Will Digital Marketing in Major Sports Events Soon Be a Strategy of Diminishing Returns? – Rebecca Hopkins

July 22, 2014

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting the World Cup Sponsorship Special for iSportConnect TV where the burgeoning role of digital in activation was discussed. With its ever-growing influence in major sports events, is digital the one to watch or could it become a marketing strategy which delivers diminishing returns?

Review the last seven years of sports marketing and the landscape has changed exponentially; it is easy to forget that the now ubiquitous tablet wasn’t even around for the Beijing Games in 2008. When London was awarded the 2012 Olympics, the sports agency world heralded it as being the ‘most social Games ever’; this was very prophetic although whether anyone actually knew what social really meant is suspect.

What a difference two years makes. Just 24 months later and the World Cup has achieved staggering things through mobile, social media and video. A new Twitter tweets per minute record was set at 618,725 tweets during the final; a new total Tweets record of 35.6m resulted from the Germany/Brazil game whilst Facebook’s 88 million global users hit a ground-breaking 280m interactions (including posts, likes and comments), smashing the 245m from Super Bowl 2013.

Looking at specific brand activity there were some impressive numbers too. Whilst it is said that Adidas bought c.1.6 million social media mentions during the World Cup, including campaign phrases and hashtags on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, blogs, forums and news sites, its ‘All in or Nothing’ ad achieved over 38m views on YouTube, 17 million Facebook likes and was hashtag featured in over 900,000 Tweets. However rivals, Nike, out-performed them despite a lack of sponsor-status. Nike’s ‘Risk Everything’ campaign, according to researchers Visible Measures, saw it emerge as the most viewed World Cup marketer. Of the 97 campaigns tracked in the research, Nike’s eight virals secured 240.6 million views, topping Samsung’s 124,374,254 and Adidas’ 90,314,729 views.

Whilst big numbers are always exciting, what does that mean when it comes to sales? Budweiser, the tournament’s official beer, also achieved respectable cut through digitally but it went further, determining how mentions equated to purchase. The results weren’t overly exciting; based on a sample base of 710,823 social posts, specifically mentioning buying Budweiser, only 0.0006% were deemed influential in driving sales. So, despite all the brand mentions, purchase intent was detectable only 426 times.  Another campaign with surprisingly low digital figures was Coca-Cola’s. Whilst much of its sports involvement is primarily based on pourage rights, the brand still scored surprisingly poorly on social platforms.

So what is next for marketing around the big sports fixtures. Clearly the numbers digital delivers are exciting and, much to the delight of sports PRs, create media hooks in their own rights but big figures aren’t a legitimate target, consumer action – ideally purchase – is. Also there is significant overcrowding on current platforms so how many social engagements will a brand need to get cut through? Increasing levels of investment alone is not the answer, so what is? Sports agencies have four years to figure this out.

Watch the Sports Marketing Show on iSportconnect TV

 Rebecca Hopkins is Managing Director of ENS Ltd, a London-based sports agency tasked with promoting and protecting brands in sport. They specialize in sports PR, crisis management and online public relations.

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