Insights From the World’s Most Passionate Audience; Football Fans

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With 2018 being a World Cup year it’s an interesting time to talk about sports marketing. The panel, hosted by Andres Cárdenas the global head of football at 90-minute media, consisted of three other sports marketers: Jamie Anderson; business director at Publicis media sport and entertainment, Joel Seymour-Hyde; Head of UK at Octagon and Stephen Hutchison deputy MD of Fuse EMEA.

They kicked off with an introduction to the habits and culture of football fans. One that particularly stuck out for me was how the shift from fans following clubs to being more player focussed has changed the industry when it comes to club loyalty. The controversial move of Neymar de Silva to PSG lead to the 32% hike in popularity for the club, this could mean that marketing to football fans also needs to become more player focussed to keep audience engagement high. Football fans tend to follow multiple clubs leading to an interesting balancing act between connecting with the fan’s love of the game, their relationship with the clubs but at the same time avoiding isolating large parts of the fan base. By forming an allegiance with one club not only misses out the rest of the market it could actively disengage a large portion of the fan base who support other clubs.

Cárdenas threw in the first question to the panel “are brands shifting focus?”. According to Seymour-Hyde sponsorship trends haven’t really changed “it’s in the activation money where we see the biggest shift”. Instead of money being poured into brand signage it’s being split between social media partnership deals and influencer marketing meaning their media spend is becoming broader and lot more mixed. Hutchison then commented on how the audience’s relationship with multiple clubs means brands shifting their focus onto influencers can “enable a conversation between audience and brand”. Maybe this third party is the key to finding that balance and avoiding alienation and disengagement.

The obvious theme running through the panel was that football fans love football so how do we get good content that is good for the brand and for the fans? Cárdenas claimed that over-commercialised content alienated fans and the way to create that engagement is to put the brand second. A scary prospect if you spoke to most brands however, the simple fact is that nothing trumps the love of the game, bending the brand to fit the game is more beneficial for both sides than traditional methods. Hutchison very honestly stated that there aren’t many great sports campaigns and so working this way will make more relevant, engaging and memorable content. However, Nike London may have just mixed things up with their recent campaign which the panel all agreed brought culture, fan stories, diversity and great creative together. Anderson mentioned that tapping into different passion points on and off the pitch is advantageous for a brand taking on the football fanbase.

Seymour-Hyde added that every brand has that ‘Kendall Jenner moment’ if they push the brand message too much they end up creating a campaign that is essentially tone deaf. In fact, it’s safer to resist pushing too hard to maintain authenticity and credibility, he also added that in-house creative teams can be better for the job than outsourcing to an agency because they can create more authentic content purely due to the level of brand knowledge. To which Anderson agreed “You need to build the credibility to have more freedom”. This is typical with most campaigns however the need to get every part of the campaign spot on is more important in the sports marketing bubble. The effects of getting it wrong are far worse when you’re talking to an audience with so much passion and love running through the veins of football fans and sports fans in general.

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