Brand Innovators 2022 Outlook: Sports

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In the final installment of our 2022 Outlook Series, Brand Innovators speaks to leaders in the sports space about what is on the horizon this year.

Sports marketing was transformed dramatically by the pandemic as canceled, as crowd-free stadiums drove digital adoption to new heights. Even as in-person sports returned, the innovations of the past two years have set the stage for the future of sports marketing.

Expect to see this momentum continue in 2022 when digital engagement, combined with in-person experiences will be on the agenda. Streaming will increase this year, according to a recent report from GWI, which also predicts that multi-channel fans will seek out more immersive experiences. 

“I’m excited about Live Social Audio apps such as Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify Greenroom,” says Heidi Browning, chief marketing officer of NHL. “The live audio format allows for more personal, intimate and authentic  conversations between fans and the league, clubs and athletes. Live Social Audio also provides marketers with the opportunity to listen and track what conversations and cultural trends are important to consumers. We will see an explosion of more brands and athletes leading  audio conversations and the blurring of lines between live audio and podcasts.” 

Cedric Brown, director of digital media at Miami HEAT, says that “2022 is going to bring us more digital connections than we've ever seen.” 

“The world has changed post-pandemic and it's not going back to the traditional methods of working and communicating that we once knew,” says Brown. “We're already seeing brands step up in creative ways to reach their now distant audiences and it's exciting to see. The emergence of remote work will also play a key factor in how brands are now able to hire outside of the box bringing even more creation, innovation and energy to their platforms. To say the least, this is a very exciting time in the digital space.”

Justin Toman, head of sports marketing at PepsiCo, says that the mobile and streaming innovations of the past two years will improve in 2022.

“In 2021 COVID effects continued to accelerate some really important macro trends the sports industry was at the early stages of adjusting to,” says Toman. “New sponsorship categories like crypto, fintech and athlete mental and physical wellness have emerged. Mobile ticketing and ordering have become the norm in a big step towards frictionless fan transactions. Streaming consumption behavior matured and we’re seeing the shift from fragmentation to consolidation.  We’re rapidly blurring the line of physical and digital experiences in the metaverse. Above all these changes, the data that underpins everything and what we can do with that data will be the biggest game changer in 2022.”

Athletes are becoming more center stage and fans are engaging them beyond the field. Fans are looking to their favorite athletes to share their values and stand up for their beliefs.

“We’re seeing athletes take an interest in endeavors outside of just their professional sport,” says Brett Duchon, agent, UTA Endorsements & Voiceover. “For instance, you see the products they use to help prepare for the season or for a game and they want to align themselves further with that specific brand. It’s such a large part of their daily life that it’s an authentic fit.”

“Over the past decade, player empowerment has really changed the sports landscape,” says Mischa Smolkin, executive at UTA Marketing. “Players have not only taken agency over where they play and who they play with, they’ve realized that they can and should be more than just an athlete. With athletes increasingly becoming multi-hyphenates, their off-court endeavors are rivaling their athletic accomplishments.” 

“This shift provides immense opportunities for brands, as it enables them to create holistic, 360 degree partnerships with athletes that come off as authentic and fully leverages the athletes’ following,” says Smolkin. “For example, when GMC partnered with LeBron James on the Hummer EV, they didn’t just make him the face of the vehicle, they also partnered with his companies, Springhill and Robot, to create additional content and supported his ‘I Promise School.’ By embracing LeBron’s on and off-court endeavors and his social causes, GMC created a 360 degree partnership that allowed them to get the most value out of this relationship.” 

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