For years, brands have struggled to accurately calculate the exposure and value they get from their sports sponsorship investments. But today, this struggle is being exacerbated further by radical changes in the nature of sports consumption amongst consumers.
Crucially, fans are now digesting more sports content online than ever before. 30% of people now stream sports games to their phones and tablets, for example. During the FIFA World Cup this summer, the BBC identified peaks of more than three million people streaming matches through its website at once. And in August, the viral moment of Wayne Rooney making a game-saving tackle and scoring the 96th-minute game-winner resulted in $1.6 million in media value and 11.4 million engagements on social media.
Meanwhile, some of the world’s biggest sporting competitions, including the NFL, the NBA, Premier League and Champions League, are reporting declining numbers of traditional TV viewers. The NFL in particular, reported a decline in viewership for the second straight season earlier this year across its NBC, CBS, NFL Network and Amazon packages, for example.
As such, there can be no doubt that the way sponsorship is measured and monetised requires a radical new approach.
That’s not to say the offline sporting world does not continue to offer a whole host of valid sponsorship opportunities. With football for example, significant games and tournaments can offer brands a phenomenal amount of exposure, from LED and on-shirt branding, to prominent stadia signage, all of which can be accessed by the viewer either in person or through their TV screen.
Due to this branding only being visible during the airing of sports events on television, or for those actually in attendance, calculating the value generated from these opportunities is relatively simple, because brand value usually lives between kick off and the final whistle. Therefore, brands need only measure the prominence of the brand in question and how many people were watching that particular game.
But with the rise of digital media, measuring the potential exposure from sponsorship has become a whole lot more complex. Visual content in particular, has an exceptional power when it comes to connecting with people on an emotional level. Wimbledon, for example, has long since understood how impactful images and video clips can be at driving engagement, and this year managed to boost engagement on Instagram by nearly 100% by increasing its posts before, during and after the tournament.
With video highlights, GIFs, memes and livestreams shared millions of times on social media, traditional sponsorship assets now travel much further than just game attendance and broadcast exposure. On top of this, rightsholders are opening up new ways of engaging with fans beyond just traditional broadcast, by airing training sessions and behind the scenes footage across their social channels. As such, the significance of social media as a key sponsorship channel should not be underestimated.
It’s one thing to realise the value of cross-channel sports sponsorship, however, and another to be able to successfully unlock its potential.
Until recently, both brands and sponsors have struggled to track and measure the full extent of this additional brand exposure. As a result, social content and shares are often wrapped up into larger sponsorship deals, of which television and game attendance are still the main focus. This means the rightsholder is losing out on huge potential value. Meanwhile, from the sponsor’s point of view, they haven’t been able to accurately measure the additional value and insights generated or understand how their investment is allowing them to reach specific audiences online.
Similarly, our research shows that non-owned and operated (unofficial) channels account for a huge proportion (up to 90%) of sponsor value on social. But unfortunately, these are the most challenging brand exposures to track down and measure. TV broadcast has a defined rightsholder and associated sponsors, as do brand-owned social media accounts. But for the millions of accounts that are not owned by a rightsholder across social media, there has been no accurate way to value a post to a rightsholder and associated brand partner.
Recent advancements in image recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) may finally provide a solution. Computer vision is a specific branch of AI, which analyses the videos and images uploaded to social media, traditional broadcast and streaming services.
Working programmatically, the technology can pinpoint the exact brand exposure, the quality of this exposure and its media value. Using sport detection algorithms, it can even determine whether a post is related to a particular sport, league, team, arena, and ultimately a specific sponsor’s asset, before applying exposure and quality detection.
This technology can also maximise the value of sponsorship packages, and help streamline the measurement and reporting that can be offered to brands. Often, computer vision can identify lucrative areas of stadia and signage that aren’t currently being used. For example, the back of the shorts in a kit might gain as much exposure as the front, meaning brands can re-evaluate the placement of logos to achieve the greatest value. By uncovering valuable opportunities and lucrative brand placements, sponsorship valuations can be redefined whilst also helping sponsors maximise the return of their sponsorship investment.
Every time someone tweets, posts on Facebook, shares a video, or uploads a picture to Instagram, media value is created. But without the right tools, the value from these non-owned and operated accounts is lost, and money remains left on the table. It’s high time that the wider sports sponsorship industry recognises the added value this continuous content brings and invest in the technology to measure and maximise its potential. By driving revenues and results in equal measure, it’s a win-win for all sides.