The value of sports sponsorship has been steadily increasing over the last decade. The universal appeal of sports continues to present brand sponsors from a diverse range of industries with an exciting opportunity not only to raise brand awareness, but also to engage their target audience and drive high conversions. It is estimated that the size of the global sports sponsorship market was worth US$57 billion in 2020, and is expected to grow by 6.72 percent to almost 90 billion U.S. dollars by 2027.
While sports sponsorship can be an attractive and effective long-term strategy with a high return on investment for brands, the boom of digital and social media, plus the ever-changing trends in media consumption patterns have brought about the need for brand sponsors to adapt and innovate in order to get the best bang for their buck.
At present, sports sponsorship packages typically consist of entitlements such as brand association and naming rights, on-site branding and exposure, online and offline activations and hospitality access. However, an area that has often been overlooked and rarely explored by brands is in audiovisual content. By acquiring media rights for such content, there is great potential for brands to further amplify their sponsorship value.
Broadcast TV supremacy is being contested by online platforms
For years, live sports have flourished on linear television broadcast, with TV networks and media organisations competing with one another to pay huge sums of money for the media rights. This has been one of the most lucrative source of revenue for rights holders. However, with today’s evolving media landscape, traditional linear TV as a medium is being increasingly challenged by the shift in the way younger audiences engage with sports content.
According to Nielsen Sports’ 2022 Global Sports Marketing Report, while the overall demand for sports content remains high, there seems to be an accelerated adoption of the more easily accessible digital platforms. 40.7% of global sports fans now stream live sports through digital platforms and this has led to an increase in over-the-top (OTT) media rights.
The interest for non-live content such as match highlights, video snippets and behind-the-scenes, has also become almost as high as interest for the live event itself. Nielsen estimates that 39.4% of global fans will watch non-live content related to a live sports event, while 47% of people will watch sports simultaneously interacting with other live content. There is a growing demand for both live and non-live sports content, with the latter being able to attract new audiences to the sport.
New players such as technology companies Apple, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon are also entering the fray to secure media rights and distribute sports content on their platforms.
For example, Amazon secured rights to broadcast 20 English Premier League live football matches each season between 2019 to 2022 free to its Amazon Prime members in the U.K., while it also acquired the rights to broadcast the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League matches for the German audience. Facebook previously signed a three-year deal in 2018 with the Spanish La Liga, allowing Spanish football fans in India to watch every match live on the social media network.
More recently in 2022, La Liga agreed a partnership with Spanish broadcaster GOL to air the Real Sociedad vs Real Betis match live in a vertical 9:16 format on TikTok and had 733,000 viewers tuned in. Apple and Major League Soccer (MLS) also announced a ground-breaking 10-year deal, worth US$2.5 billion, to have Apple TV broadcast every live MLS match worldwide beginning in 2023.
Sports rights holders are beginning to recognise the benefits of unbundling their media and marketing rights and this has resulted in “sponsorable assets increasing by three times over the last five years.” Brands can leverage the broadening sponsorship opportunities and explore a partnership beyond the likes of brand association, exposure and on-site activations.
How brands can utilise digital media rights
Typically media rights comprise of live and non-live audiovisual content, with live content being the prized asset for broadcasters. Brands now have the capacity to acquire these media rights and distribute live content digitally.
Recent examples of innovative media events presented by brands include:
DKB x IHF World Men’s Handball Championship 2017
In 2017, handball fans in Germany were on the brink of a TV-blackout for the IHF World Men’s Handball Championship, as German TV stations were unable to agree a broadcast deal with the rights owner beIN Media Group. However, financial institution Deutsche Kreditbank (DKB), who is also a main sponsor of Germany’s Handball Bundesliga, stepped in at the eleventh hour and acquired exclusive rights to live stream the competition for free via their own website and YouTube channel.
Brokered by SPORTFIVE, the deal was the first time in Germany that a major sports event was broadcast solely by a brand. It brought about over six million viewers on DKB’s own digital channels and generated much press and social media publicity for the brand throughout the event.
