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Picture: 123RF/barrosoj06
Picture: 123RF/barrosoj06

As brands seek ways to set up more personalised connections with consumers, they are engaging social media influencers more than before.

This is one key finding from the latest Nielsen Sports survey, which says audiences tend to trust digital media far more because it’s easily accessible, expands on information and allows instant interaction as opposed to the one-directional character of traditional media.

Simoné Bobo, co-founder of Ona & Grace, a sports agency focused on promoting women athletes, tells the FM that the increasing influence of digital platforms in sports coverage and sponsorship is also a powerful method to challenge traditional views of how sport is played and consumed.

She says in SA sport is still viewed as a masculine event, and advertisers and sponsors fuel that tradition. The challenge, she says, is to break gender stereotypes associated with sport.

Bobo believes that new avenues of sponsorship opportunity can be opened through digital  channels, unearthing untold stories of women athletes, which will  allow sports and reach out to a wider audience.

Nielsen says despite growing interest, media and news coverage heavily favours men’s sports. In the US, the research company examined the coverage of women’s sports on the ESPN show SportsCenter.

In the 2021 calendar year, the analysis found that SportsCenter provided 91 seconds of coverage for the average top-level women’s basketball game, and 266 seconds of coverage for the average men’s game. Coverage, says Nielsen, is not keeping pace with fandom.

The latest sports survey says that as traditional and digital worlds merge, the sponsorship life cycle is broadening, creating more opportunities to make money.

It says: “Leveraging new technology, brands should start to use digital platforms to develop fan engagement strategies that do not exist in linear broadcasting.

“For example, brands can streamline the purchase journey by simply adding a link to a product or food item to the digital sports content that fans are already watching. This trackable digital engagement will be paramount in measuring sponsor effectiveness.”

Despite growing interest, media and news coverage heavily favours men’s sports

Felicia Ntisa, who heads the M-Sports Marketing & Communications agency, says the entire sports sponsorship value chain has changed. “The pandemic saw many industries being forced to navigate uncharted territories, and sponsorship was no exception.

“Sports sponsorship now revolves around fan engagement and finding meaningful ways to bring players closer to the game. The pandemic presented an opportunity to do this differently, with online interactions. There is a new hunger for activations and engagement.”

Ntisa says another new trend worth noting is the effect of betting companies on sponsorship, with many now front-line sponsors of teams and individual athletes. She says the return of fans to stadiums also presents opportunities for sports sponsorship to thrive through activations and so revive fan interest.

Nielsen says “the growing ubiquity of digital enablement among sports fans” presents an opportunity for increasingly customised brand partnerships, and new challenges with respect to measuring them.

“To engage consumers where they are, sponsorship activation campaigns need to be increasingly multifocused — multichannel, multiasset, multimarket.”

The report also says sports rights holders need to rethink what has been a traditionally top-down approach to sponsorship, saying athletes these days  engage directly with fans through digital platforms and do so separately from teams, leagues and sports properties.

“Athletes often have more social media followers and more trust among fans, but the current media rights landscape makes it extremely difficult for athletes to post in-game content that would also benefit teams and leagues.

“Greater collaboration and shifting the structure of media rights deals — making it easier for athletes to share live content — will only broaden reach and connectivity for the entire sports ecosystem. Teams and leagues should partner with athletes as amplifiers of content.”

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