Fresh from the stage of SXSW Sydney, we reflect on the insights and trends shaping the future of sports marketing.
We had a full house at the ICC last Friday, as our global Head of Sport, Joe Weston, hosted an all-women’s panel to discuss the major themes affecting the world of sport in 2023.
Those in attendance were treated to a stellar line-up of guests, including Olympic gold medallist, AFLW player and founder of The Female Athlete Project, Chloe Dalton; Kayo Sports Marketing Director, Kim McConnie; and General Manager for Brand, Sponsorship & Social at Commonwealth Bank, Dianne Everett.
If you didn’t manage to get your hands on the hottest ticket in town, read on to find the key takeaways from the discussion, and learn more about the game-changing ways brands can use sport to connect with a new generation of fans.
The elephant in the room
Before getting into the conversation, Joe took us through some emerging themes from this year’s We Are Social Sports: Think Forward report, which was set against a pretty alarming backdrop: Gen Z are half as likely as millennials to watch live sport regularly, and twice as likely to never watch.
Yet, as we’ve just seen here in Australia with the FIFA Women’s World Cup, sport has an unrivalled ability to bring people together at a single moment — in a way no other cultural event can.
So it’s clear that the power of sport is still there. But we as marketers need to find ways to better connect with consumers on their terms.
Searching in new spaces
Sport used to be either inherited through friends and family, or picked up through participation, but the explosion of sporting content online is creating new avenues into sport through exploratory discovery.
As Kim explains: “It’s really about discovery. People still love their core sports, but what they’re doing now is immersing themselves in an ecosystem that goes beyond the game. People want to watch the action, but they also want to see everything that surrounds it.”
In a similar vein, social media has democratised media coverage and enabled fans to get closer to their heroes than ever before.
This shift has provided athletes with the keys to owning their narratives, with some even becoming media owners in their own right. Like our panel’s Chloe Dalton, who used her passion for storytelling to create The Female Athlete Project.
“It was a really big moment for me to start to understand the power that I could have as an athlete in using my platform to create real change…The biggest thing that we’re trying to achieve is to try and make these female athletes who deserve to be household names more widely recognized.”
All this gives athletes the agency to create new ways to deepen their connections with fans, which in turn facilitates opportunities for brands to work with them in more authentic and meaningful ways.
From sports fanatics to fluid fandom
Hardcore sports fans are making way for more fluid, lifestyle-first sport fans. They’re cultural chameleons and revel in combining adjacent interests.
When it came to the Commonwealth Bank’s sponsorship of the Matildas, a huge part of the appeal was the way the team could connect with these broader audience sets.
“We started three years ago with the Tillies. We fell in love with them. They were social natives. We knew that if we fell in love with them that much, that the country would irrespective of what their performance journey was,” says Dianne.
Through their love of participating in all kinds of social conversations and trends, the Matildas were able to attract an audience that went way beyond the traditional soccer fan. This paid dividends for the bank, as they were able to capitalise on the personality-led approach of the players to grow their profile in a whole new space.
Levelling the playing field
It’s through a combination of all the above that women’s sport is finally beginning to receive the recognition and investment it deserves. But despite each of our panellists’ contribution to the industry, they all agreed the fight for equity is far from over. As Dianne says:
“Sport has very much been a men-watched, male-dominated game, and I think we’ve just proven that it’s anything but. Girls participating in sport makes a difference in societies, in communities, it’s inclusive, it’s good for all.
“And another thing I would say across all the sports that I’ve been exposed to is that we need more women in senior roles on boards, guiding and governing decisions.”
It’s clear with the pace at which sport is moving, some brands, institutions and governing bodies have been quicker than others to adapt to the changing needs of participants and consumers.
However, although there’s still some way to go, with people like our panellists in these industry-leading roles, there’s no doubt the future of sport is heading in the right direction.
To learn more about the themes and insights discussed on our panel, and how your brand can get ahead of the competition, get in touch.