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The big trends in sports marketing for 2023

We talk to CM.com’s Sam Windridge about the state of sports marketing over the coming year. Technology presents both challenges and opportunities for sports brands over the coming year. On the one hand, increased access to news and event highlights on a wider-than-ever variety of digital channels threatens the in-person experience. On the other, if brands embrace the digital opportunity, they can build more seamless fan experiences for their customers across a wider variety of channels and satisfy the increased appetite for broader, more immersive experiences both from fans at the event and those watching at home.  We’ve been working on what this means for the next twelve months in sports marketing. Here are some of the major trends we’ve identified for 2023.

The rise of ‘one-off’ sporting events

The commitment of following a team or club for an entire season isn’t for everyone. Plenty of casual fans are happy to dip into an event once or twice a season without necessarily calling themselves ‘fans’ in the accepted sense. Equally, one-off or annual events present the perfect opportunity to market to these unaffiliated sports enthusiasts and introduce them to new experiences. 

A great example is the UK-based NFL games, allowing less fanatical fans to experience top-level sports they may not otherwise have experienced.

Whatever the event, the marketing focus remains the same, building relationships with fans for the long haul to ensure they’re engaged in the run-up to the event and are keen to come back for the next one. 

Being ‘always-on’ isn’t necessarily the default setting for these ‘one-off’ events teams, but the approach can pay dividends by steadily building an engaged audience over time. 

With a Customer Data Platform, you can store all your customer data and interactions to make every message personal, enhancing the fans’ feeling of uniqueness and fostering a more rewarding relationship for both of you. 

Seamless, mobile-first experiences

Giving those, shall we say, less-committed fans the ability to dip in and out of seasonal sporting events in a simple, hassle-free way is essential to push them over the line to conversion. Flexible mobile-friendly ticketing solutions that simplify the purchase process are particularly important in a tough economic climate, where consumers are often wary of spending on non-essentials. 

“Typically, season tickets are generally fairly recession-proof. Around 60% of most stadiums are filled with season ticket holders, and then there’s the other 40%… The competition for that 40% is huge,” says Sam Windridge, Head of Sport & Partnerships at CM.com. “We give fans the opportunity to purchase tickets in channels like WhatsApp, so we can deliver that frictionless transition where you view an ad on LinkedIn or a message on Instagram, and then you can buy a ticket with a few taps of a smartphone screen. That makes the whole experience seamless.”

Sport in the digital era

Talking of smartphones, capturing eyeballs on mobile devices has never been more important to sports fans or clubs. The increased sophistication of both devices and measurement methods makes the smartphone an invaluable tool for marketers and a powerful engagement tool for fans. 

Consumers are watching sports in very different ways than they did pre-pandemic. Now well-used to watching events digitally rather than shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow fans, the latest wave of economic challenges mean that more fans will likely stay at home and consume sport from the comfort of a smartphone touchscreen. Digitally-native demographics such as Millennials and Gen-Z are more comfortable than their predecessors in digital environments and are more likely to ‘second screen’ at events; according to FIFA, 83% of football fans use a smartphone while watching TV. The challenge of keeping fans engaged, whether at home or at the match, is real. 

The key is to keep a laser focus on the customer journey and ensure you have the tools and content to engage fans throughout. Behind-the-scenes content, news, video, statistics and infographics are great formats to satisfy younger fans’ hunger for content. 

And while they’re focused on devices, marketers can reach them in many ways. Push notifications and SMS messages can disrupt their scrolling and deliver engagement, but only if the messaging is relevant. Contextual messaging can provide excellent results if you know where your fans are. 

At the Formula 1 Heineken Dutch Grand Prix, we used the Appmiral event app to discover where fans were around the circuit, enabling us to send context-sensitive messaging to help them navigate around the venue. In the future, it will help inform crowd security and create a more relaxed environment for fans by telling them the best time to take their seats or head to the bar for refreshments. 

“From an organisers’ point of view, you can be more efficient with staffing. You don't need 600 staff to turn up at 10 in the morning if no one's going to be going through 50% of the gates. You can say, ‘let's put 50 people there and then leave it until midday to bring more staff in.’ That really helps drive cost efficiencies,” says Sam. 

