Why Sports Marketers Need Multipronged Marketing

In the December’21 Marketing Insider, SLRG’s Jon Last presents a three step process to optimize sports marketing activation

Throughout the past two decades, sports marketers have gone all in on a marketing vision that placed a premium on broad reach and expansion to a more mainstream audience.  For some, this was driven by an obsession to become “younger” and a fear of irrelevance to the next generation.  Others wanted to optimize revenue by going beyond endemic sponsor and advertising categories and creating a “lifestyle” brand in tune with 24-7 digital media values and immersion.  It’s fair to say, as an observer and participant in this phenomenon, that this vision has yielded mixed success.The cautionary tale is of those brands or properties that watered down or transformed their product in blind pursuit of becoming something that in essence they were not. It’s not often that one can turn an aircraft carrier on a dime, and in these instances, instead of becoming all things to all people, these brands failed to resonate with anyone.

The elusive and shiny new “cool kids” audience rejected an often tone-deaf marketing overture as far from authentic and often pandering.  Previous core customers felt abandoned or neglected, and while perhaps not totally jumping ship, their engagement suffered.

Engagement is the key word here.  I’ve long advocated for the view that sports marketers who measure their success simply by number of eyeballs reached are missing the whole differentiating value of sports marketing activation. To reach a half a million core fans who are an active and often viral part of a fan community is inevitably more valuable than getting three million impressions, of which the majority are unengaged.  As an old mentor once so adeptly said: “You can’t eat impressions.”

To be truly successful, one now needs to take a closer look at multipronged segmentation strategies, each with its own unique marketing mix allocation and selling proposition and requisite messaging.

Before I had my own research firm, while working in the property space, we developed this approach by identifying three distinct steps.

First, we defined the appropriate segments.  We worked hard to understand their needs, their channel-specific behaviors, and what type of messaging truly resonated.

Concurrently, we prioritized each segment based on the potential value they could deliver to us.  That wasn’t as basic and elusive as trying to ascertain direct ROI, but we did consider each segment’s viral impact, and even the brand equity acquired by having the segment within our fan/customer mix as an enticement for other sponsors or advertisers.

We then created a grid that aligned each segment with those marketing mix elements that were most relevant to each.  Today, this approach translates into making strategic decisions about relying on content gated by paywalls versus those that are mass accessible.

Finally, there was the all-important back-end measurement piece, which needed to go well beyond any syndicated currency — none of which can ever go deep enough to provide the important and truly verifiable engagement measures, and the “whys” referenced earlier.

The net result is an inherently more complex marketing strategy, but a necessary one for those who seek to play in the bigger and broader sand box we’ve created.