Kia Austria x ATP 250 in St. Petersburg 2018
For the ATP 250 tournament in St. Petersburg in 2018, automotive brand Kia Austria took advantage of Dominic Thiem’s increasing popularity and secured a deal to provide exclusive live coverage of his matches to the Austrian home fans for free on its kia.com website.
The branded content campaign paid off as fans could follow the tennis star’s road to victory at the tournament on an easy-to-access online platform, while Kia was also able to activate and reach their intended target audience group.
There are certainly other creative ways for brands to utilise live content. For example, virtual “Watch Parties” are on the rise, aiming to replicate a physical VIP matchday experience where fans, stars and sponsors get together in a virtual setting.
In recent years, LaLiga has held watch parties for the key Spanish football matches like the ElClásico. Each virtual event featured appearances by former football stars so fans could watch a live stream and simultaneously engage in video Q&A sessions with former players and fellow fans, resulting in high engagement. LaLiga sponsor Verizon previously came on board for one such watch party, with 20 of its customers watching the game together with ex-Real Madrid midfielder Steve McManaman.
Rise of short-form digital content
Short-form digital media content such as match highlights, player interviews, training sessions and behind-the-scenes footage have seen strong growth in recent years. This can be an interesting proposition for brands as well, aligning with the rise of younger, time-conscious consumers who are more keen to watch bite-sized highlights, as well as fans who welcome new opportunities to get closer to their favourite players and teams.
With consumers increasingly more inclined to engage with a second screen during an ongoing live match, rights holders are diversifying their product offerings even further and creating unconventional types of media content, for example ‘Bench Cam’ or ‘Player Cam’ – additional camera feeds and angles that capture the coach and team bench reactions or specific players throughout the game. These can be acquired and customised as unique branded content to be published on social channels.
Media rights can drive fan engagement
The benefits of having media rights as part of their sponsorship and fan engagement strategies are aplenty for brands. Digital and social media is capable of becoming one of the primary content distribution channels and potentially be on par with linear TV broadcast when it comes to viewership. It is a whole new ballgame now as brands can become relevant players, alongside broadcasters and media organisations, in terms of sports content distribution. The emergence of digital solutions and data-driven technology offers endless opportunities for brands to distribute branded content online in various avenues and devise engagement strategies to connect with fans directly in ways that are not possible in linear TV broadcasting.
The availability of sports audiovisual content, be it live or non-live, drives traffic to a brand’s proprietary digital channels and these consumers leave a trackable digital footprint. This enables the brand to capture and collate first-party and tracking data about the audience, allowing them to understand the audience profile and build direct relationships with them via their owned platforms. Alongside the broadcast of the content, brands can also create interactive online experiences to connect with the audience and introduce monetisation avenues such as adding actionable elements like links to their products, in which the conversions can be easily measured and attributed.
A more holistic approach to sports sponsorship
It is certain that sports sponsorship will continue to be worthwhile for brands due to the massive global audience sport is able to reach. By sponsoring a sporting event and utilising the tried-and-tested entitlements such as brand association, on-site advertising and activation campaigns, brands stand to achieve lots of exposure and visibility.
However, fuelled by digitisation and technological developments, online-streaming has been making significant inroads in the sports broadcasting market. As a result, sports sponsorship is continuously evolving and provides a fitting opportunity for brands to embrace digital and deliver fresh content experiences to engage modern fans.
Depending on the brand’s business objectives, digital media rights can become a viable marketing tool for the brand to develop modern forms of broadcasting and develop new fan engagement strategies.
With the acquisition and distribution of sports audiovisual content by brands still relatively uncommon especially in Asia, digital media rights present themselves as an exciting, untapped opportunity for brands wanting to stand out and create impactful and buzzworthy media events. By incorporating media rights as an additional entitlement, brands can develop more holistic sponsorship campaigns that maximise their sponsorship value.