Digital marketing is a profitable avenue for businesses involved in the sports industry (Perrin 2012). Digital marketing is the promotion of products or brands through various channels of electronic social media (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, websites, online games, mobile apps) which allows businesses to analyse their marketing strategies to determine which is most effective in real-time (Perrin 2012). Through social media, sport rights holders can engage fans in new communication channels which can be measured and valued as a new commercial opportunity with sponsors (Miller and Cave 2015). Additionally, businesses that get involved through sponsorship and social media promotions, also benefit from increased brand affinity and loyalty (Miller and Cave 2015).
Social networks are the shortest, fastest and most direct way to reach your audience through athletes who, in that specific community, have more credibility than anyone. Athletes provide their sponsors with a consumer base of millions of people who every day are interested in what they do, what they feel, what they consume (Bacon 2015; Miller and Cave 2015; Johan Cruyff Institute 201). Additionally, social media marketing saves athletes time and hassle from having to be directly involved in traditional advertisements.
In 2015 Barcelona was the world's largest sports club on social media with 150 million followers (Cave and Miller 2015. In 2014, Barcelona and IMG sports marketing agency examined the value of social media added to its shirt sponsorship and in one weekend it had a 61 million web impression of the Qatar Foundation's sponsorship of the club's shirts. According to its Managing Director of brand strategy “We found there was an extraordinary amount of value that the shirt sponsor of Barcelona was receiving on social media, which wasn't really factored into the sponsorship,” (Cave & Miller 2015). The official stated further that “Our work there told us that social media is the next great frontier for sports sponsorships.” (Cave and Miller 2015).
Formula E Championship motor racing for electric cars also experienced a positive impact through the introduction of a FanBoost, where fans online voting impacted on the structure of the race (Cave and Miller 2015). According to the CEO Formula E “Through social media, fans are having a real impact on the result of a race. It's no longer 100pc about the skill of the driver and performance of the car. It's also about fans' input” (Cave and Miller 2015). Similarly, the PGA European Tour's head of television, digital media and technology, 'We now have a dialogue with the fanbase. We never had that before. We were just a business-to-business industry selling our content to broadcasters and rights to sponsors.” (Cave and Miller 2015). Through the use of digital platforms, fans acquire unforgettable experiences which allow them to share their own creative brand-related content in the creation of fantasy leagues and online games.
During the period of COVID-19 sports lockdown in the US, sporting organisations employed digital marketing in creative ways to keep fans engaged and appreciated. The San Francisco Giants used digital marketing to tap into their social media fan base to promote “love, kindness and community” by encouraging support for frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19. The Phoenix Suns and Mercury, the Phoenix WNBA team engaged in online conversations with their fans as a means of recompensing for the lack of physical interaction. As a corollary of digital marketing creativity, sporting organisations have continued to keep fans engaged while at the same time demonstrating the support and importance of sponsors.
It is therefore evident that digital marketing offers tremendous opportunities for sports sponsorship- increase revenue, segmented market, and greater dynamic fan base even in a period of COVID-19.