Why a sports-first marketing strategy will provide brands with long-term loyalty

Manny Puentes, general manager, advertising, Genius Sports

With more than 100 million annual viewers, the Super Bowl has long been the marquee advertising event of the year. The upcoming 2024 event has outpaced expectations, with Paramount reporting that its inventory has already sold out. This sold-out inventory is the latest evidence of how essential a sports audience advertising strategy has become for brands. 

Last year, 95 of the 100 most-watched shows on television were sports. Additionally, according to research by MRI Simmons, sports fans are 28% more likely to pay attention to commercials. 

Even as audiences become increasingly fragmented, sports bring people together to create rich audience context and engaged attention. For programmatic advertisers, in particular, a sports-based advertising strategy has emerged as a must-have pillar in a post-cookie world. Pairing audience context and attention with aligned creative and activations promotes long-term loyalty for brands of all types. 
However, creating a sustainable and effective fan engagement plan requires a holistic approach, encompassing all areas of the advertising business. Brands that integrate automated creative, activate across all screens, invest in gamification and expand their reach across generations and countries are most likely to succeed in connecting with sports fans in 2024 and beyond.

Automated creative with game-time accurate information engages high-value fans

With the third-party cookie slated to disappear in 2024, ad creative will be more important than ever. Without the audience-based targeting that has long been used to reach consumers, advertisers must rely on highly contextual placements with compelling creative to drive sales and conversions. 
Live sports provide a unique opportunity to do both. By leveraging real-time live sports data, advertisers can plug into AI technology that builds automated creative using live scores or changing game odds. These real-time ads drive more clicks and engagement among the most engaged, high-value fans interested in the game or games of the day. 

Omnichannel strategies are a must when reaching sports fans, too 

As sports enter an era of streaming and simultaneous broadcasts, fans are watching across more screens and devices than ever before. While creating a robust omnichannel strategy is nothing new to marketers, doing this effectively during live sports streams requires a more targeted and unified approach. 

Platforms must natively embrace sports-specific channels, and advertisers should ask specific questions when choosing new partners. For instance, ideal partners should have access to real-time sports data, collaborative partnerships with leagues and teams, and unified analytics and reporting. These can work together to create a consistent and high-impact message across screens to drive conversions and reach highly engaged audiences.

Gamification helps brands reach younger consumers where they are

Research by Nielsen shows that younger audiences (those under the age of 34) are 50% more likely to play digital games while watching a sporting event and 41% more likely to engage with fantasy-type games. To reach these consumers, advertisers need to create activations that meet them where they are.

Free-to-play games offer one way for advertisers to find and retain the most engaged sports fans. As one example, Jersey Mike’s recently created a Tailgate Trivia game, a series of college football quizzes to drive awareness of the brand during college football season. By promoting the game programmatically, the engagement drew over 45 million impressions across NCAA fans and built long-term brand loyalty while driving nearly 200,000 new sign-ups.

These kinds of engagements also allow brands to capture highly engaged audiences, which is vital for reaching consumers in the post-cookie world while helping fans create a positive association between the brand and their favorite sport. 

Advertisers are adjusting to meet the needs of younger generations who engage with sports differently

Despite initial concerns that younger generations watch fewer sports and less often, research has found they follow just as many sports but watch and engage with them differently. Leagues and broadcasters are already taking note and adjusting to audience-specific broadcasts. This upcoming Super Bowl will be the first-ever to air on both CBS and Nickelodeon, featuring kid-friendly animations and characters. 

Capturing the audience experience across these varied presentations will require a robust cross-device approach and familiarity with the ever-expanding array of streaming apps and environments. This will also require analytics platforms that can quickly pull together diverse data and audience profiles across multiple channels. 

Expanding reach globally can mean advertisers secure loyalty before competitors

Brands looking to expand their presence in new markets worldwide should also start with sports fans. Data shows that more than half of residents in emerging markets such as Nigeria, India and the UAE consider themselves sports fans — an even higher rate than established sports markets like the U.S. and U.K. 

By positioning themselves alongside the fast-growing sports teams and leagues in those countries, brands can build loyal relationships early that can last lifetimes. But brands must understand each country’s nuances and sports markets; having partners with expertise and experience in these regions can make advertising in these markets a more approachable and easy experience. 

As sports-related attention continues to grow even off the field (such as with the Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce romance), brands can stay close to fans all year by embracing the sports and stories that drive unparalleled levels of engagement. 

By centering sports in their own brand stories and creative approaches — through real-time game data, omnichannel strategies, gamification and reaching younger generations and global audiences — marketers can create effective and sustainable fan engagement for the ultimate winning strategy.

Sponsored by Genius Sports

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