The ever-increasing importance of fan engagement 

With so many clubs and events competing for fans’ attention, the importance of fan engagement is on the rise. Fans want to connect on a more personal level with their favourite teams, and this is where star players become hot properties. Creating a culture where fans feel closer to the team builds loyalty and advocacy.

Fan engagement shouldn't just be confined to game day, either. In fact, these activities are even more effective away from the glare of competition, during quieter times for the club.

With many fans using their mobile devices to follow clubs, focusing on mobile engagement makes sense. Creative content that can surprise and delight fans, such as automated voice messages from their favourite players, or app-based videos, highlights and replays, can engage fans on their favourite devices and channels. Focusing on additional, engaging content makes perfect sense during the off-season and in-between games to keep your club front of mind. 

“Coupling voice into WhatsApp is a really interesting area,” say Windridge, “You still have the familiarity of WhatsApp, but you’ll get a voice note from the Dutch Grand Prix or England Hhockey or the Glamorgan Country Cricket Club channel. Maybe it’s your favourite player telling you they’ve signed a new contract or telling you some exciting club news. That’s a really engaging proposition.”

Conversational channels as information hubs

Sports organisations are realising the potential of conversational channels to connect with fans on the platforms they know and love. Offering exclusive content to fans on conversational channels keeps those channels open for sales-driven messages further down the line. No fan wants to be relentlessly sold to, but when there’s a value exchange, they’ll be more receptive to conversion tactics when they’re used. 

“Conversational channels offer a great way to engage fans in natural, customer-centric ways that allow you to guide them through the customer journey. Having an omnichannel approach, with conversations across platforms stored in one place, means you can continue conversations even if fans choose to move between platforms or devices,” says Sam.

Equally, adopting chatbots across messaging channels means you can be available 24/7, particularly crucial for overseas fans.  

Reaching new fans/ increasing globalisation

While it’s tempting to focus on your regional or national audience when investing in marketing, it’s always important to look beyond geographical boundaries to find new growth opportunities. In the UK, 80% of conversational channel consumers use WhatsApp. In the US, that figure is just 20%. Knowing which channel to focus on is vital if you’re looking to break into new markets with messaging apps, and having the ability to switch between channels to deliver content depending on your audience's focus can save a lot of time and money.

Our Communications Platform gives you access to the most popular major messaging channels worldwide, so you can focus on WhatsApp in the UK and switch your strategy to Facebook Messenger or SMS in the US. As ever, meeting sports fans where they are, on their favoured platforms, is the way to engage new audiences. 

“I think the overseas market is really interesting,” says Sam, “not just from a conversational channel perspective but also from a payments viewpoint. Being able to offer a huge range of payment options from standard stuff like Visa and Mastercard, all the way to things like WeChat Pay is really important for global audiences.”

This time, it’s personal

Consumers are keener than ever to be treated as individuals. More than three-quarters (76%) of people in a recent Adobe survey said they want to be seen as individuals, and a further 24% said they either don’t fit many, or any, of the stereotypes associated with their age group.

True 1:1 personalisation might be a marketer's dream, but the reality is that most are struggling to make any sort of sense from the data they hold, let alone use it to model individual customer profiles, with some 83% of marketers saying they use gut feel rather than data to make crucial decisions.

Our new technology capabilities from our Building Blocks AI offering allow us to personalise the browsing experience for every fan.

“If you're a 20-year-old, single Brentford fan and you visit the club’s website, the images you see might be focused on young men enjoying a drink at the game. On the other hand, if you’re a 35-year-old family man, you might see images of the family stand, with a young family enjoying hot dogs in a calmer, more family-friendly environment,” explains Sam.

Relevance is everything, and knowing what sort of experience you’re looking for, based on a combination of AI and data points, can deliver a more relevant experience to every fan as an individual. 

If you’d like to find out how your sports organisation or club can implement some of the technology we’ve discussed, get in touch with our experts, and we’ll show you how to create world-class fan experiences. 

Our sports partnerships team want to hear from you. Contact us today.

Get in touch

Our sports partnerships team want to hear from you. Contact us today.

Get in touch
Sam Windridge
Sam Windridge,
Head of Commercial Development

Sam is Head of Commercial Development for UK&I. Before joining the CM.com, Sam worked in the sports industry heading up commercial teams at London Irish, Fulham Football Club and Arena Racing Company. He is passionate about how technology and automation can enhance the fan experience.

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