Social media offers brands a new way to team with sports

With the London Olympics opening in July and the 20th FIFA World Cup kicking off in Brazil in June 2014, sports is hot.

With the London Olympics opening in July and the 20th FIFA World Cup kicking off in Brazil in June 2014, sports is hot. Marketers agree, however, that while the upcoming events are great to build brand buzz, social media and grassroots activities are the real catalysts for the recent rise in sports marketing efforts.

In April, Havas Media bought experiential marketing firm Ignition, which helped expand its sports and entertainment operations and enhance client offerings for the Olympics and World Cup.

Different playing field
Mark Rothenberg, SVP of Havas sports and entertainment in the US, says the Olympics will, "as always, be an enormous media event," but he attributes the uptick in sports marketing chatter to social media.

"You're seeing the continued interest in sports marketing," he explains, "but there's a whole new element of social media in it."

The Internet, Rothenberg adds, offers marketers a space to reach communities with similar interests, making it the perfect venue for sports fans. Sports blogs and forums allow people to express themselves and interact with other fans on different topics, he says. The established social channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, are also major players in the sports marketing arena.

Mark Riggs, SVP at Taylor, says social media is providing clients with new storytelling and content-creation opportunities in sports marketing, helping target specific audiences and measure business outcomes in new ways.

For NCAA March Madness, Taylor helped its Allstate client launch a "Google+ Hangout" for fans to connect with well-known athletes, such as basket- ball legend James Worthy, making it the first brand to host a Google+ party, says Riggs.

Allstate also teamed with Turner Sports, says Pam Hollander, the insurance company's senior marketing director, to launch a Twitter promotion. It gave away 5,000 free codes for Turner, so more consumers could watch games.

"For a company such as an insurance provider, where we don't have a product to touch and feel, sports marketing allows us and our agents to get in front of those consumers and share with them aspects of our brand," she notes.

Getting Writers to Take Note

Ketchum's Ann Wool says other than cutting through clutter, one of the biggest sports marketing challenges is making writers care about brand stories.

"Sportswriters' primary job is to write about the field of play," she explains. "People without a lot of experience think you go into a pressroom in a ball- park or at the Olympics and everyone is really interested in a brand story, but it's not that direct. You must be a lot more creative than that."

On a more grassroots level, Allstate teamed up with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in late 2011 to "highlight and bring to local towns a recognition for the current members," says Hollander. The company is unveiling a plaque for each hall member in their hometowns throughout the next three years.

"It's taking the world of the Hall of Fame and making it local," she explains.

Telling a story
Ketchum, which made the first global expansion of its sports and entertainment division to Brazil in March, has been working with Fruit of the Loom and its Russell Athletic and Spalding brands to tell their stories through social media and sports marketing, says Ann Wool, Ketchum partner and MD of sports and entertainment.

With Russell, Ketchum is focusing on the brand's "Together we R" platform, which is about how "team is the heart of athletics," by amping up its Facebook presence, she says, adding that the firm is looking into holding consumer events for Spalding and Russell since sports bars are still a very popular place for fans to gather.

Along with team sports, Kelly Thompson, VP of advertising and brand management for Russell, says the brand uses sports marketing to promote "healthy living and active lifestyles."

The brand relaunched its Russell Woman sports apparel line in April, which is run purely through e-commerce, says Thompson. To drive sales, the company also engaged active mom bloggers because "sports apparel is be-coming lifestyle apparel."

"Sports bring out the passion in all of us, whether supporting our favorite team or just doing it ourselves," she adds. "Its energy is unique to the category."

For more on sports marketing, see the PRWeek/Catalyst Public Relations sports roundtable, click here.

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