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Sports are back, and so are the brands

Sports are back, and so are the brands

With the return of three of the major sports leagues from hiatus and postponement, Americans are rejoicing because there’s live sports on TV again! They won’t look exactly the same as we knew them in March.

A strange thing happened July 22-23

Most notable will be the absence of fans in the stadium. Each league is approaching this issue differently. What will be put in the seats at a lot of stadiums across the country is ads. It’s a new frontier for sports advertising and sponsorship as the fans watch eagerly from home, but are left to make their voices heard only through social media.

A chart showing mentions of the NBA National Basketball Association mentions on social media increasing since April as sports return to action.

Mentions of the NBA are starting to rise, as is fan interest.

That void left by fans' absence in the stadium will be filled with advertising. That’s exciting for the industry of course, but in athletic terms it means something else….Home field advantage is now determined by each team’s social media presence, and the fans they can muster in support. That part shouldn’t be hard since the seasons are going to play out over two months instead of six. Fans are also cooped up at home, and everyone is eager for some semblance of normal to return.

Brands are celebrating the return of sports in different ways. CPG brands are creating campaigns around the general return to sports, or getting specific. Now that it’s late July, it’s not just the leagues and the fans who feel the need to make up for lost time. It’s the brands too. Major sporting events like the NCAA Tournament, the Masters, the NBA & NHL Finals have all been missing from American television sets, and brands are itching to win back sports fans attention.

For other brands that fully rely on major sporting events to drive business, think sportsbooks or apparel makers, the return of professional sports is sweet salvation from the doldrums they had found themselves in. Above is a brand that can clearly track a relationship between excitement levels about the return of sports, and their bottom line.

For other brands, the return of sports does signal a return of normalcy, but not a return to normal for them. A movie ticket seller like Fandango is unfortunately still left out and must do what they can to capture the excitement of the moment to keep the brand relevant, even if they have no movie tickets to sell today.

See the fan reaction on social

What else has changed?

The image shows the new rules implemented by MLB Major League Baseball in response to the global covid-19 pandemic.

Source: MLB

MLB has a new section on the roster for emergency call-ups in case COVID-19 strikes. The NHL has given up on the US completely, for the remainder of this year. All their games will be played in Canada, and many Canadians would argue they always should have done it that way. But of course no league has captured the imagination of the country with the kind of precautions, and new measures they must implement, as well as new technologies than the NBA.

An image shows what the arenas will look like as the NBA National Basketball Association returns to play without fans. Large video monitors with fans and slogans are apparent around the court.

Source: Microsoft

The NBA has partnered with Microsoft to recreate the stadium experience with fans cheering from home. Using the Microsoft Teams product, the NBA will cast 300 fans on 5 meter long screens from the stands. Watching a live feed, the fans can react in real time while players and viewers at home can see and hear the reactions.

All of the NBA’s games will be played from a bubble site at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Disney World. A strict quarantine policy is in effect to prevent uncontrolled outbreaks. Another brand helping the NBA monitor the health and vital signs of their players and staff is the Oura Ring, a biometric wearable ring, that can alert about spikes in temperature and other vitals.

Up on the ice in Canada, the NHL will have 12 more cameras than usual (for 32 in total) to broadcast different and new angles of the hockey action. Fans won’t be permitted, though their at home cheers will be featured on the rink-wide screens in Toronto and Edmonton.

3 new team names in one day

What's with all the new screens?

If you broadcast a fan on a 5 meter (that’s 17 feet) tall screen, isn’t that too big? It sounds like you are only considering the sports side of this broadcast. There is going to be lots of new advertising space, and major broadcasters are already reporting that their television ad space for MLB’s short 60 game season is 90% sold out. They’re also reporting a rush of new advertisers on regional broadcasts, all eager to jump in and capture live audiences when they’re most engaged.

The need for brands to track their visual mentions during high attention events like a championship, or in this case a condensed season, is going to become more acute very quickly. Quantifying the value the logo brings to the brand when it’s shown on yesterday’s highlight reel or across #NBATwitter will soon not be optional. Watching the game from home was always the way more people consumed sports than in-person. Cooped up audiences are now intimately familiar with social media sharing in the quarantine era. The NBA’s rising engagement numbers attest to this:

a look at the number of social media engagements that occur during the course of the previous three months for the NBA social accounts

The National Basketball Association's social media engagements are rising.

Kraken, Charlotte FC, WFT: Who did best?

As teams and leagues across the globe figure out this new era in sports, look for them to continue to enhance their at-home viewing options, with ad space and revenue to scale. At some point down the line, teams could sell tickets to be one of the fans broadcast into the arena. Fans could become viral hits for their own on-screen antics, perhaps giving rise to a new corner of influencer marketing.

The only point is this: once an enterprise monetizes a new product or offering, it’s very hard for them to go back to not making money from that source. Don’t expect the new ad space to disappear once fans return to live sports. And maybe don’t expect those fans so very soon, they might find they like watching sports from 32 different angles on their couch more than the one angle they have from their stadium seats, even if they do have a vaccine.

In any case, sports are back, and everyone is thrilled by that. Let’s watch the competition heat up!

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