Sports venues are back to full capacity, but another COVID spike and the “new normal” are posing challenges for marketers who want to understand the return on their investment within this environment. Marketing Insider, this month, feeds off our ongoing fan research to suggest a new measure that you should be thinking about.
There is an abundance of research on the uniquely powerful impact of sports marketing activation at live events. Even as we’ve evolved (or is it “devolved?”) to a place where digital multitasking has become pervasive in what was formerly a distraction-free environment, the opportunity to command attention from a passionate and committed live audience remains a rarified experience relative to other marketing environments.
That said, while our return to stadiums and arenas presents a welcome opportunity for marketers, our tracking of fan attitudes presents a new factor to consider when activating around live sports.
Even before the most recent CDC advisories and rekindled anxieties about COVID-19, our data was showing that a meaningful segment of sports fans were far from convinced that the pandemic was in the rear-view mirror. Furthermore, while pent-up demand for live sports, indeed manifested itself in a rush back to sports venues, our research shows that in many instances, that return did not always meet expectations. For nearly three in 10, the return to live sports has been an “underwhelming” experience.
I’ve maintained that sponsorship return on objectives is a function of both audience reach and resonance of activations. As we move past the challenges associated with the former, it’s incumbent on us to take a closer look at how our return to full capacity in the present environment, impacts the latter. This suggests tweaks in how we measure resonance.
Too much of the current measurement landscape places a distorted primacy on total audience, which leads to false positives. As I’ve said before, it’s not about the number of eyeballs you reach, but the appropriateness of those eyeballs and the impact that a brand is having on what’s behind them. We’ve identified three foundational measurement criteria for those activating in the live sports space to be:
- Recall and awareness: These remain givens, though I’d maintain that to generate true insights these need to be tested in both unaided fashion and aided alongside a list of non activating competitive set brands.
- Likability/positive association/favorability: Again, these should be evaluated in a sponsor-blind fashion, and I’d strongly advocate using elements of experimental design rather than direct questioning.
- Purchase intent/category engagement: This is critical, but very difficult to do in a non-leading and objective fashion.
Today, there is now a fourth dimension that takes on greater meaning in our circuitous slog back to “normalcy,” and that is the factor of comfort and satisfaction with the event itself.
With uneven service delivery, lingering hesitance about safety for some and negative reactions to the imposition of public health protocols by others, the oases of like-minded, kindred spirits that has been a hallmark of live sports, is not always a given. Thus, fan comfort and satisfaction with the in-game environment itself is at least a temporary variable that must be considered when brands evaluate the return on their in-game activation investment.