In an emotional context such as sport, adding to – and not intruding on – the experience is of paramount importance, as the telco EE showed in its entertainment marketing strategy.
Football is an expensive advertising property because of emotion, and “if you want to cut through … you need a big cheque,” said Jim Dowling, Managing Director of Havas’ entertainment agency, Cake, speaking at a CMA seminar on sports marketing. You also need to do more than mere advertising.
“Our business is built on the assumption that the world has had enough of advertising,” and the understanding that people want more of the things they love, he said. Sport, and specifically football, is an area undergoing similar changes to any other media property in 2018 and is ripe for disruption.
We hear that young people are watching less live sport, migrating instead to key moments in games, snackable on mobile devices. It’s assumed that this is an issue of preference, that millennials, glued to their phones, would rather stare into the palm of their hands rather than the big screen.
Perhaps the issue is less about tech and more about money: the expense of a Sky Sports subscription in the UK is significant, and the average age of viewers has grown to 43, which is good if you’re looking for consumers with a bit of spare cash. If you’re looking for younger consumers, you might be barking up the wrong tree.
An Intellectual Property Office survey published last year found that 65% of 18-34 year-olds said they stream live Premier League football from an unofficial provider at least once a month. The spectre of a more competitive subscription offer such as Amazon Prime looms large.
There is, however, an opportunity here. Havas’ outlook, signalled by its annual Meaningful Brands survey, is that brands need to mean something. This attitude has been deeply influential, meaning that conference presentations frequently invoke the statistic that consumers wouldn’t give a monkey’s if 74% of brands disappeared tomorrow. Take that with a pinch of salt. More useful, perhaps, is Dowling’s interpretation that brands exist to be useful, and that ideally the world should be a slightly better place because the brand was around.
When Orange and T-Mobile fused to become EE in 2015, consumers needed a little convincing that this new brand had a point, that it would add value. Consumers had, after all loved Orange Wednesdays where they could get two-for-one cinema ticket deals. In its new incarnation, with Kevin Bacon as its face, EE has also been smart about its entertainment investments, not least in football.
These go beyond traditional football fans, for whom goal montages with an Oasis soundtrack are the pinnacle of a curated beautiful game. In its sponsorship of Wembley stadium, England’s national ground, EE understood that renaming it wouldn’t hack it: “We’re on our way to Wembley” is difficult to dislodge from the lips of fans heading to an FA Cup final.
The brand also understood that a name alone doesn’t add value and would have to prove it. ‘Wembley connected by EE’ taps into the ability that brands have to present themselves as realisers rather than just sponsors; clever innovations give fans the ability to connect to wifi in the stadium or help them skip queues by introducing a smartphone ordering feature for half-time drinks.
The strategy understood, similarly, that people want football and if you build it, they will come. In 2017, the brand put on ‘The Wembley Cup with EE’, which combined teams of YouTubers specialising in football with legends of the game (Steven Gerrard, etc.), and drew a strong showing of 34,000 to the stadium and many more online – more than many games in the lower end of the Premier League.
At a broader level, it is also important to think about the way the conversation around football is changing. Witness the characters of Arsenal Fan TV, like sirens over Wenger’s downfall, that are core to the club’s conversation, for better or for worse. For brands, however, this translates to aiming for a role in the experience that doesn’t present the brand as a price to pay.
“If you’re going to produce anything, don’t think ‘I’ve got a message to get across’,” said Dowling. “Think ‘how can I make sports fans’ lives a little better?’”