The pandemic has changed the way fans consume sports—digital has taken centre stage, and experiences are more immersive with tools like a metaverse. Image: Shutterstock The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the sports industry as live events halted for a good two years. The unprecedented event changed the way fans consumed sports content, pushing sports marketing firms to devise ways to make sports more engaging and personal in the virtual world.
Sports marketing experts and media executives Storyboard18 spoke to talk about the new world order where digital has taken the centre stage. Fan experiences have become more immersive with new tech tools like metaverse and digital collectibles and engagement has become a topmost priority for broadcasters and franchises across sports formats.
Focus on sports content by brands
Post the pandemic, sport and fitness have become big drivers in the mindset and one is seeing people consume a lot of all this and new age brands prefer sports talent because of the values that they bring in, says Nikhil Bardia, head of sponsorship sales and talent at RISE Worldwide.
“As the world moves to digital and specific ROIs can be calculated, there is no better economical way than sports to reach out to such a national or international customer or fan base,” he notes.
Spotify (music category), for instance, is a new entrant this year along with internet commerce company Meesho which has partnered
with four IPL
teams and will be the official online shopping partner for the five-time champion Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals, and Gujarat Titans.
Lucky Saini, vice-president and head of brand, Meesho, tells Storyboard18 that the partnership will help reach out to the value shopper across India.
“IPL also helps maximise our reach amongst the men shoppers as it has a higher inclination towards male viewers," he notes.
Web 3.0 and deeper fan engagement
Interestingly, we are also witnessing the dawn where the world moves into Web 3.0. brands, teams, franchises, and leagues are extensively capitalising on the emerging scope of collectibles and indulging in the metaverse, says Bardia of RISE Worldwide.
“Additionally, brands are looking at leveraging AR and VR tools to engage with the audience. As we head into this new era, it shall open a plethora of options for brands to utilise selectively,” he adds.
IPL franchise Gujarat Titans, for instance, has introduced an innovative fan engagement strategy with a player interaction in the metaverse
. The team let its batsman Shubman Gill
chat with fans in the Gujarat Titans’ locker room and home stadium in a metaverse on 15 April where he showed the fans around the two rooms created by the team and answered a few questions.
In December 2021, Yuvraj Singh also launched his own NFT collection, which marks his entry into the digital space of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) with his collaboration with Colexion, Asia’s biggest licensed NFT marketplace.
Other new technological features announced by the company include a metaverse cricket show, a new online voting system, mixed reality analysis and a new ‘Behind the Scenes’ (BTS) tech venture among others.
Divyanshu Singh, head of sales, and marketing at JSW Sports notes that the biggest takeaway from 2022 is that it will be the year where digital ad spends surpass TV ad spends, which is in the range of Rs 40,000 crore. This was supposed to happen in 2025 but was accelerated by the pandemic.
“Firstly, brands and sponsors are trying to understand how sports assets can be leveraged on digital platforms. It is no longer just about branding on the jerseys, but how influencer marketing can penetrate the digital world. In addition, it's about time we understand some of the global trends and learn from them, from NFTs to digital collectibles to Web 3.0 to blockchain in sports," says Singh. "We've seen some of our talents, such as Rishabh Pant, foray into the industry. Delhi Capitals is also soon going to announce a major partnership to launch its digital collectibles, which will make it the first franchise to do so in the IPL. The metaverse and how Web 3.0 are taking off in India will be something that everyone is incredibly interested in seeing as a major development in the coming year as well,” he further adds.
Continued rise of digital media
Experts believe that the way sports will be marketed will be driven by these significant consumer behavioural changes. This is where the ease and convenience of watching the games on digital screens come into play.
According to R. Venkatasubramanian, president & national head – investments, Havas Media Group India, lower subscription rates of digital and urban cosmopolitan culture that makes people view these games on their handheld devices are some of the reasons digital platforms are gaining popularity when it comes to sports content.
“So, for broadcasters, it would be much easier, trackable and cheaper to reach out to the relevant TG, who are digital native on these platforms. This is certainly one of the major shifts in sports marketing, where the spends are primarily dominated by traditional medium, mainly TV,” he notes.
Also, multimedia connectivity would play a huge role in reaching out to the consumers, hence broadcasters will not rely on TV viewership alone for returns, as subscriptions across these multimedia platforms would also be equally important, if not more,” he concludes.
Note to readers: Storyboard18’s new Month In Focus initiative spotlights themes and topics that are pushing marketers to reshape and rethink how brands interact with today’s customers. Our first theme is Just Sports, a special spotlight on sports marketing. We bring to you stories of how marketers are harnessing the power of technology, innovation and creativity in sports to create powerful storytelling in campaigns that increase affinity and loyalty with audiences. From traditional sports platforms around cricket to emerging games and the rise of esports, we get leading voices from the marketing and sports worlds to give us sharp and fast insights into future-facing marketing practices. Also, tune in for analyses which will surface ideas and strategies that are helping brands to level up experiences and storytelling with authentic collaborations. So watch this space for Just Sports.