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Sports brands and social media

Sports brands and social mediaI was recently asked for my views on sports brands and social media. This crosses over into my PhD on this subject, so I thought it would be worth wrapping these thoughts into a blog post about social media and brands and what might lie in store for the future.

The value of social media

Sports brands are still trying to understand the value of social media. They understand that it is important, but they aren’t quite sure how to measure how valuable it is. There’s a good article on the Drum about how Premier League Clubs are starting to put a price on social media videos for their sponsors. This is an interesting direction of travel and I hope it’s something that we will pick up in our 90 Minutes to 90 Seconds event next week. In terms of social media, clubs are starting to ask what the cost of not doing it is:

“Hundreds of millions in the case of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, whose social media accounts generated an eye-bulging $500m in value for Nike last year according to sponsorship analytics company Hookit.”

Salford FC on TwitterOnline Brand Communities

Online brand communities and social media are vital – and they come in both official and unofficial forms. My colleague Prof Garry Crawford wrote a great book on fan engagement in 2004 and was one of the first to write about the importance of fan contributions from Internet based communities. These brand communities are crucial to foster social capital amongst fans, developing a strong connection with people around the world. The idea is that people start out as passive fans or lurkers and then the brand hopes that they develop a stronger connection as time goes on. Journal articles of Cova and Pace etc. on brand communities are also worth reading. 

20 years ago, the Internet wasn’t as we know it now and social media and smartphones didn’t exist. People would tend to follow sports club brands more locally. New Graph showing Salfords international fanstechnology has opened up the possibility for brands to acquire many millions of fans around the world – take Kantar’s 2012 study of Man Utd fans for example showing that United have 659 million global followers. This helps to demonstrate the changing nature of brands and the way technology has enabled brands to become global.

Sports kit manufacturers like to sponsor sports clubs and players who are themselves brands. Both of the latter have a lot of social media followers such as the example above from Nike. An interesting thing occurred when Pogba signed for United for £92m. For the first time, Adidas had a superstar player at one of its clubsIt begs the question – would United have paid £92m for the player had it not been this Adidas match? I think their strategic approach is to use the social capital and social media followings bound up with superstar players and clubs and where they can try and maximise the value (activate their sponsorship) through all media.

How will sports brands evolve?

Sports brands will get better at measuring the impact of social media and will get more innovative and creative online. My Colleague Prof Chadwick and I wrote about this and the concept of Ambush marketing by non sponsoring, unofficial brands during major sporting events such as Euro 2016 for example. Some of the big brands are being ambushed and out thought by smaller brands who are often more agile, less bound up in rules and more creative. Brand is the most valuable asset a company has and therefore the implications are massive.

As technology and analytics improve, brands will get better at understanding how to measure online engagement, how to engage lesser connected lurkers and how to engage and monetise their global fan bases. Brands that do this well and understand how to use technology to engage fans will prosper and the others will struggle. 

What do you think about sporting brands right now and their evolution? Drop me a line, comment or share this article.

Alex Fenton

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