The challenges that face sports as a brand are very different from any other product. Suppose you bought a product and didn’t like the quality, you can get it fixed, or exchanged. Now if you bought a ticket to a sporting event and didn’t like the quality of sport being played, there is no refund that you will get. And if the result is not to your liking, than all you can do is suffer. There are no guarantees, no consumer courts, and at the end of it, nothing to show. And therefore marketing is a very difficult concept to grasp for sports
Yet sport is a multibillion dollar industry. There are no authentic figures, but it is upwards of $200Bn globally. This makes it much larger than say movie industry or music industry, larger than possibly both combined. In developed markets sport contributes between 2-3% of GDP of the country. By implication than sport can only be next to tourism as an industry.
What makes this an extremely challenging service to market is people’s enthusiasm for sports. People follow sports as a religion, and the sport stars as gods. And despite a Tiger Woods or Ashley Cole, there are more role models than fallen angels. It has long been believed that generally men follow sports with much greater involvement than women. I am not sure if that is necessarily true. There are two kinds of sports followers, one who is rigorous team sports enthusiasts and who follow team sports. These are people who drive the following of cricket and football and hockey. Then there is the relaxed individual sports followers who love golf, and shooting and snooker and chess. In both the sport there is no reason for women to not get involved. It’s less of a sport and more of a cultural thing. As the culture evolves, women power will grow in sport fandom.
Sport has existed in culture for generations. From eons back rulers used sport both as a tool to test human endurance and to create a feeling of superiority between kingdoms. Somewhere along the way sport started to merge with entertainment. This too is a fairly old trend. Now in modern age, its entertainment that has become the prime driver behind sport. And with people having a far greater involvement with sport, brands have leveraged them to create engagement with their consumers. This merger of human endeavour, with need for entertainment has made sports sponsorship a very sophisticated service. And with media getting fragmented sports sponsorship is possibly the best bet marketer has to aggregate eyeballs.
So what are the challenges that the marketers will face in coming years?
One big issue that sports marketers need to address is kids dwindling interest in sports. This will have a large implication on future of sports marketing. It is in marketer’s interest to work at grassroots level and keep kids engaged from an early age
The other big issue that sports marketers need to invest in is measurement of effort. This will go a long way in keeping the brands interested in sports
Sports marketers also need to expand their ambit. In India cricket dwarfs every other sport is partly also because brand marketers only market cricket. If the sports marketing pie has to be increased than sports marketers will have to ensure they expand their basket
And finally in future consumers will question the kind of brands they see involved in sports. Alcohol, tobacco and fast food brands will be seen with increased skepticism and they might find their investment not giving them optimum return
In these days of fragmented media and widening consumer power, there is no better way of creating enduring consumer engagement than through sports
(part of this article was published in Business and Economy Magazine’s March 10 Issue)