A sporting chance: how brands can play a credible part in sport's big moments
As the Rugby World Cup has shown, sport draws a lot of eyeballs but, as Rob Meldrum, Head of Creative Futures at EssenceMediacomX explains, in-game advertising or pitch-side hoardings are no longer the only way to score attention.
It would be an understatement to say the result of the Rugby World Cup semi-finals last Saturday was not what England fans had hoped for.
Yet, for the pure spectacle alone, the battle between the English and South African squads did not disappoint, with a peak of 8.7 million viewers tuning in for the crucial match, setting the record for ITV’s highest audience so far this year.
Many more [brands] can and should join in the fun.
When brands look at these cultural breakthrough moments – music, entertainment, gaming or, in this case, sport – the value of tapping into these fanbases speaks for itself. Of course, not every brand has the budget to sponsor a World Cup tournament. But many more can and should join in the fun.
Above: England versus South Africa in the 2023 Rugby World Cup drew ITV's largest audience of the year to date.
Just look at the influx of viewers to Formula 1 following the smash hit Netflix series Drive to Survive. The behind-the-scenes documentary is credited with bringing a different type of fan to the sport, and the streaming channel is clearly trying to replicate its effects with its Full Swing and Break Point series, for golf and tennis. Amazon isn’t far behind, recently releasing its Premiership Rugby show Mud, Sweat and Tears, hoping to cash in on the World Cup hype. This demonstrates the value of sporting content that isn’t necessarily live broadcasting of the sport itself.
The sporting community exists beyond just the matches, games, or races.
Brands can learn a lesson from this – the sporting community exists beyond just the matches, games, or races. While not every brand has the resources or ability to produce Netflix-level products, it doesn’t have to be TV for it to be credible content. Finding non-traditional avenues and amplifying partnerships across social media can reach whole new audiences and deepen relationships with existing ones.
Creating credible content
Nobody wants to be a poor version of something great. Instead of creating a low-budget Drive to Survive, starring Heinz Beans, brands should instead look at the impact of this content and why it works as well as it does. The success of these docu-series hinges on connecting the audience to the stars of the sports, giving them access to stories and ideas like never before.
Above: Netflix's show, Drive to Survive, has brought a new audience to Formula 1
This is the exact principle behind our work with Google Pixel surrounding this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. In Europe, Pixel amplified its partnerships with the England and Germany women’s national teams through exclusive content, fan-led stories and new campaigns starring fan-favourite players. The pinnacle of this was the Pixel FC campaign, which depicted female players and content creators discussing, across social media, the specific issues around women’s football.
Ultimately, the brand’s role is to connect the audience with authentic, relevant content, and then get out of the way.
The campaign allowed fans to meaningfully engage with the players about their favourite sport. Viewers were able to see ‘behind the curtain’ into the thoughts and feelings of the players, creating a much deeper connection to the sport. Ultimately, the brand’s role is to connect the audience with authentic, relevant content, and then get out of the way.
Fashion and F1: creating cross-over audiences
Luxury fashion brands have been quick to bring multiple cultural areas together through partnerships. We’ve seen Chanel design special F1-inspired collections, and Louis Vuitton parading Trent Alexander-Arnold at Fashion Week. These iconic synergies between sports and fashion bring a new type of fan to the forefront, converging from each existing industry and, now, existing within both.
The obvious way to accelerate these partnerships is through social media. For example, Chanel and Louis Vuitton will highlight races, shout out players and their partnerships, and, in turn, reap the full effects of the reach of an online audience.
Above: Google Pixel Pixel partnered with the England and Germany women’s national teams, creating exclusive content, fan-led stories and new campaigns starring fan-favourite players.
Reaching younger audiences
Moving away from fashion, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars vs Atlanta Falcons game demonstrates the power of leveraging existing assets in completely new ways. Sports channel ESPN utilised their ownership by Disney to produce a fully animated telecast of the game, placing 22 American football players alongside beloved characters from the Toy Story film series.
The game was particularly popular on X, formally Twitter, with NFL and film fans commenting on the colourful and creative game, contributing to the combined 41 million viewersbetween CBS and Nickelodeon. New fans to NFL experienced the game in a revolutionary new way, using Toy Story as the vehicle to bring them into the world of American football.
With people wanting far more from the brands they connect with, finding authentic ways to connect with new audiences is the aim.
Just because a brand isn’t a ‘traditional’ sports sponsor doesn’t mean it can’t connect with the audience. Finding interesting and different ways to activate partnerships on social media allows genuine connections to these big breakthrough moments.
Sport has always held the incredible potential to reach millions of people. But, like everything, sports does not provide a guaranteed winning streak. With people wanting far more from the brands they connect with, finding authentic ways to connect with new audiences is the aim. Take a shot and you might just score.