Creating meaningful memories at sporting events has the power to boost your customer base, expand your reach, and encourage customer loyalty for a lifetime.
By Adrian Si, Director of Marketing strategy at ASV
As it did with everything else, the pandemic changed the face of sports marketing. As more sporting events were either getting canceled or limiting fans and bystanders, brands had to get clever to get noticed. Nike leaned into the at-home athletics trend with its Play Inside campaign. Heineken set up an F1® fan competition that offered home-installed experiential Pit Wall Bars as prizes. Other companies set up fundraisers, online gatherings, and giveaways for seats to future games and matches.
These were all wise moves, particularly since no one was sure when or whether sports would look the same post-pandemic. Now, we’re there, and in-person sporting events are back (although online and virtual sports alternatives are continuing to spark interest among some populations). Marketing dollars are being spent on giving consumers visceral, personal experiences that cultivate a deeper connection to a brand.
This only makes sense. Sporting events are excellent ways to connect with people through the activities that interest them. If you’re a marketer, consider the general demographic of fans that go to each type of sporting event. If the demographics align with one or more of your target audiences, you can probably reach them through live event marketing, advertising, or sponsorships.
For example, say you’re a luxury brand selling jewelry, fragrances, accessories, or vehicles. You might want to focus your marketing on sailing, cycling, equestrian, golf, or tennis events. Why? These sports typically have a higher entry barrier and those attending are more likely to have more disposable income.
This isn’t the case with all sports, though. Soccer is the most widely played international sport and attracts a large audience with a diverse makeup. A company trying to reach a broad, generalized consumer base could do well to market at a live FIFA match-up.
What does marketing through sports specifically entail, though? It’s up to you to decide, but the experiential sports marketing world has given us many examples for inspiration.
Tactics to Market at Sporting Events and With Sports Teams
Ideally, you’ll want to maximize both the depth and breadth of your sports relationships to indicate and communicate your company’s genuine interest in the sport. For instance, you could arrange player appearances for Q&A sessions, set up demos and photo ops, coordinate coach meet-and-greets, and perhaps arrange for a viewing of team practices. The objective is to design experiences that foster memorable participation and create moments that are irresistibly sharable. The more people who talk about the fun they had on and off social media, the more press you will get.
If you can’t get athletes or teams to commit, you may still be able to get traction. AT&T’s tech-heavy Pose with the Pros kiosk at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium caused a stir in 2019. Fans could snap pictures with their favorite “players,” even though the players were just “green-screened” behind them. Since then, AT&T keeps exploring other augmented reality methods to bring event marketing to life.
No matter what you do, make sure you broadcast your involvement through all owned, paid, and earned media channels. In fact, you might want to embed sharable mini-experiences within your event sports marketing initiatives. That way, people will be more inclined to promote what you’re doing — maximizing the ROI of your marketing efforts even further.
Of course, sports-related opportunities can be snapped up quickly by big brands. Don’t get discouraged if your top choices just aren’t available. Have some other options in your back pocket, just in case.
How to Integrate Live Event Marketing Into Your Bigger Marketing Picture
It’s one thing to want to nab all the benefits of sports marketing. It’s another thing to ensure that all your marketing through sports fits in with your other marketing efforts.
Below are some methods to move toward the complete integration of your entire marketing plan.
1. Develop target personas.
Having detailed buyer personas will help you make sure that all your marketing is being targeted toward the right demographic and psychographic buyers. For best results, flesh out target personas as if you were creating a character for a film or TV show. Give each persona a name: “Allison the Entrepreneur,” “Hank the College Student,” “Serenity the Gamer.” Then, figure out their pain points, purchasing habits, etc.
With your target personas in hand, you can start to figure out which sports they might be interested in. You can also figure out which types of marketing methods would appeal to them.
2. Research the sports available in your geographic area.
Not every company can (or needs to) advertise at international events like the Olympics or World Cup. To start marketing via sports, check out the events available in your region. Put your findings into a big document and identify which sports, teams, events, experiences, etc., would be your top, secondary, or third choices to support.
Don’t be afraid to go deep with this activity. As an example, you could write down the names of individual local athletes, organizations, tournaments, or venues. Is it possible that you could do an activation at one or more of them? Case in point: If you’re located in the Los Angeles area and your target personas are apt to attend football games, you have a wealth of possibilities from the Rams and Chargers to SoFi Stadium and the Rose Bowl Parade.
3. Ensure your marketing mix includes experiential activities.
Since sports event marketing lends itself to experiences, be sure to add it as a component to connect in-person with audiences from time to time. Your marketing mix shouldn’t only be made up of experiential elements, but it shouldn’t be filled with static advertisements, either.
At the end of the day, experiential marketing is engaged marketing. And that’s good for conversions. In one study, more than 40% of participants said they felt more brand loyalty after attending marketing events and experiences. Just be sure that your experiences engage the senses to prompt greater brand affiliation. According to an article published by Yale School of Management, appealing to the senses allows people to have a greater emotional connection with your brand or product, and the connection your customers have to your brand is huge in long-term brand loyalty.
You don’t have to be a sports business to get a boost from being visible at sporting events. Fans come from all walks of life — and many are eager to learn about your brand through the athletics they adore. Use the tips above to incorporate sports marketing into your overall marketing strategy and track those KPIs along the way. Creating meaningful memories at sporting events has the power to boost your customer base, expand your reach, and encourage customer loyalty for a lifetime.
About the Author
Adrian Si is the director of marketing strategy at ASV, an event and experiential marketing outfit based in Torrance, Calif. ASV is a full-service provider that specializes in creating immersive live marketing experiences for B2B and B2C brands.