Last Updated on April 12, 2022
From the stylized posters of the last century to modern “smart” arenas, sports marketing trends are always on the leading edge of the game.
Some sports marketing trends are timeless. In the 1870s, tobacco companies used baseball cards to promote brand loyalty and boost sales. Today, those cards are an industry of their own and plenty of big brands partner with star athletes to promote their products.
Instead of tobacco, you have Nike sponsoring basketball star Michael Jordan or the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s Alex Morgan. Olympian Mary Lou Retton appeared on the front of the Wheaties cereal box. Nascar driver Danica Patrick starred in commercials for internet hosting company GoDaddy.
Other sports marketing trends are reflections of the times. You are more likely than ever to have entire marketing teams for professional and collegiate sports. Rather than exclusively promoting star players, modern sports marketing focuses on teams, full sports programs, specific venues, or even an entire league.
In both big and small ways, some of these trends will impact your organization. Here are three that savvy promoters are embracing.
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3 Sports marketing trends that you can’t ignore
1. Improving the stadium experience
Watching sports is a social activity. You can enjoy a game at home alone, but the energy that comes with attending a game in person or watching with a group just can’t be matched. That’s not to say that sports stadiums and arenas don’t have serious competition. Fans may not get the same energy when they watch a game at home, but they do have free snacks, easy access to the bathroom, and they don’t have to look for a parking space.
Teams that recognize this competition are poised to beat the challenge with new smart technology. For instance, Mercedes Benz Stadium is home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and the major league soccer team Atlanta United FC. The stadium also hosts star-studded concerts, college football playoff games, and seats up to 83,000 people. With that many people, you would expect long lines for food vendors, bathrooms, even getting through security to enter the stadium. However, that’s not the case here.
The “fan first, world-class experience” begins before you reach the parking lot. The stadium partnered with Waze (a navigation app) to provide real-time traffic alerts, including street closures and game-day traffic plans. And new magnetometers and turnstiles expedite the gate entry process.
Once you’re inside, the “connected experience” is every bit as modern as you would expect. Mercedes Benz Stadium boasts over 1,800 wireless access points, 4,000 miles of fiber optic cable, optimized cell service, a stadium app that acts as a personal concierge. Better yet, you don’t have to miss an exciting play or important call thanks to the 2,000 screens around the concourses.
Most of us aren’t building a brand new stadium. But from a sports marketing perspective, we can learn a lot from the crew in Atlanta, starting with helping fans get to your venue. Is the correct address on your website, your social media pages, in navigation apps, and on review sites like Yelp? Do you update customers about road construction, alternative routes to your establishment, and the nearest public transit stop?
And how about those screens so fans don’t miss the action when they get snacks or take a bathroom break? A digital social media wall can capture and share all the excitement and heartbreak that comes with any game, be it a professional match or a high school scrimmage.
As for your wireless experience? Fans expect to Tweet comments about the game and post action pics to Instagram. If your wireless system is out of date and slow, that’s not going to be easy. Not only does that frustrate your fans, but it also hurts your business, too. Every post that shows up on social media is free advertising for your team. The close saves, the shot at the buzzer, and even a picture of the field from Section D, Row 6, Seat 12 are all part of the online experience that can excite fans who aren’t there today, but will definitely be there next week. Speaking of which…
2. Sharing (not just marketing) on social media
It might not be fair to call social media a trend at this point, but there’s no way to get around it as a powerful and necessary component of sports marketing. There’s a lot more to it than your follower count, though.
Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies, hit the mark with their light-hearted Twitter timeline, starting with their bio: “We are a Major League Baseball team.” For a recent Tweet regarding a contest, the team wrote this: “Now for the mandatory legal stuff so you don’t start yelling at us when you don’t win, even though some people still will…”
Plenty of behind-the-scenes pictures and videos connect fans to the team, and naturally, they offer plenty of play-by-play action during the season. The Rockies have a marketing team, but even if you don’t, there are still lessons to learn here.
Social media is about connections. Letting fans into your everyday experience is, believe it or not, a valuable marketing strategy. A team like the Rockies have an online personality that engages fans. Contrast that with a marketing strategy that limits itself to telling fans to buy tickets to the next game. It’s not even a close game.
3. Prioritizing inclusivity
That’s a mouthful, but the concept is simple: sports fans come from a wide range of backgrounds. Your fan base isn’t limited to one demographic. It could be, though, if you don’t actively work to include more people in your outreach, advertising, and community building.
For instance, the Portland Thorns stand out among teams in the National Women’s Soccer League for their commitment to engaging the entire community, beginning with their merchandise. Like any team, they sell jerseys, hats, jackets, and plenty of branded gear. They, along with the Portland Timbers, also sell branded gear that benefits kids and families throughout the Portland area.
Their series of “Stand Together” merchandise helps support the community. Furthermore, the Stand Together initiative gets both teams participating in local outreach. Players visit schools to read to students, the teams plant trees in Portland neighborhoods in conjunction with Friends of Trees, they offer a leadership academy for 10-12-year-olds, and they contribute to local nonprofit organizations directly through donating a percentage of product sales to them.
The results speak for themselves. NBC sports called Portland, Soccer City USA, and the Thorns draw triple the number of fans to games than their closest competitors. Similarly, the Timbers fill 96% of their seats for an average home game.
What can you do with this information? Be clear that your organization, be it a youth football team or a college ski club, includes everyone. In your marketing material, in your merchandise, in your newsletter, and on your team, include your community. They are, after all, not just your fans; they’re also your teammates, colleagues, employees, and fellow sports lovers.
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