When it comes to sports marketing, Australia isn’t competitive enough

Australians love sport, but sports marketing in this country is lazy, according to Ogilvy's head of strategy, Ryan O'Connell. We need to start competing.

I love sport. I watch a lot of it (perhaps too much, according to my wife). And I’d happily watch even more, however, pesky things like family, friends, sleep, and a job often get in the way. But when I watch Australian sport, I’m constantly amazed at the number of sports marketing campaigns that are missed opportunities.

I won’t call out any brands in particular. Unless you know the client’s brief, budget, timeline, and any other number of details, you really shouldn’t be overly critical of other people’s work.

And yet… many sports marketing campaigns in this country are just a touch lazy.

The biggest example is the number of brands that simply ‘badge’ their logo onto sporting properties and assets.

That’s questionable behaviour even for brands with low awareness that need to improve their ‘top of mind’ metrics. In such a scenario, you could at least understand that increasing the brand’s ‘mental availability’ is most likely the main objective, so simply increasing its presence seems like a solid enough strategy.

However, what’s truly unforgivable is the number of big brands, with undoubtedly high brand awareness, that spend millions of sponsorship dollars merely getting their logo, or some other predictable messaging, seen. What a waste of money.

Even if you give these big brands the benefit of the doubt and conclude that perhaps it’s just a defensive strategy to prevent their competitors from obtaining that real estate, they could still use the investment much more wisely.

Having said that, logo badging is still far better than the brands that commit the cardinal sports marketing sin: detracting from fans’ enjoyment of the sport.

This may shock some marketers, but when people watch sport, they actually want to … watch sport. They are not in the stadium, or at home, waiting for your brand to interrupt their fun, or force their way into the moment. Hot tip: if fans are thinking “just get the fuck out of the way”, you’re doing it wrong.

As a strategist, it won’t surprise you that I believe insights into your audience is what unlocks great, effective work. It’s no different in sports marketing. The brands that truly understand the fans – and their subtle nuances – place themselves in a much better position to use their sponsorship dollars well and build love for their brand.

That’s what a great sports marketing campaign does, it makes fans more predisposed to having an irrational preference for your brand. And if they have an irrational preference for your brand, you’re in a great position to receive a positive return on your sponsorship investment.

To that point, the best sports marketing builds brand love in one of two ways:

  1. enhancing fans’ enjoyment of the sport; and
  2. adding to the cultural conversation involving sport.

Enhancing fans’ enjoyment

Hungry Jacks has a promotion in the NBL, where if the opposing team misses two consecutive free throws, the crowd gets free cheeseburgers. Fans already do their best to distract players in these moments, but the added incentive of free food really whips them into a frenzy and creates an amazing atmosphere at the games. It also puts added pressure on the player, which shows a perfect understanding of the sport and the moment. It’s a simple idea, but a very good one.

Another example is a shameless (but proud) plug for KFC, which last year launched ‘KFC Viewer Verdict’, a real-time, fan-version of the NRL video referee. In this instance, KFC took an often frustrating part of NRL matches – when the on-field referee sends decisions to the video bunker – and made it enjoyable for fans by allowing them to have their say on contentious ‘try’ or ‘no try’ decisions.

The key lesson from both examples is that the brands didn’t detract from the fun, nor did they merely whack their logo in front of the audience. Rather, they actually enhanced the experience.

Adding to the cultural conversation

Nike is the absolute gold standard here. In fact, it has been for a long time.

In the last 10 months alone, it’s entered the discussion on racism in the US and global female empowerment, courtesy of the Colin Kaepernick campaign, and the Dream Crazier (led by the Serena Williams-voiced TVC), and Dream Further (the Women’s 2019 World Cup) campaigns, respectively.

Nike isn’t content to just sponsor big name athletes; it actually has a point of view on what’s happening in society. Rather than trotting out the same prosaic views that can be read, seen or heard from any number of media platforms, Nike truly adds to the cultural conversation. And in doing so, it further builds love for the brand.

Yet, in Australia, viewership and participation in sport is extremely high, but it remains a somewhat untapped resource for quality marketing.

So, c’mon Australia. As a nation that loves sport and wants to compete – and win – at the highest level, let’s start demanding the same from our sports marketing.

Ryan O’Connell is head of strategy at Ogilvy

The Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit is this Thursday. At the event you’ll hear from sports marketing and sales experts including Tom Malone, Nine’s director of Sport; Pat Moloughney, Seven’s network director of sport sales; Paul Kind, the CEO of the Sydney Kings; and Kate Chapman, the senior marketing manager of brand and communication at the NRL; as well as getting inside the minds of those who concocted and pulled off the Uber Eats Australian Open campaign. 

Tickets are available here.  


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