With nearly every sporting event cancelled, moved or postponed due to the Corona crisis, the sports world is facing a challenge. Marketers need to be creative and adapt to the times says Stefan Zant, Managing Director and Co-Founder of ProSiebenSat.1 Sports GmbH, in an interview with The Restless CMO.
For three months now, sports marketing has suffered from the widespread cancellation of sporting events. What has been your experience of this time so far and what is the current state of the industry?
The sports industry has never seen times like these. First everyone was in shock, then they started to react. This was a really important sporting year with huge events like the Olympics and Euro 2020, but of course these have been postponed and plans that advertisers had for 2020 have been turned upside down. Most companies have consequently shifted any marketing plans associated with the Olympics and Euro 2020 into next year. In terms of sports, it didn’t take long for the industry to start making the best of a bad situation and the big winner here has been eSports and gaming. Leagues across all sports, from the NBA, NFL, Formula 1, to basketball and handball have all wanted to offer the fans an alternative product while their regular sport was on a break. This has come in the form of digital tournaments. This is a sign of the times and it is highly likely many of these will remain even after the end of Corona.
Which sports and stakeholders are most affected?
Everyone in sport has been affected equally. It doesn’t matter whether you are Ronaldo or a local league player, whether you play team sport or individual sport. For fans it has meant an important social highlight was removed from their lives, whether they were playing sport on the weekends or watching it on the TV. Of course smaller clubs have been particularly financially hard hit from lack of ticket sales and sponsorship. That is why we launched a campaign to allow smaller, semi-professional clubs to post short films and call for donations on our livestreaming platform sportdeutschland.tv. The action was called #gemeinsamfürdensport (together for sport) and has been a huge success.
The Bundesliga has now resumed play, but the stands are empty. Is it significant for marketers that the fans can only watch the matches on TV and not in the stadium?
This is not hugely significant in my opinion. Firstly, the big advertising such as shirt, stadium and TV advertising is received exactly as it was before. Secondly, the reach will still be the same, because those people who would have been watching the games from the stands will be watching the game on TV instead. Thirdly, while the emotional aspect of the game comes across differently if there are no fans in the stadium, for the fans at this time it is enough that the games are being played at all. If anything, fans have experienced a life without sport and now know to value it even more.
Are there any best-practice examples of creative and alternative campaigns and ideas that reach fans despite the current circumstances?
There’s a certain saying I like: “You can't overtake 15 cars in sunny weather… but you can when it's raining” (Ayrton Senna). This is certainly true when we think of brands and how they have reacted to the crisis. Many brands have successfully developed completely new campaigns which differentiate themselves from the competition and have seen growth as a result. Nike’s “Play inside, Play for the world” campaign with is a great example. The campaign gives people all the resources to do their sports at home, including livestreamed workouts and mini sport challenges, promoted by top sports stars like Christiano Ronaldo and Tiger Woods. This month we also launched our #TEAMPLAYER mask campaign, together with REWE Group and Wünsche Group. Not only does the slogan #TEAMPLAYER on the mask refer to sports, but also to anyone who wears a mask in the interests of community as it protects other people. This campaign is supported by prominent sports people, and we will donate the money raised to a good cause.
How will the crisis affect the future of sports marketing? Will there be a "Back to Normal" at some point or will fundamental changes need to happen?
Because of the break many in the industry have now had a chance to reflect on what is working and what is not. As a result of this I am certain that some of the old structures will break down. Through the crisis we have seen a revival of TV. Advertisers have become aware of the reach and power that TV offers and that doing everything through performance marketing just doesn’t make sense. The community building aspect we have seen throughout Corona where people are sticking together and helping each other out may also be useful for future sports marketing. Like in the handball community, for example: teams and fans have tried to help each other by pulling together to help handball through the crisis.
Aside from Corona - which trends, themes and channels have recently shaped sports marketing and will play a major role in the future?
Due to the break in sports, eSports and gaming are huge at the moment and marketers are realising that the target audience is something special. As I said, sport leagues are now offering digital tournaments because they couldn’t do anything else during the break. The German Football Association (DFB), for example, announced a virtual charity tournament on its new eFootball platform. Under the motto #WePlayAtHome, professional footballers joined hobby gamers and entertainment stars to play FIFA 20 in a virtual tournament to raise money for a good cause. International touring car series DTM also launched their own DTM eSports Classic Challenge where former and current DTM drivers as well as racing influencers compete in an online racing challenge against five sim racers. I predict that this online-offline combination will be a permanent feature of our sporting lives going forward.