Advertising Marketing sportsbiz

Down on the beach – the increasing presence of sports (of a sort) in advertising 

July 3, 2024

Ian Whittaker, Twice City AM Analyst of the Year pens down his experiences at the Cannes Lions.

Having just returned from the Cannes Lion advertising festival in the south of France, the theme of sports was never far away. Stagwell’s Sports Beach returned for a second year and, judging from the comments I heard, was the destination du festival while FIFA had their own presence on the sands. More generally, though, the presence of sports is likely to be a greater feature of the conference moving forwards.

For a start, there is the increasing dominance of sports, and particularly NFL, when it comes to live broadcast viewing in the US markets. 93 of the most watched live US TV programmes in 2023 were not only sports fixtures but specifically NFL games and that dominance has increased year on year (while it is based in Europe, Cannes is essentially a US-orientated event with many US executives seeing the event as one of the highlights of the year). Broadcast, despite its challenges, still controls a significant share of advertising dollars – according to Group M’s numbers, around xx% of the total US advertising market. That makes sports a vital part in capturing audiences.

That leads onto a second point. Over the years, the presence of the major Tech platforms has grown and grown, and this year was no exception (Amazon’s cleverly titled ‘A Maison’ beach drew particular attention). However, as the platforms shift their attention to capturing more of the video advertising market, and to finally crack open the still significant sums invested in television, sports is at the centrepiece of their offering to advertisers. All the major Tech platforms want to persuade advertisers and agencies to send more money their way and sports is key to that strategy, at least in the US.

The third point regards advertisers and agencies. They want the audiences that sports offer which are amongst some of the most valuable for advertisers – and hardest – for them to reach. So it is natural they will want to learn more about what opportunities sports can offer as part of their strategies. With a greater focus generally on how advertising can directly help the top and bottom line company performance, sports is going to be seen as increasingly critical to many advertisers’ US marketing plans.

Finally, but not least, there was the growing presence in Women’s sports as epitomised by the Women’s Sports House presence at Cannes. Deloitte’s estimates that women’s sports will generate $1.28bn in revenues in 2024, with over half of that coming in North America. The simple fact – if one wants to talk in terms of pure economics and put aside the equality side of the equation – is that, for the sports market in general, women’s sports is a huge untapped potential which is only starting to be realised. Its importance will only grow.

Of course, all these points are very US-centric although the last arguably has a European angle. It is unlikely that European sports are likely to be gathering the same level of attention any time soon. Put simply, the major Tech companies have done the economic calculations and decided – rightly in my view – that the numbers do not justify an aggressive move into sports rights in Europe. Advertisers also know that, with most major rights behind a Pay-TV paywall, the size of the audience is more limited, although Sky Sports, for example, in the UK does offer an attractive offering to advertisers. But Europe is not where the interest is when looking at what sports can do for advertising.

Advertising Marketing sportsbiz