The 2018 World Cup is in full swing, and football is on everyone’s mind.

Last week, we took the opportunity to invite our clients and friends to an event at our London HQ to share our latest research and watch the first England game together.

But the highlight of the event was our industry-leading panel of experts, who shared their insights into what it takes to effectively market to sports fans.

Featuring research and insight professionals from TEAM Marketing, Liverpool FC and Wasserman, they delved into how the industry is evolving as emerging platforms play a more vital role, and what challenges to overcome in the struggle to target the modern sports fan.

Here are our key takeaways.

1. Brands want far more than just reach.

When it comes to sports sponsorship, this is a landscape that’s changing dramatically thanks to fast-moving consumer trends.

Rights owners are under increasing pressure to offer brands far more than what they can achieve themselves. For Ben Treadaway, Vice President, EMEA Wasserman, one of the most common of these is reach.

“When talking to brands, if rights owners are just offering up reach as the platform of opportunity, brands will just turn to Facebook where it’s cheaper, more targeted and there’s less wastage”, he says.

“Smart rights owners are saying: ’Ok, we need to really understand our consumer and have a proposition where we can offer up direct communication with people who are actually going to engage.

It’s a data economy; you have to offer up direct data access to really show value.”

2. Sports fans don’t want to be consumers. They want to be fans.

When talking about marketing to sports fans, we often make the comparison with mainstream consumers. For Andrew Sheridan, Head of Partnerships, Insights and Operations, Liverpool FC, this is a mistake brands can’t afford to make.

The key, he says, lies in uncovering deep insight into who these people are, helping you create a pen portrait that translates their behaviors, interests and attitudes, so you know how best to target them.

“That’s the tricky part about sport: fans don’t want to be customers, they want to be fans”, he says.

“You need to be cautious about treating them too much like a standard consumer.

With the band of research we have, we’re always looking to platforms like GlobalWebIndex which provides great insight, particularly on both a global and local level. This helps us understand not only what they do, but what motivates them, what they like and what they don’t like.”

3. Authenticity holds the key to engagement.

We talk a lot about the shifting balance of power between brand and consumer, and how these changing relationships are reshaping the marketing industry as we know it. When it comes to marketing to sports fans, the same is also true, says Treadaway.

“Not only is content king, the consumer is in total control.

Brands used to be able to control the message, and put out what they liked, but that’s now gone”, he says.

This means it takes far more strategic thinking in order to engage your target audience, but for sports fans, Treadaway says the key lies in being authentic.

“The key is to have something authentic and relevant enough in people’s lives that they will stop scrolling on their timelines and pay attention to it”, he says. “It’s both as simple and as complicated as that.”

“If you’re doing something just because you think it’s the right thing to do, they’ll see right through you. You need to be genuine about it, and there needs to be longevity in it.”

4. Go beyond what you think you know.

In today’s fragmented landscape where ROI matters more than ever, we all know the importance of ensuring you’re reaching the right audience.

And while there’s no one way to do it, for Louise Bailey, Research Lead, TEAM Marketing, it’s about going beyond what you think you know.

“A lot for us is targeted profiling and segmentation, whether that’s demographically or attitudinally”, she says. “This involves looking at, not just clusters of markets, but what that need is for that particular consumer.

I’ve been trying to get to the crooks of understanding Champions League and Europa League fans, for example, not just demographically but attitudinally.

We then try to marry this consumer research with other data sources we have, mapping it against our social media data, our TV audience data etc. to start unlocking more of that deep insight into what these consumers think, and what they’re doing.”

5. It’s all about finding the right platform.

For most brands, reaching the right audience means investing heavily in different content and approaches to find out what works and what doesn’t. For Sheridan, the answer lies in finding the right platforms.

“We want to preserve our audience, but we also want to build it”, he says. “It’s about finding the right platform; one that’s really going to resonate with our existing fan base and, and the holy grail is to also find new fans.”

The platforms that work for each of your target segments will naturally vary by market (not to mention across generations) but doing your research to uncover these, he says, is well worth the investment.

“Facebook and Twitter give you good reach, but that’s by no means the only avenue to go down, particularly in the Asian market.”

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