At the end of last year we hosted the COVID 19 -> SPORT 21 webinar with a panel of experts hosted by sports broadcaster and excellent person Kelly Cates. If you missed the webinar you can click here to watch the recording, or keep reading for the ‘spark notes’…
On the panel we had Dan Sherwood (Santander), James Williams (Coca-Cola), Nav Sidhu (Sidhu & Simon), Jade Raad (Little Dot Studios) and some CEO bloke from WING with a new/excellent beard. They got their heads together to speak about how COVID-19 has thrown the rule book into the air and accelerated digital transformation. So what did our panel of experts have to say about 2021’s landscape for sports sponsorship?
The need for sponsorship to evolve was there long before COVID-19 struck the world, and let’s not dwell on why a pandemic had to come along in order to see this change. We can all agree with Coca-Cola’s James Williams when he says that “this has helped push it a little bit faster.” What we really should focus on is: why sport? This was touched upon by James when he said that Coca-Cola sponsors sport because it has such an important role to play, and they want to make that difference. As creatives we have a responsibility to engage fans and bring sport to as many people as possible. But how do you reach people if they are no longer ‘there’? Faced with empty stadiums and the cancellation of huge sporting events, brands have had to work twice as hard to engage fans. From James’ experience of planning for Tokyo 2020+1, he said “we had to very quickly stop and slow down what is this massive tanker which has spent years going in one direction... we had to slow that down whilst also thinking about how we adapt.”
It has been near impossible to have a solid plan from day to day in both our professional and personal lives. This means that we need to consider every possible outcomes and multiple scenarios in order to ensure things can continue. Versatility and adaptability is now a necessity for all brands and sponsors within sport. Now’s not the time for a plan B, it’s time for plans C, D, and E all the while hoping A comes through for us.
For the Olympics, Coca-Cola had to find a way to give consumers access to the Games without being in the stadium. This is the same across pretty much all sport. There are still bums on seats - that seat has just become a sofa, belonging to fans who want engagement. This has opened up a lot more possibilities than ever before.
I think it has become more personal… you have more access… you click online, go in and have a look, engage online whereas before to do it you needed to get on a plane or train. Bigger opportunities to personalise, be more direct, create better content… bringing the games into people’s houses in a new way.
- James Williams, Coca-Cola
Pretty exciting! So, we’ve got to have a plan. And we have to be adaptable. But is there something missing?
When it came to Santander’s activation, Nav Sidhu (founder & MD of Sidhu & Simon, Santander’s sponsorship and communications agency) had to change a traditional activation into an always on, continuous activation overnight. The Numbers Game was the flagship activation of Santander’s partnership with the Champions League, using football and sport to engage children and adults with maths. The original plan for The Numbers Game was an educational, digital, and experiential campaign which toured the UK, but with COVID that all had to change.
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7,000 schools, 50,0000 teachers, 7 million children. It became very clear that there was a genuine need to help the pressure on parents and children… we formed a partnership with Twinkl, 650,000 resources online, go to destination for online learning. Coupled with that we repurposed our football ambassadors, F2 freestylers. They have a huge pull with younger audiences.
- Nav Sidhu, Sidhu & Simon
Nav and the whole panel agreed that authenticity and purpose was more important than ever. It is critical to have a “firm finger on the pulse of social conscience and cultural understanding.” Brands cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach. It is now all about “agility, adaptability, and opportunistic gut instinct.” Brands need to understand what their audience wants. The Numbers Game had to engage children, but also parents and teachers. The PR narrative will always be used to pull audiences in, whilst content enlightens and educates and then it all has to be packaged up.
Jade Raad from Little Dot Studios (sharp as a razor, this one) pointed out that it is no longer an option to churn out the same piece of content onto each platform. Look at audience segmentation and make sure you create content native to each platform. Through a strong understanding of the algorithm, LDS has figured out all the right levers to pull.
Audience first - why are they watching, for how long are they watching, what is important to you? We are trying to provide the best chance for content to elevate organically.
- Jade Raad, Little Dot Studios
Whilst all of the above is important, Dan Sherwood of Santander insisted there have to be common goals. Goals that are completely bespoke with the aim to reach the same place. Keep reminding yourself that the world has not “irrevocably changed.” Rules are always evolving and they would have done so without COVID-19, so there is no need to panic. The responsibility of brands to contribute to society in a meaningful way may be more prevalent now, but it was always there.
What we consume and where we consume and why is always evolving. This is obviously a faster acceleration but it’s no different a trend than we’ve have before. I think some of the original principals are still the right principals… Let’s not exaggerate or overdo the reaction to what’s been happening recently in terms of just ripping up all of our rulebooks. Those rulebooks are still decent.
- Dan Sherwood, Santander
It is important to remember that these exciting new tools and platforms are giving brands, as well as the creative talent and audience, more chance for co-creation and participating authentically together - and delivering further reach and engagement because of it.
So what can you, as brands and sponsors in the sports industry, take away from all of this? Well, firstly, plan for multiple scenarios - this will in turn allow you to stay adaptable and versatile. Once all that is in place, the key to it is authenticity. Ask yourself, did it come from the right place and were you doing it for the right reasons?
To close, let’s have a look at the words that came out of the mouth of that guy with the great new
Focus on amplifying brand association by using sustained video to tell an authentic story. If you combine that with the desire of the fan to know more and the willingness of the governing body or athlete to assist and the incredible power of sport… 2021 will be amazing.
- Will Ingham, WING