The Master Report: Trends bringing about change in sports marketing

This was a sponsored post by Lagardère Sports under the Master Report series.

With the growing interest in sports from audiences globally, there is no doubt sports has become a top choice for brands to invest their marketing in. However, the channels of engagement are changing. According to a report by Nielsen, in recent times, large disruptive trends have changed the landscape of how brands and media/rights-holders are looking at sports. The report summarises these trends into five large categories.

1.Distributor disruption

The report says, the first, and probably the single biggest change, has been termed as distributor disruption, or in other words, the change of consumers’ willingness to subscribe to paid TV. The dropping number of subscriptions has slowly led to a decline in revenue of large media companies.

With this decline, the era of reaching mass audiences via TV advertisements and billboards is expected to come to an end. Viewers consume more content via digital platforms, and these platforms also allow the content providers to collect more data. This provides brands with a bigger scope to create personalised content.

For instance, earlier in 2018, Amazon bought the rights to broadcast the US Open tennis championship to promote its own Prime subscription service. Other providers such as ESPN are also exploring direct-to- consumer products. Meanwhile, there is also consolidation taking place within traditional media companies. Therefore, sports distribution is undergoing dramatic change, and the rights-holders should ensure they plan ahead for the increased competition.

2. Esports

The second trend, according to Nielsen, is the growing potential of esports, that is, competitive gaming. Game publishers are actively trying to monetise their titles which includes PR efforts to promote esports. For instance, sports teams are signing up esports players – a recent example being the McLaren Formula One team, which brought on board an esports player as its simulator driver.

Interestingly, Formula One had more than 60,000 esports players last year, and competition is increasing for streaming these esports performances among the big tech companies. Although the Amazon-owned Twitch platform is the market leader, platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have been wanting a piece of the pie. Despite it being a nascent industry, the audience is growing rather quickly.


Content is the key to keeping fans engaged, and there are trends changing the way content is consumed. Viewers now have shorter attention spans and are distracted by multiple sources of content.

Although live sports on TV continues to remain the core product of broadcasters, viewers look to engage with other related content online and via social media. Sports athletes and influencers are a key source for content, and brands that sponsor athletes are using these channels to reach out to consumers. This is especially true for connecting with the new emerging generations of viewers, who mostly rely on digital content and influencers to keep themselves informed.

4. Sponsorships

Sponsorships that are partnerships, and two-way relationships between the brand and the rights-holder, is another important trend. Brands are looking for partners that understand their strategies.

Brands want to reach the right audience to drive their marketing efforts, therefore, the rights-holder needs to ensure it has a data-driven knowledge of its fan base in order to understand how the brand can benefit from the sport. This, in a way, is a symbiotic relationship which adds big value to both the brand and the sport.

5. Social responsibility

The other large trend is social responsibility. In the study, 66% of consumers said they were willing to pay more for brands that were committed to a positive social and environmental impact. Staying on top of this is getting more important, as topics such as gender, race, equality and the environment are the focus everywhere, and sports has been impacted by this.

As a result, brands demand the sports they partner with have the best impression among their audiences, and the ethics are solid.

The study also highlights that brands will continue to increase spending on campaigns that reflect their credibility on social issues, and sports rights-holders should take note.

Therefore, according to Nielsen, women’s sports will continue to grow, and minority groups and people from emerging markets will start engaging with sports at a higher rate, and brands will need to focus on this. Overall, brands that take note of the above trends, and engage with viewers via the sports rights-holders, will be able to make the most of the opportunities in the changing landscape; and the risk for brands/sports that cannot demonstrate their relevance in the new context will see them rapidly lose audiences.

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