Advertisers know that nothing in the media world remains the same as years prior. Viewership habits evolve by the minute, networks are being bought out and big tech’s influence continues to rise. On a more global level, concerns about a recession are looming. An increasingly common question for advertisers and investors in the space is: Is there a future for sports advertising? Absolutely.
Before launching our brand, I’d built a career in traditional media and digital content with Comcast and NBCUniversal and worked on the team that founded Hulu. The impetus for our company was the marriage of my TV and advertising experience with my passion for sports. I am a home team fan, like sports fans across the country.
Sports are more than just engaging — they’re emotional. Even advertisements can tie into this emotion. Based on my experience, here are some considerations for brands interested in sports advertising.
The Experience of Live Sports: A Natural Place for Ads
There is a growing audience for sports. Active fans provide the opportunity for awareness and engagement. Sports always has a live, in-person element, no matter what technological changes occur or how media evolves. Nothing can take away the experience of going and watching the game, and stadium advertising continues to develop year after year.
A simple online search of a baseball outfield in 1985 versus 2023 demonstrates the trend, and technological advancements only increase the effectiveness of this form of advertisement. From the NHL’s new digital dasherboards to QR codes and team apps, fans have increased interaction with the brands long after they leave the stadium. And with economic uncertainty on the horizon, franchise valuations are at an all-time high.
The largest concern comes with rapidly changing consumer trends in media. Sports typically lend themselves to advertisements regardless of format. Natural pauses and breaks in gameplay continue to exist for marketers to showcase their products and services.
Even if you remove the now ingrained “TV time-outs” found across professional leagues, basketball, baseball, hockey and football still have natural breaks in the game. At halftime, between innings and during intermissions, there is a plethora of marketing real estate and advertisers can continue to capitalize on those moments.
Although college sports and soccer have fewer breaks, there is no less opportunity for advertisements. Sponsorships and advertisements are critical for these teams.
How Brands Can Approach Crafting a Sports Advertising Campaign
Brand leaders can ask themselves whether sports advertising is right for their business, evaluating which marketing techniques might best support their desired results.
Each sport across the landscape has its own nuances to consider when strategizing a campaign in the space. From a top level, sports advertising campaigns perform best when focused on themes that have contextual relevancy and connect to the individual sports environment directly. For example, the way you deliver your brand message to a baseball fan is not the same way you do so to a basketball fan, and so on.
Additionally, brand leaders should consider sports advertising’s biggest value opportunity: owning the experience. Sports fans and consumers embrace a 360-degree connection beyond the traditional 30-second commercial ad pod. In our experience, avid fans seek new experiences, approximately twice that of the general population.
Brand leaders exploring this space should consider how they can improve the experience for fans. Whether in-arena activations, online or in-broadcast, that enhanced value could help brands cut through the clutter.
Understanding the Limitations
There are some limitations that emerge with sports advertising depending on desired outcomes.
Sports advertising may not be the right fit if brands focus on purely converting with a quick, bottom-of-the-funnel approach. The sports advertising and marketing funnel is traditionally a much higher funnel strategy focused on yielding longer-term brand loyalty.
Additionally, on par with the advertising arena, many brands must compete for impact and attention. Supporting your campaigns with an appropriate investment that corresponds with the economics and ratings of the sport may be a limitation but could ultimately help overall performance.
The Future of Sporting Events
There is no doubt that the shape of advertising in sports will look different with time — that’s simply the nature of technological advancement.
One conversation surrounding this topic is the future of sports in the metaverse. The NBA is already offering fans a way to watch games in virtual reality and has launched a VR environment for fans to engage with. Does that pose a threat to advertisers?
On the contrary, it opens up even more opportunities. Instead of a 30-second video during a time-out, fans may be placed into a virtual store and engage with various brands and products tailor-fitted to their preferences.
The basic equation has not changed. Do athletes still play in stadiums? Do the games still have natural breaks? Are there still highly engaged sports fans? Yes. Many of the developments hitting the sports world are creating new distribution paths which, rather than posing a threat to advertising, can open up new avenues for client interaction and brand recognition.
While changes in sports are occurring, I doubt they will hinder growth. With the conditions in place for investments and advertisements long into the future, we can all shift our attention from the changes at hand to how we can take advantage of what is to come.