Leverage Fan Insights As An Asset

It amazes me how many sports marketers remain addicted to a product rather than a consumer focus when positioning their properties. The typical sell for event sponsorships, or advertising buys, often begins and ends with the reach, efficiency and demographic attractiveness of the audience, sprinkled in with the quality of the property and often poorly executed attempts at creating added value through sampling opportunities, impact units, events within the event or cross media activation.

Since the focus remains on the core product, there are few true differentiators, and the result can often be a spiral of price-driven negotiations that leave a property with a meaningless rate card and the advertiser or sponsor underwhelmed with what is ultimately delivered.

What’s missed by such an approach, particularly in this era of heightened demand for ROI justification, is the failure to recognize the true asset that drove a sponsor to a property in the first place, the opportunity to connect with a coveted audience that has engaged with that property.

Much research has shown that sports-specific brands meet the ideal definition of “brand community.” At a time when consumers are inundated by incessant appeals to become “friends,” “link in” or otherwise connect with each other and brands, there is an acutely greater selectivity and skepticism applied to these overtures. It’s easy to click and accept an online invitation, but it’s another thing entirely to truly become connected. And sports properties and their legions are the original “raving fans.” The power of that potential connectivity is unique across the marketing mix.

So why stop, then, at a few research slides that purport this connectivity and spin the audience as appropriate for a particular sponsor? Thirteen months ago, Jack Meyers on The Huffington Post urged media companies, in particular, to recognize that “the equity value and potential revenues being left on the table … is in the billions”and to “focus on how they can wean themselves off their addiction to advertising revenues and begin capturing the other 70% to 75% of corporate marketing budgets they rarely touch.

“The focus,” he implored, “should [be] on identifying core assets that have viable brand extension.” One core asset unique to sports marketers is the relationship they enjoy with fans themselves and the ability of a property to leverage it to a broader insight, yielding benefit for marketing partners and sponsors.

What Meyers is suggesting screams for creative deployment of custom marketing research programs. By leveraging custom research, a sports property or media brand can transform the marketing relationship with sponsors and advertisers.

A marketer is coming to a property because it values access to its audience and hopes that it can put the right message in the right environment, to captivate them towards a direct relationship with the brand.

A custom marketing research capability leverages the fan base as an active participant and is welcomed as a way in which they can help frame their experience. We’ve proven this by tapping into these audiences for insight specific to a marketing partner, often beyond the parameters of the sports marketing asset. By partnering with a property for customer research it would look to do elsewhere, the sponsoring brand can achieve significant cost efficiencies, and the property can potentially go beyond the added value model and turn research into a profit center.

Beyond the economic advantage, the progressive sports marketer that embraces such an approach reaps the added benefit of using research not just as a drunk uses a lamppost…for support, but more appropriately for its intended use…illumination.