Key Issues Facing Sports Brands

It is fairly likely that within a couple of years the Arsene Wenger era at Arsenal will be over. The Frenchman, who has served the club for over two decades and presided over arguably the most consistent team of the Premiership era in ‘The Invincibles,’ will make way for a younger manager.

When he does head off for the French national side’s managers role/TV punditry there will be an extended examination of his legacy on the British game. Yet one profound impact he has had on the British game, which might not receive too much of a mention, is his role in helping create alternative football media.

If the name Robbie Lyle is not familiar to you you’re probably aren’t an Arsenal fan. Robbie though is the presenter and founder of one of the most influential new movements in sporting media – Arsenal Fan TV. And he can thank Wenger for a great deal of his success, for the channel was largely born out of the frustration that some Arsenal fans have had more recently with their long serving boss.

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Robbie’s show, where he quizzes supporters usually after a game, is anarchic, often acerbic and in many instances highly controversial. But 750k YouTube subscriber tells its own story and the guy even now has a TV deal with Channel Four.

So why mention Arsenal Fan TV in an article about companies using sports to engage with their audiences. Well Arsenal Fan TV highlights both some of the opportunities and the difficulties that they face.

On one level brands want to curate audiences that are passionate, opinionated and loyal. Yet at the same time do brands want to be  associated with some of the more strident, putting it politely, views expressed on Robbie’s show? Is authenticity in sports marketing sometimes a double edged sword?

These are just some of the issues that we will be examining at the sports based Digital Breakfast on May 16th.

To give you something of primer then –  here are three issues that companies involved in sports content marketing face.

Finding an audience

One of the biggest problems facing sports content producers is working who to target with their content and where they might be online. Sports fans in general, and football fans in particular, are often a tribal bunch. So they might eschew more mainstream media for blogs, podcasts and video shows, especially if they focus on the team they follow.

There’s also a split in social networks too. With seemingly younger sports fans favouring image and video lead networks like Instagram and Snapchat while their elders prefer Facebook and Twitter. This is exacerbated by the trend that millennials are not necessarily consuming their content on traditional media.

In adopting a multi platform approach many agencies brands and companies have decided to focus on video. Networks like Copa90 and Clickon attract huge audience figures with their content which is placed on a multitude of platforms in a variety of ways. Yet while a multiplicity of channels works well for video and image based content, it is arguably less successful for words. This partially explains why video has become such a big element in sports content.

One thing I suspect we will see more of is the embrace of new technologies. Augmented and Virtual Reality offer interesting opportunities to content creators who can use their immersive nature to help make sports fans feel closer to an event. It might be that this is driven initially by the Esports (live video gaming/drone racing) but then adopted by more mainstream sports. UEFA experimented with the format for The Champions League final last year and others are sure to follow suit in the future.

The hard stop of rights issues

Another problem centres around the issue of sporting. Any brand who hasn’t signed up deals with the owners of big sporting events can’t officially mention them in their marketing.

There are of course a number of ways around this. For example during the World Cup expect to see large numbers of brands with generic football related promotions that hint at what is happening Russia, but do not directly name it. Sometime this ‘outsider marketing’ can be very effective. At the 2014 World Cup, for example Adidas was among the official sponsors, but some very clever marketing by its rival Nike kept the brand firmly in the spotlight during the event.

Even if they can’t show footage of the event brands and companies can however legitimately focus their content output at the fans. It is a tactic that has been very successful for both producers like Copa90 in the past. Another savvy move is to focus on sports culture, telling the stories behind the events, often giving historical context. This is the type of content that Vice’s Sports channel excels at and it will be interesting to see if any brands follow this route in the summer.

So while rights issues pose problems for brands, if they approach events creatively there are ways in which they can still be part of the conversation,

The problem with gossip

One of the big conundrums of sports content is that while the biggest sport clubs on both sides of the Atlantic boast huge amounts of content on their sites, they invariably aren’t visited too often even by hardcore fans of those teams.

That’s because sports fans thrive on gossip. It is a fact that many newspapers noted a few years ago and the likes of the Metro, Express and others began to publish stories that might have been mentioned elsewhere online, but invariably didn’t have a great deal of truth in them. Nevertheless sports fans still lapped them up and shared them around the web via blogs and video fan sites.

So if brands want to engage with sports fans they might need to take risks and this could mean engaging with bloggers, videos producers and fans groups. And of course there are issues that users might create or champion the type of content that brands don’t want to be associated with. Users generated content, especially in the sports realm, can be controversial and at times toxic. As has happened time and time again online brands can quickly lose control of user generated content, especially there are opportunities for fans of rival  teams to troll each other.

Brands need to tread warily then if harnessing UGC for sports events, but when they get it right the rewards can be lucrative.

Ashley Norris, Content Consultant, The CMA

Book your tickets to the Sporting Special Digital Breakfast here.

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