Sport has long been a big venue for sponsorship. Using players in ads has been going on since the early 20th century. In the last 30-40 years, stadium, race and college bowl game naming rights have expanded dramatically. Now most venues have a title sponsor. Though they’ve been big in European soccer for decades, jersey sponsors are hot right now in the U.S. as the NBA rolled them out this season. But what’s the next great frontier in sports sponsorship? Let’s take some educated guesses.
As you’ve heard, millions of people are cutting the cord on cable each year. That doesn’t always mean less people are watching the games. With companies like YouTube, Sony, Yahoo and Amazon stepping into broadcasting live sports, fans can stream their favorite team’s games. Think about what your cable provider knows about you then compare that to what a company like Amazon knows? The massive amount of data Amazon has on you helps advertisers tailor pitches to you on various digital channels. Sponsors love reaching their target demo and think of how attractive it would be to be able to get more specific with in-game ads. You’ve seen ad overlays on TV broadcasts, but everyone watching the game on FOX or ESPN is seeing that. What if the same broadcast you and I were both streaming on NBCSN showed each of us different ads based on our interests? Sponsors would love the extra targeting, but maybe hate all the extra work that goes into producing one ad. European soccer teams are already playing with technology like this. Like sponsors on jerseys, if it works there, it will come here.
How can we talk about the future of sports and sponsorship without talking about gaming? With so many user touchpoints in video games, the opportunities for brands are endless. From title sponsorship to in-game product placement, brands and game developers can be creative in how they present themselves. Brands can be incorporated from start to finish of a game, with active participation in the brand in-game and out. We’ve already seen brands get innovative in their approach to gaming. Recently, Coca-Cola sponsored a fictional character in “EA Sports FIFA 18”, making it their first “virtual endorser.” The fictional character, named Alex Hunter, has his own Twitter account and has even shown up on cans of Coca-Cola. We can expect to see more brands follow Coca-Cola’s lead, with more unique and interactive content in consumer’s favorite games.
It seems like people have been talking about virtual reality as the next big thing for years, and we’re still waiting for it to take off. Lately, we’ve seen growth in VR with mainstream consumers with products like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR. This past summer, Intel announced a partnership with Major League Baseball to stream one game a week in virtual reality, giving fans the opportunity to feel like they’re in the middle of the action. If you’re at home, you want to feel like you’re at the ballpark, with all of the sights and sounds that come with it. The could receive custom ads (like with streaming) and interact with sponsors. If you see a pizza stand at the ballpark, an option for Domino’s delivery might pop up on your headset. This could be a huge in-stadium game-changer, too. While people may enjoy watching games at home on TV, you could have sponsored VR content for fans in-stadium. Think sponsored football red zone overlays, ball trajectories and live stats. As the VR world grows, sponsorships will quickly follow. Like with gaming and streaming, VR would allow for brands to have an interactive experience with consumers.
Streaming, Gaming, VR. The opportunities are seemingly endless for sponsors. What do you think is next for sponsorships in sports?