We have to move beyond spon­sor­ship

As con­sump­tion pat­terns change and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances broaden the scope of what’s pos­si­ble, why isn’t sports mar­ket­ing mak­ing the most of the pos­si­bil­i­ties it’s be­ing of­fered?

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - - I.A.

Ev­ery four years the Fifa World Cup kicks off, and ev­ery four years view­ers are buried un­der a del­uge of ad­ver­tis­ing clut­ter. Same ads, same stars, same jin­gles. Same de­spair.

“This is some­thing that we ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery world cup,” ad­mits Raed Kablawi, MENA head of Publi­cis Media Sport & Entertainm­ent. “Too much ad­ver­tis­ing clut­ter and a lot of the brands just can’t stand out. But when I look at it, it goes back to the brand and whether or not it aligns with foot­ball. Brands who don’t will never cap­ture the au­di­ence dur­ing the world cup, no mat­ter how many times they run their ad or en­gage in di­rect-to­con­sumer ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Clut­ter and ir­rel­e­vance are huge is­sues for sports mar­ket­ing dur­ing ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions, but they’re far from the only con­cerns. New plat­forms and im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences are trans­form­ing the dis­ci­pline, the way peo­ple con­sume sport is evolv­ing, and, like ex­pe­ri­en­tial, mea­sure­ment of ROI re­mains a point of con­tention. The Mid­dle East also re­mains shack­led to tra­di­tional mind­sets.

“Sports mar­ket­ing in the Arab re­gion has for ages been recog­nised as a spon­sor­ship op­er­a­tion that de­liv­ers ex­po­sure,” says Karim Younes, re­gional man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Hori­zon FCB Sports. “The emo­tional as­pect and loy­alty fac­tors have been dis­re­garded. Un­der the same con­text, it is worth high­light­ing that rights hold­ers want to un­der­stand sports mar­ket­ing only from a rev­enue per­spec­tive, not recog­nis­ing the pos­i­tive ef­fects it can have on con­sumers and brands.

“Al­though sports are now com­pet­ing with var­i­ous entertainm­ent for­mats, spon­sors still con­sider that a cou­ple of spots around a foot­ball match or an F1 race can cre­ate the needed aware­ness for their brands. This is a ma­jor il­lu­sion.”

Spon­sor­ship and aware­ness are not enough. Mil­len­ni­als are no longer watch­ing tra­di­tional media, so­cial broad­cast­ing is on the rise, vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) is gain­ing trac­tion, and the cre­ation of en­gag­ing con­tent around sport is more im­por­tant than ever as view­ers de­sire to be placed in the thick of the ac­tion

There are also cer­tain chal­lenges spe­cific to the re­gion. Namely a lim­ited be­lief in the value of­fered by sports mar­ket­ing on a com­mer­cial, com­mu­nity and grass­roots

level, says Younes, and a lack of val­u­a­tion re­search, sys­tems and soft­ware. All of this is be­fore you get into the re­gion’s “chaotic rights dis­tri­bu­tion”, which has scant re­gard for the con­sumer.

“The sports mar­ket­ing dis­ci­pline has turned into a money-mak­ing ma­chine mostly for rights hold­ers,” says Younes. “This is dan­ger­ous. Sports are silently but chaot­i­cally mon­e­tised, lead­ing to a drop in trust in sports’ gov­ern­ing par­ties.”

Even when brands do have the rights, they do lit­tle of value with it. “Brands of­ten make the mis­take of ac­quir­ing sports rights through spon­sor­ship without hav­ing the plan or the bud­get to ac­ti­vate these rights,” says Kablawi. “The cre­ative ac­ti­va­tion idea and en­gag­ing with the au­di­ence through it is just as im­por­tant as the rights them­selves and brand man­agers forget that some­times. Usu­ally we rec­om­mend that brand man­agers bud­get three times the cost of the rights for the ac­ti­va­tion.”

