The Big Bounceback: Sports

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With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement that fully vaccinated people can go without masks and no longer need to abide by strict social distancing rules, professional sports leagues are gearing up for a major comeback.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement that fully vaccinated people can go without masks and no longer need to abide by strict social distancing rules, professional sports leagues are gearing up for a major comeback.

So far the National Football Association, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association have followed local city and state capacity pandemic rules. Many teams still require masks and are still spacing out the seating, but things are likely to go back to normal soon.

For brands, this means a new opportunity to connect with fans in person. “For Pepsi, the return of fans is exciting but it’s also a critical inflection point,” said Justin Toman, Head of Sports Marketing & Partnerships at PepsiCo. “COVID has accelerated shifts in fan behavior, so as sports get back on track we know it’ll be a new normal. We’re closely monitoring how fans re-engage in and around stadiums and arenas. We’re gauging what media consumption habits developed in quarantine will stick and evolve. We know we’ll have to pivot our marketing approach to ensure our brands are helping to elevate the ‘new’ fan experience. Above all, it’s exciting to help welcome fans back as sports help bring people together again.”

As stadiums reopen, brands are using the platform to help connect their purpose and meaning to experiences that consumers have been waiting for.

“For Michelob ULTRA, our brand purpose is to bring joy – whether that’s for athletes, sports fans, or our consumers,” said  Kerry Scalora, Director of Sports Marketing at Michelob Ultra, Anheuser-Busch. “With sports coming back, we’re thrilled that athletes are no longer competing in empty arenas/stadiums and have their ‘home team(s)’ present. Even more so, Michelob ULTRA is here to celebrate the return of sports and the joy that we’ll experience watching live sports together in the ballpark, stadium, arena – all while having a beer in hand.”

Sara Toussaint, VP, Brand Management & Sponsorships at Wells Fargo, said Wells Fargo also is looking forward to the moment where they can safely host fans again, now that more people are vaccinated. “Hospitality and face-to-face experiences, especially in a vibrant locale is really important to our business; to me reopening sports means building stronger relationships with our customers,” she said.

While the pandemic hit sports hard, it also made brands think of new ways to engage their audiences through digital activations, e-sports, and virtual events. As the sports world reopens, these experiences will likely continue even in addition to live activations.

“The challenges of the last year presented opportunities for us to reimagine how we stay connected to our partners and fans but we’re excited to get back to doing what we do best which is bringing people together through sponsorships and events,” said Jim McCoy, Associate Vice President of Sports Marketing at Nationwide. “We gained some valuable learnings while executing virtual business-building events and we plan to continue the most impactful pieces of those best-in-class programs that we created once we return to in-person experiences at live sports events.” 

For EA Sports FIFA, the return of soccer goes hand in hand with its video games. 

“Real world soccer is our inspiration,” said Kevin Strunk, Senior Manager at EA SPORTS FIFA Brand. “It allows us to tell unique stories and create authentic and engaging experiences in our game. As sporting events return to normal for fans there will be a strong desire for social connection around the world, through EA SPORTS FIFA players can connect with family and friends as well as the direct emotional connection to the sport and athletes they love.”   

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