A few days back, I was googling the top 100 events that shaped modern India. And, I was pleasantly surprised to find that around 10 of these were related to sports. The most prominent one, that still makes every Indian proud, is probably the 1983 win of India’s cricket world cup. Even today, the excitement in the air when there is an India Pakistan match, can’t be matched by anything else. We are a nation that breathes and lives cricket. We are a nation that loves sports. At a time when the attention of the target audience is just falling, sports seem to be the only respite and resort to capture the imagination of the second most populous nation.
We are not the only one though! Recently we all witnessed the power of sports when a very famous footballer made a comment on a cola brand and the brand suffered a huge loss on its brand equity, losing its market capitalisation.
As I dive deeper, what is it that drives corporates towards sports?
In a highly competitive marketplace where brands are keen to get into the consumers mind space, involvement with sports is a great way to connect simply because sport is socially acceptable. In India, sports like cricket, and entertainment viz. films, soaps etc. are among the top leisure activities and gather maximum eyeballs. The customer religiously follows sports, because it’s ‘real’ unlike other popular forms of entertainment. For a brand/organisation, therefore, it makes the perfect way to get into the heart of the audiences.
Another reason why brands utilise sports as the path to create brand awareness and salience is the emotional connect that fans have with sports and sportspersons/athletes. The many fan clubs (of teams and individuals) that have sprouted on social media channels are testimony to that. With sponsorship and other forms of association with teams and sportspersons, brands are not just sponsors but become ‘partners’ over a period of time.
The fan engagement process has moved on from putting mere logos on team kits and apparel and is now about having conversations about the sport and players. It’s about developing and building a bond with fans at an emotional level. Brands have started to develop and create narratives around the sport, which form a solid bridge between them and their audiences, where they delve deep into their psyche to develop affinity for the brand through a socially acceptable channel.
Brands have various marketing objectives when they partner with sports and sportspersons as sponsors. Majority of Indian and international brands use sports as a sustained, long-term marketing campaign which lasts for years, even decades. Coca-Cola, for example, have been associated with the FIFA World Cup (football) and the Olympics for decades. The top-of-the-heap brand has been creating marketing campaigns around these big-ticket events, giving fans an experience while sharing their joys and sorrows, as a friend or buddy which is totally in synch with the brand’s attributes.
A few uses sports sponsorship for a short-term campaign or as one-off event and to launch new products like in the case of mobile payments platforms and cell phone manufacturers and mobile service providers.
Another important reason why brands tie-up with sports is to widen their reach in geographical terms. Sports gives them the unique opportunity to amplify their narrative and pass on the key messages way beyond boundaries. With OTT channels now entering the broadcast scene, the sponsors brand message is amplified across the world – beyond countries, and territories that are reached by print, television and radio networks. The coverage of FIFA 2022 World Cup, and the India-New Zealand cricket series which are being streamed on Apps are a case in point of how sports broadcasting will look like in the future.
Corporates and brands involvement in sports has moved on from mere signing of an athletes or employing them as brand ambassadors to creating a strategic engagement with fans and followers. Brands today want to be part of the discussions and debates that sports followers have on a regular basis and are looking at more opportunities to create the wow factor by giving them enhanced experiences by taking them closer to the sports and athletes they follow.
As the dynamics of sports sponsorship is constantly evolving, sports marketers will need to go deeper into data analytics, which will give them big insights into the preferences of the audiences and come up with initiatives that can satisfy the fans desires. In-depth, real-time data will not only help in furthering engagement with fans but will also give the sponsors an indication of how effective their investment (in sports) is. Artificial intelligence (AI) is yet another tool that sponsors should be looking at utilising to create an exclusive aura around the teams and sports that they have backed.
It is just the beginning I feel. Personally, I am extremely positive about the impact sports has on individuals and on communities. I feel humbled and privileged to be part of a group that supports a variety of sports – we are supporting weight lifting, shooting, and of course cricket. We have recently sponsored a team at the Legends League Cricket and the engagement levels were outstanding with our communities.
As newer platforms like Metaverse, Virtual Reality and other experiences continue to develop, there will emerge newer ways to connect better with the audiences and their sporting heroes, opening up a new world of sharing and experiencing our favorite sports with our favorite stars, powered by the brands we so love.
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