Con­sid­er­ing the con­nec­tion that mil­lions of peo­ple en­joy with sport, such a lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach to sports mar­ket­ing is per­plex­ing. The sports mar­ket in North Amer­ica is ex­pected to reach $78.5 bil­lion by 2021, ac­cord­ing to Price­wa­ter­house­coop­ers, while al­most 37 per cent of global foot­ball in­vest­ment comes from the Mid­dle East, says Younes. Think Emi­rates and its spon­sor­ship of Arse­nal, Real Madrid or Paris Saint­ger­main, and Eti­had’s part­ner­ship with Manchester City.

“There is no other form of entertainm­ent that evokes emo­tional highs and lows in us like sports does, so for the right brand an as­so­ci­a­tion with some­thing as pow­er­ful as this should be ex­tremely en­tic­ing,” says Kablawi.

So why is re­gional sports mar­ket­ing in dan­ger of scor­ing an own goal? And how should it ap­proach a new world order gov­erned by chang­ing con­sumer pat­terns and rapid tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances?

“When it comes to sports mar­ket­ing, this re­gion is con­sid­ered more of an im­i­ta­tor than an in­no­va­tor,” says Kablawi. “That is some­thing I would like to see change in the com­ing four to five years. We al­ways look at what’s hap­pen­ing glob­ally and then try to mimic it or adapt it to the re­gion. But with the tal­ent that we have here and the bud­gets that some brands have, if they are will­ing to in­vest in sports mar­ket­ing there is no rea­son why we can’t be­come in­no­va­tors. I’m talk­ing about cre­ative ex­e­cu­tions and ac­ti­va­tion of rights that are driven by tech­nol­ogy.”

Kablawi points to the Golden State War­riors basketball team, which streamed its open­ing game of the NBA sea­son in vir­tual re­al­ity, as an ex­am­ple. Fans were able to get court-side dur­ing the game by buy­ing Sam­sung Gear VR gog­gles, down­load­ing the Ocu­lus Home app, and stream­ing the game through Nextvr.

It is this kind of im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence that Kablawi would like to see take hold in the re­gion. Af­ter all, fans want to be closer to the ac­tion and, while spon­sor­ship gives brands ac­cess to any given sta­dium, it is the pro­duc­tion of out­stand­ing and en­gag­ing con­tent that has the po­ten­tial to be the golden ticket.

“There is no rea­son why we shouldn’t be able to in­no­vate ex­pe­ri­ences along these lines,” says Kablawi. “To take sports mar­ket­ing to the next level.”

Younes agrees. “What For­mula E is of­fer­ing for mo­tor­sports fans via VR is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the pos­si­bil­ity of bring­ing the fans as close as pos­si­ble to the driver and emo­tion­ally closer to the mo­tor­sports prod­uct it­self,” he says. “Can this ef­fect tra­di­tional sports broad­cast­ing over the long run? Sure it will. Fans are vir­tu­ally rac­ing with the driv­ers.

“Our pri­or­ity for the com­ing fu­ture is to max­imise clients’ ROI in – and through – sports. Con­se­quently we need to start by in­vest­ing be­hind sports mar­ket­ing re­search and know-how across three as­pects: brands, con­sumers, and sports prod­ucts.

“Sports mar­ket­ing will keep on grow­ing across the MENA re­gion as op­por­tu­ni­ties are there. All that is needed is to rightly ex­ploit them for the ben­e­fit of clients and so­ci­eties. Sports mar­keters, agen­cies and rights hold­ers should not com­pete, rather align and join ef­forts to fur­ther build an industry that is re­ally needed in such con­tro­ver­sial times.”

When it comes to sports mar­ket­ing, this re­gion is con­sid­ered more of an im­i­ta­tor than an in­no­va­tor. That is some­thing I would like to see change in the FRPLQJ IRXU WR ÀYH \HDUV - Raed Kablawi, MENA head of Publi­cis Media Sport & Entertainm­ent Sports mar­ket­ing will keep on grow­ing across the MENA re­gion as op­por­tu­ni­ties are there. All WKDW LV QHHGHG LV WR ULJKWO\ H[SORLW WKHP IRU WKH EHQHÀW of clients and so­ci­eties - Karim Younes, re­gional man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Hori­zon FCB Sports

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