What’s Next in Sports Marketing?

Cracking the code to foster deeper engagement with fans

Predicting the outcome of any sports event is a risky exercise, but is the future of sports marketing less elusive? Maybe, say the experts.

Cracking the code boils down to innovative technology and immersive experiences — both during the game and 365 days a year — to foster deeper engagement with fans at an unprecedented level.

In essence, “there’s an opportunity to take [fan engagement] to a place people never imagined it could be,” said Peter Judd, CLIO Sports juror and creative director/partner at Hub Strategy & Communication. And perhaps that opportunity begins in the most obvious place: the stadium.

A prime example of a sports marketing dream space is the San Francisco 49ers Levi’s Stadium. “From moment one, that stadium was designed to be very much a place of engagement with current fans and people who might not be fans yet but could be converted through the experience,” said Judd. “It’s trying to turn ‘fan lite’ into true rabid fans.”

A museum that doubles as an educational center with a range of immersive experiences, a restaurant helmed by celebrity chef Michael Mina and an in-stadium app with enhancing features like pinpointing the concession stand with the shortest line are not only about the game, but also underscore the lifestyle of the 49ers audience.

As teams continue to demand bigger and better stadiums, the new spaces are going to be designed to directly enhance the fan experience. “These new stadiums are beautiful pieces of architecture where sports just so happen to be played,” said Judd.

Judd named the Golden State Warriors as another team on the cusp of a state-of-the-art home, as the basketball team’s new location and architect have been released. “I have no doubt the same thought process will go into that stadium,” Judd stated. “Technology has a chance to really make the stadium experience amazing and worth the big sums of money some teams charge for that experience.”

To extend the excitement outside the stadium for a wider audience not privy to a ticket, brands are investing in experiential campaigns that bring the excitement of the live game to one’s TV, mobile phone or chance run-in. “Brands are getting more adventurous with it, and you’re seeing more money spent because the social engagement has become so important for brands now—there’s that immediate social hit,” Judd said.

Ahead of the upcoming CLIO Sports Awards on July 7, Clios.com spoke with some of our esteemed jury members to take the pulse of where else the world of sports marketing is headed, both in and out of the stadium. From virtual reality to player tracking, the future looks bright.

VR/Experiential

“There’s nothing quite like the experience of being at a NASCAR race, and we are excited that the possibilities with virtual reality can help us re-create those feelings and emotions for our fans.” – Jill Gregory, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Industry Services, NASCAR

“We’re actually quite involved in VR, and talking to clients about creating experiences. The challenge is making sure it’s not shallow. There needs to be a strong idea behind what the experience is. Obviously there seems to be a really great big future for VR, and obviously sports is a no-brainer for it in terms of feeling like you’re on the field. I think you’re going to see a ton of that.” –Peter Judd, Creative Director/Partner, Hub Strategy & Communication

Player Tracking

“Player tracking is a really interesting area of engagement for fans—how we deliver that deeper and more immersive experience, and how we take big data and translate that into something that’s interesting and useful for a fan. I think that’s an area you’ll see explode through sports over the next two to three years.” – Casey Hall, Group VP Marketing, National Hockey League

“We’re at a moment where gains in athletic performance and technology are propelling the evolution of sports across the board, on all levels. This is happening in wearable technology where we’ve never known so much about athletes. This is great for a brand like Gatorade because we can then provide sports fueling solutions that can help all aspects of the game. Then you have all of the in-game data, analysis and viewing enhancements from the strike zone in baseball, to speed, catching radius and agility in football. We have the tools to reach fans, answer their questions on how an athlete performs, and bring them that much closer to the game." – Jeff Kearney, Senior Director, Head of Sports Marketing at Gatorade

Global Reach

“We talked about how to go more global. Before, from a technology standpoint you marketed only to people within 40 or 50 miles of your arena. Now, I’m not only thinking about people in Northeast Ohio; I’m thinking about people in China. Before, that wasn’t even a mindset—it wasn’t efficient or practical to get to those people.” – Brad Sims, Senior Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer, Cleveland Cavaliers

“Social media has made an opportunity to extend the sports partnership farther. We always used to say that the States was five years ahead of Europe, and Europe was five years ahead of Asia in terms of developing sponsorships. But that gap has closed. The pieces of work we’re seeing now from European brands, essentially global brands, are more or less on par with what’s happening in the States.” – Jamie Graham, CEO, Team Marketing 

Storytelling

“Nobody wants the logo slap any more—brands want to have a deeper, meaningful relationship with a media partner, and often that manifests itself in storytelling, creating custom content and making sure you have a distribution platform where people can see it.” – Sean Hanrahan, Senior VP, Marketing Solutions/Marketing ESPM Customer Marketing and Sales, ESPN

CLIO Sports convenes a veritable Who’s Who of the sports business to select from an international pool of submissions the breakthrough communications that elevated sports culture in the collective consciousness and made stars of players, legends of clubs, and icons of brands.

View the 2016 CLIO Sports Gold, Silver and Bronze winners on cliosports.com. Grand winners will be revealed at the CLIO Sports Awards on July 7th.