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Damage Control in the World of Sports Marketing 

Nibras, Creative Lead

With the Tokyo Olympics facing possible delays, 3 cancelled Formula E races, UEFA games to be played behind closed doors and the first UK football game postponed, the world of sports marketing is facing the ramifications of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Today, in certain sports marketing circles, 2020 is being referred to as ‘the year which didn’t happen’.

Marketing Plans Out the Window

The implications of cancelled games and postponed events extend beyond competition holders, players and teams. Sponsoring brands, fan engagement teams and marketing departments are also feeling the impact.

As UEFA decides the fate of the Euro 2020 championships on a ‘country by country’ basis, fan engagement teams and managers may find themselves puzzling together sensitive communication fit for the moment. They walk a tight-rope between keeping fans engaged and not overpromising in the face of uncertainty.

Brands and sponsors, equally, may find themselves anxiously searching contracts to check if an ‘act of God’, a remnant of out-dated insurance contracts, or ‘unforeseeable circumstances’ are covered. Cancelled events will mean sponsors are less likely to be able to retain value from partnerships through traditional means. Sponsors have, after all, paid significant sums for rights they may no longer be able to activate. Rescheduled and postponed events, on the other hand, will result in less punishing effects.

Luckily, with the International Olympic Committee standing firm behind its stance to not cancel the Tokyo 2020 games, sports marketing departments touched by the event can breathe more easily. The IOC has suggested the event could be held behind closed doors, without fans present or in the worst-case scenario, delayed by 2 years.

In the face of widespread event disruption, how can marketers and marketing departments best position themselves to minimise brand damage and activation losses?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind


In light of such event postponements, businesses are facing longer marketing periods than ever before. It has become even more important for brands and sponsors to continue engaging with fans and audiences who may find themselves waiting for events which are now months, or years, in the future.

Fans who are used to engaging with events physically will encounter a shortage of touch-points as social isolation continues to become the most common course of action. In such a scenario, staying at the forefront of the minds of these fans becomes the best strategy. As a client of ours who adores cycling mentioned, ‘there’s a lack of media’ to feed the love of engaged fans. Sponsors can, and should, fill this gap.

Brand campaigns are one such way to fill the gap and extract the value of sponsorships in the current circumstances; all while using mindful messaging. Such campaigns will allow brands to showcase their highlights, history, values and stories.

At the end of the day, marketing, at its core, is the field of increasing awareness and in times such as these, artfully maintaining awareness. Whether you’re a club, competition owner or brand sponsor, stopping fan engagement entirely should be a last resort.

The Digital Alternative

If the potential of COVID-19 keeps large groups of people physically apart for the foreseeable future, marketers must innovate to keep communication flowing between audiences and brands.

Thankfully, the consumption of sports media has shifted radically in the last decade. The rise of social media and novel technologies has opened the doors for millions of people to experience live events from across the globe without being there in the flesh.

In 2019, for example, we worked with the autonomous racing brand, Roborace, to grow their digital fanbase by 25% despite there being no physical events for fans to attend. A selection of tailored influencers were chosen to experience behind-closed-door races which we then digitised and shared in exciting formats. The content successfully reached global audiences with an engagement rate of 15%. Roborace’s campaign is an example of alternative fan engagement, one which we are likely to see more of in the coming months.

Influencer marketing as a whole is a channel which offers the opportunity for interactivity and engagement with fans, without them having to leave the comfort of their houses. It’s a digital means of delivering new fan experiences. With many likely to travel less and stay home more over the coming months, it’s an ideal channel for communication without physical presence.

Brand ambassadors, for example, can be used by sponsors to offer audiences novel behind-closed-door experiences. Sponsors can utilise ambassadors to keep knowledge of their partnerships alive and update loyal fans on event timelines effected by COVID-19.

With many sponsors likely to have started creating marketing assets, running competitions and developing content for upcoming events, influencer marketing provides a way of harnessing this existing content library. Influencers, who are content-creators, can recycle and remix previously-recorded game highlights, interviews with players, competition assets and a multitude of other existing content to produce novel digital experiences to keep fans entertained during the wait.

In the face of COVID-19, our advice to our clients and readers is to maintain engagement and brand awareness. Use digital channels, and influencers, to communicate with your audiences, ensuring they’re kept in the know over the coming months. Fans appreciate the acknowledgement and will surely enjoy the innovation which will come from these newfound limitations. Marketing is, after all, a field which thrives on creativity and innovation.

The Evolution Will Continue 

Feel free to give us a shout if we can be help with any brand campaigns –

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