commercial and marketing teams to come up with creative ways in which their properties can be at the core of a brand’s creative execution. The NBA do a great job in this area and football can learn a lot from a league that has become known for being at the forefront of innovative thinking. Here is a property where every solution is built around the partner.
“Just because you work at a football club, doesn’t mean you can’t look for creative ways in which to collaborate with partners and develop truly innovative marketing solutions.”
The numbers game
Football has had a great run being the most popular sport on the planet and for a long time, the sport capitalized on the its unrivalled reach. This is no longer enough as brands have a wealth of options and scrutinize the value of their investments more than they ever have in the past. Rights holders need to do a better job of demonstrating tangible value of what they’re offering and putting forth a convincing argument why they’re best placed to connect the brand with their consumers.
The key question to ask is, given the client can spend that money somewhere else, what is your unrivalled advantage? Supplementing the numbers should be the insight on the audience. Each brand has its core audience that it’s trying to reach so it’s imperative that rights holders show they have a clear understanding of their audience and ways of reaching them.
This encourages right holders to think of their value proposition. There should be no doubt in the mind of the CMO as to the benefit of association versus anything else that a company can do. As sponsorship has evolved, many unofficial sponsors have found clever ways to connect themselves to the events without being the official. Debating whether this is ethical is irrelevant because everyone is doing it. The onus is on the rights holders to create partnerships with clear advantages that aren’t possible without the association. This is getting increasingly difficult but a challenge which must be tackled head on.
“The onus is on the rights holders to create partnerships with clear advantages that aren’t possible without the association.”
The challenge facing everyone in football is how quickly the industry is willing to embrace change and adapt to the new world of entertainment in which exists. It may help if we shift the narrative and realize that we’re now in the business of competing for people’s time.
Guest Lecturer at The Football Business Academy