To be a sports fan in 2019 means taking no bull from disingenuous brands

It has never been easier to be a sports fan. Largely due to the power of social media, the availability to consume and engage on your terms, with any sport that you want, has increased tenfold. And with that availability has come increased opportunity for brands to forge meaningful connections with some of the most passionate consumers out there.

But for modern-day sports fans, a logo on a shirt just doesn’t cut it. In order for brands to connect with and successfully engage this new-age audience, they must first recognise their needs. For Rich Johnson, head of sport for the Social Chain Group, that means speaking to them in a language they understand and taking action on behalf of causes that matter to them.


Richard Johnson


“What we’re seeing in our research around new-gen audiences and fans is that they want brands to strive for relevance through a meaningful cause, and give them a real reason for their association with a club or entity.”

But cause marketing, as we’ve seen countless times, can miss the mark if not executed authentically. When a brand-charity partnership isn’t genuine or relevant, we see through it. And sports fans are among some of the most difficult to fool; when the integrity of their favourite team is on the line, they have a strict, no-nonsense attitude towards corporate agenda.

“Fans are a really fickle bunch and they see through it – they see it when brands jump on something for a moment in time and think: if you’re not part of the conversation and the full journey, why should we listen when you want to talk about it at a key time for you?”


Social minds podcast


According to Rich, one key way to resonate with sports fans is through sponsorship deals. It’s not a new concept; we’re used to seeing logos on shirts and on digiboards around the pitch, alongside TV reminders of who this programme has been brought to you by. But now, new opportunities are presenting themselves for brands to cosy up with the sport of their choice in a digital world – and all the availability and immersion that brings. However these opportunities, Rich instils, are yet to be fully taken advantage of.

A study by Momentum Worldwide found that 86% of sports fans aren’t adverse to more sponsorship within the game; people understand now that it’s part and parcel of sports in 2018 – and more money in the game arguably means their club or team can invest in better players.

“Sponsorship used to be a dirty word; fans resented brands flooding the Premier League with money but, ultimately, fans now talk about deal-signing positively, expecting that sponsorships will bring further investment into their team.”


Richard Johnson


But the study also found that a staggering 83% of fans didn’t think the sponsors cared about them – a cause for concern, considering fans and sport at its essence is developed in emotion. Rich is quick to warn us that if brands don’t learn how to tap into those emotions – and fast – then the opportunity to create lifelong bonds will simply pass them by.

“For sponsors not to be engaged with fans, or to let the fans think they’re not even trying to engage, that’s a big problem because that’s the starting point. That should be the first thing brands are ticking off.”

Whilst we are seeing a huge shift in how brands are approaching sponsorship (just take Nike’s controversial Colin Kaepernick campaign as proof) it remains a rare occasion. Rich adds that the marcomms around it aren’t nearly as effective as they should be. To hear Rich’s full explanation on where brands are going wrong and how he hopes they can rectify that in 2019, tune in to episode 009 of the Social Minds podcast below.



This was taken from Social Minds, the UK’s first dedicated social media marketing podcast, brought to you by Social Chain. With each new episode, we cut through the BS to deliver you hard-hitting truths and unforgiving industry insights – exposing the shocking realities of how social media is affecting us in the here and now. To earn your thought-leader status, subscribe now.

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