The new season. A time for optimism for the football fan. A time to dream. Cup runs, title races and romantic notions of glory all lie in wait – will it finally be ‘our year’?
Working in the sports media arena is no different to these emotions. You hope that this will be the year that brands embrace their bold side and stop talking about a fan-centric approach and engagement, and wholeheartedly embrace it.
One thing is for sure, the world order of media has changed. Official rights holders held the power for so long. Now, media behemoths such as Sky Sports and BT Sport have a real battle on their hands to make their live rights work. With this comes a world of opportunity.
Working at Ball Street has shown me the true power and democracy that fan media brings. You don’t need studios the size of spaceships and technology to match. If you have a 4G signal and a good work ethic there’s an opportunity to build an audience. We’ve also seen that brands need no longer be around the periphery of content. Ball Street lives in a world where the most impactful and captivating activations are the result of true partnership and collaboration, where the result is a co-creation of value between the brand and the fans.
The other thing new seasons bring is new sponsors. Like their media counterparts, clubs, leagues and sponsors face a challenge to recognize the true value of their commercial deals. For me, the true value in being an official partner is tapping into passionate communities of fans. To do this, you need to be there week in, week out. Just like the loyal fan slogs it out through the winter, brands need to be there, shoulder to shoulder with them. The days of relying solely on perimeter boards and shirt badging to tick the box are numbered.
Giants such as McDonald’s stepping away from the sponsorship arena (the fast-food giant ended a 40-year relationship with IOC this year) does leave big question marks that the football world surely can’t ignore.
The season hasn’t even begun yet, and we’ve already seen the fiasco of the EFL Cup first round, where new title sponsor Carabao felt the need to host the draw in Thailand. I respect the desire to grow the game, but we may as well have gone the whole hog and host the final at a Full Moon party.
But, as always, hope remains. Budweiser pulled off some excellent activations around its FA Cup sponsorship. Gestures such as recreating Lincoln City’s favorite pub in London ahead of the team’s quarter final against Arsenal looked to add value to fans, not take it away.
Then there’s bookmakers. It’s become the norm to watch two sides play each other with rival bookmakers on their shirts, while a plethora of bookie logos rotate on the pitchside hoardings. It’s at best cluttered, and at worst shows that nobody is paying attention. Coupled with the uncertainty of TV advertising, the brave new world offers some amazing opportunities – as is testified by Ladbrokes sponsoring our network of fan channels. Its investment in fan media means fan creators can take their hobbies and pursue their passions, thanks to the backing of a big brand. These are places of engagement and trust that can be harnessed for a mutually great experience. There’s a powerful story to be told.
The lines are becoming blurred and brands are embracing fan media, e-sports and influencers as integral parts of their marketing plans. For years, sponsorship has been seen as a luxury item. It simply can’t afford to continue in this vein. The time has come to consistently create end-to-end sponsorship activations with the fan at the very heart of them.
The changing media landscape means there are more ways than ever to do it, and that should be enough to fill us all with new-season optimism.