There are few events that unite audiences like the FIFA World Cup. The passion, excitement and anguish evoked by the beautiful game crescendos for one month every four years, and this year fans from Poland to Peru and Saudi Arabia to Senegal have turned their attention to Russia, pinning their hopes on their national team and praying that this will be their year: the fans of all but one country will have those dreams dashed. Even Americans, whose national team failed to qualify and who are traditionally less interested in soccer, are still gripped by the drama that unfolds daily.
Sports audiences are turning their attention towards digital channels
Of course, such focus and emotion makes the World Cup fertile ground for brands who are looking to coherently engage a global audience. Once, TV was the obvious choice of channel for these brands, who would plough millions upon millions of dollars into sponsorship, premium TV spots and experiential activity. However, the increased adoption of digital and social media in recent years has forced advertisers to take a step back and consider how to best to reach those who have migrated away from TV: while 62% of the 3.2bn-strong audience still plan to watch the games on TV, 30% will stream them online – a figure that increases in developing countries and likely in countries with a dramatic time difference to Russia. Over half of the TV viewers will use social media while they are watching. Some had feared that the all-important millennials were drifting away from sport in general but, as this McKinsey study found, they are in fact simply fragmenting their viewing habits, streaming games and using social media to check highlights, scores and news. This is backed up by a Google study which shows that there has been a 90% increase in searches for highlights videos in the last year. This is compounded by the fact that many social platforms are becoming increasingly video-heavy – see Instagram’s recent announcement that it will allow users to post videos of up to 60 minutes.
TV is losing broadcasting rights as well as audiences to tech giants
All this is happening against a backdrop of an equally seismic shift in the live sports landscape: the buying up of broadcast rights for sporting events by non-traditional entities such as telco companies and even tech giants such as Amazon, is having a profound effect on traditional broadcasters and, by extension, on advertisers. Not only do the broadcasters lose viewership during the sporting events, but also afterwards as they lose the opportunity to market for future programming to the large sporting audience: smaller viewership means fewer eyeballs on ads. At the same time, the new players like Amazon finance the purchase of their rights through means other than ads, for example subscription fees, thereby removing a huge message distribution opportunity for advertisers. This means that the pricing of what remains increases, particularly around high-value programming.
So, what does this all mean for marketers who might previously have relied on international sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympic Games to reach the often elusive younger male audience, as well as the others who only engage with sport every few years?
Advertisers must respond by adapting and innovating
The answer is, as so often, to follow the consumer and to innovate. It goes without saying that advertisers need to look at allocating a large proportion of their budget to digital channels; however, they should also be looking for ways to enhance the enjoyment of the event for consumers and give them what they want by creating exciting new products for added value. We know that millennials have short attention spans thanks to the huge range of options available to them, so products such as fun contests, easily shareable gossip and opinions and ‘whip-around’ highlights could be great ways to engage with them and hold their attention.
Sporting influencers are a huge opportunity
Sport by its very nature creates influencers with huge followings: Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo drove 570m social engagements between January and May this year, while Neymar drove nearly 300m (both figures from Nielsen). Savvy brands are capitalising on these figures: McDonald’s in Brazil incorporated Neymar and his Twitter activity into their #prepara World Cup campaign, while Vodafone has not only featured Egyptian Mohamed Salah in their World Cup activity, but harnessed his social following as well. Visa’s global campaign features six influencers, most notably Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimović and makes the most of his innate charm and popularity.
TV is still important – but it no longer monopolises audiences
TV is by no means dead and still commands the lion’s share of audiences for live sporting events, including for major ones such as the World Cup and the Olympics. However, advertisers need to be mindful that the trend of audience migration to more digital viewing behaviour shows no sign of abating, and should respond accordingly.
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