What’s in store for 2024…for sport sponsorship?

Bud lionessesSports sponsorship has grown into a $100bn industry and remains one of the last bastions of mass media moments on mainstream TV. Yet, despite its potential, there’s a surprising lack of evidence-based research to guide the effectiveness of sport sponsorship in brand campaigns.

A study of 1,000 advertisements from System 1’s database revealed that only 5% of ads feature sport sponsorship-related intellectual property and rights. Furthermore, just 12.5% of ads feature sports as a broader theme. Brands aren’t fully harnessing the potential of sports partnerships, relegating sport sponsorship to the role of traditional brand advertising’s less glamorous sibling.

The untapped power of sport sponsorship
The study we conducted with System 1, shed new light on the untapped power of sport sponsorship which should help guide brands looking at this area in 2024. The research introduced a concept known as the “Sport Dividend”, demonstrating that when executed correctly, sport sponsorship can drive more significant growth than traditional brand-led advertising. The Sport Dividend rated effective sport sponsorship and gave scores or “star ratings” to sponsorship campaigns.

Alex Charkham - HeadshotThe research also assessed how sports fans and the wider public differed in their emotional reactions to sport sponsorship campaigns, providing valuable insights. For example, the study showed a sports fan audience gave a sponsorship with no sports celebrity a 3.5 star rating, whereas those which featured a sports celebrity achieved a 4.5 star rating. Brands have the opportunity to go head-to-head with some of the most successful ad campaigns when they capitalise on this Sport Dividend.

Building the sport dividend into 2024 marketing strategies
To leverage the Sport Dividend and achieve successful sports marketing in 2024, brands should consider several essential factors.

Connection, purpose and value creation. A winning sponsorship strategy combines these three elements: a clear reason for the brand’s sponsorship (connection); an ambition behind the partnership (purpose); and an activation approach that combines utility, reward and entertainment (value creation).

Emotional appeal. To elicit emotional responses and maintain audience engagement, focus on the “right brain” – responsible for emotional intelligence, creativity, imagination and intuition. Elements such as a strong sense of place, historical context, animated characters or an unfolding story can captivate and resonate with audiences, making them lean in, smile, remember and share.

Timing is everything. Identify key sporting events, both locally and globally, to maximise mass market appeal. Large sporting events create widespread interest and engagement, making it the perfect time to align your brand with the excitement and enthusiasm that sports generate.

Leverage celebrities. While including celebrities in campaigns can be costly, research shows that it pays off, especially with sports fans. Sponsorship deals often include talent and sports-playing celebrities can significantly boost star ratings. It’s essential that the celebrity has a distinctive persona and agency, as uninspiring figures can undermine creative efforts.

Use archive content. Rights holders often provide access to archive content as part of a sponsorship. Match footage, particularly uplifting scenes and winning moments, elicits strong emotional reactions and contributes to high-performing content. Use this content to convey feelings of joy and pride, which are linked to higher star ratings.

Value-driven integration. Partner with brands that share similar values, whether they are related to health or supporting social change. Aligning with audience values and giving something back can enhance the partnership and boost its effectiveness.

As we move into 2024, we will need to see brands harnessing creativity and effectiveness to take advantage of sports sponsorship. A huge part of this will be broadcast innovation. Currently, sponsor presence is limited to logo exposure or branded features. And while broadcast has been slow to evolve to benefit sponsors, this year we’ve seen the likes of Amazon’s Black Friday NFL broadcast which leveraged its new, targeted ad creative technology and NFL’s Nickelodeon alternative telecast. This is a really underleveraged and underdeveloped opportunity in this market. And is one that sponsors should seek to gain incremental value.

With major global sporting events on the horizon, such as the Six Nations and Olympics in 2024, there are upcoming opportunities for  brands to maximise the Sports Dividend for themselves. Making marketing budgets work harder for brands will be a focus in 2024 and by following the blueprint for successful sports marketing, brands can create campaigns that connect more effectively with both sports enthusiasts and the wider public.

To win big in 2024, both B2C and B2B brands must be paying attention to the Sport Dividend and creative innovation. With the right strategies, there is the potential for brands to unlock the full potential of sports sponsorship in 2024.

Alex Charkham is chief strategy officer at Fuse

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