Sports Marketing During COVID-19
Five months into a pandemic which forced the sports world to a halt, leagues are slowly beginning to return to their seasons in a much different fashion than before. For now, at least, you and 60,000-80,000 of your closest friends can’t pack into a stadium for 2-4 hours at a time. Instead, the relegation to watching our favorite teams compete from our homes has thrown the sports marketing industry for a loop. As a leader in sports marketing, TSMGI has spent the past few months helping its clients navigate the new environment. Recently, we sat down with three senior members of the team to get an understanding of what the new sports marketing world looks like.
““Right now, “pivoting” is a common term in our industry,” says Eric Addeo, Senior Account Director, Team Sports and Experiential Marketing. “What we should really be looking at is “how do we evolve?” We’ve seen companies move from experiential to digital and social. For the foreseeable future, there will be a hybrid of that. We know we will get back to in-person engagements at some point, but moving forward there will be a greater need to amplify with inventive digital options to continue to reach and attract larger audiences.”
This pivot hasn’t just happened in the team sports and experiential marketing spaces, but the running industry has seen a similar shift. The only difference: sponsors are drawn to marathon partnerships for the participatory aspect, currently absent. Andrew McCarthy, Account Supervisor, Global Endurance Sports, says members of his team are “looking at whether [virtual racing] is just a pivot or an evolution. It’s still to be seen, but we should know if there’s a long-term appetite for this by the end of the year.”
While the pandemic has not been ideal, it has created some opportunities. Both Eric and Andrew spoke to how the pause in sports has allowed TSMGI’s clients to refocus their marketing goals.
“The pandemic has pushed us to think outside of the arena or stadium and focus on telling the story of why our client is worthy of their audiences’ attention,” says Addeo. “We’re currently working with multiple divisions of our clients’ business to find the best ways to use their current assets as new innovative marketing tools to further the stories they’re trying to tell in their communities.”
From McCarthy’s perspective, parts of the endurance sports world have seen an uptick in interest as gyms and fitness centers have closed. “One of the positives of quarantine is that running has been the best way for people to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. That hasn’t gone away and will never go away, which has probably expanded the audience we’d otherwise been speaking to in the past.”
“In the current world, we’ve really looked to help our clients try to take a thought leadership role in the world when it comes to health and wellness,” he added.
The future of sports is still to be determined.” At least in the short term, TSMGI’s Mike Humlan, Account Manager, Motorsports, says, “There’s been a lot more interest in the digital assets available to brands since that’s practically the only opportunity available right now.”
Working within the Motorsports industry specifically, Humlan spent the first few months of the pandemic helping his clients mirror NASCAR’s transition to the virtual world for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Racing Invitational Series. Following the success, he says, “Esports (iRacing) became a formidable marketing option for NASCAR brands getting into the space when racing was down and [have] continued to show interest in the platform since racing has come back.”
Of all the sports leagues that have returned to play, the PGA has stood out in Humlan’s mind for doing things right. “I think PGA has done a really good job and seen a lot of success in recent months. They’ve seen year-over-year viewership growth, they’ve embraced sports betting, and [the sport] naturally lends itself to the social-distancing world we’re living in. Ultimately, it’s the same product pre-pandemic as it is now.”
No matter what happens in the coming months, TSMGI’s Sports Marketing team will have their ear to the ground and continue to provide its clients with the best opportunities to position themselves in front of their key consumers.