Joscha Thieringer
Joscha Thieringer

Tips from Marketing Expert Daniel Macaulay

10 Sports Marketing Trends That You Should Know and Use

Digitalization is causing a stir in the sports industry - and in sports marketing. The result is trends that nobody had predicted just a few years ago.

10 Tipps für erfolgreiches Sportmarketing.
10 tips for successful sports marketing.

The digital age demands everything from those responsible for marketing in sports industry. It is almost impossible for an individual to be perfectly familiar with all the facets of sports marketing. Daniel Macaulay, founder and managing director of the full-service sports marketing agency Brandwave, gives an overview of the ten biggest sports marketing industry trends and exciting examples.

Trends in sports marketing

Sports marketing has become more open, thanks to many trends that are shifting from one-way channels between brands and audiences to constant communication between brands, teams, players and fans. The emergence of new platforms and access to 24/7 sports updates on social media is not only increasing audiences and improving such communication, but also popularizing sports among a huge segment of the world’s population. The future of sports marketing is driven by the following trends, which are now gaining tremendous momentum.

1. OTT (Over the Top) Content

Netflix, Amazon Prime and Facebook are classic examples of OTT offerings. OTT stands for "over the top" and means that the content can ultimately be received regardless of the end device.

What does this have to do with sports? Platforms like Facebook or Amazon are turning the sports rights market as it was known for decades on its head. For example, the Primera Division, Spain's top professional soccer league, was shown in India exclusively on Facebook for a while - as was the World Surf League, which Facebook secured for two years for $30 million. So even former niche sports are benefiting from the streaming options. And even the short message service Twitter is getting in on the sports rights action.

"In the past, if you wanted to watch soccer, you turned on the TV," Daniel Macaulay explains. "Now you can watch live sports anywhere, on any device."

Competition from the Internet is giving traditional media companies a run for their money. And the platforms have another big advantage: "They profile their users, so they know exactly who is watching their content and when - and can then play out targeted advertising," says Macaulay.

This database takes sports marketing to a whole new level. Macaulay says one company still has a key advantage: Amazon. "Amazon has what no one has: The largest online store in the world. So it can capitalize on any content directly."

2. AI

AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. Al is changing the world, there's no doubt about it. But three things are needed for this: Data, data and data. And of course a fast Internet connection.

Chatbots are an exciting form of artificial intelligence for sports marketing, reports Macaulay: "FC Arsenal has developed a chatbot called Robot Pires with the specialists from GameOn, which communicates with fans via Facebook Messenger, Skype, Slack, Kik and Telegram".

And that's very entertaining. Robot Pires - the name is derived from Arsenal legend Robert Pires - provides users with results, statistics, news and partly exclusive videos of the Premier League Club in humorous and simple language.

The use of chatbots in sports marketing offers several advantages:

  1. An entertaining and clever chatbot can reach new target groups and strengthen fan loyalty because it offers extraordinary content.
  2. The sports company or the club present themselves as innovative thought leaders and thus also strengthen their brand in the B2B segment.
  3. Chatbots collect data that can give important hints on fan or customer wishes.

Whether the investment in AI is worthwhile for sports marketing, however, is still questionable. And so the chatbot of FC Arsenal should be understood more as an experiment.

Daniel Macauley auf der ISPO Munich 2019.
Daniel Macauley presents the trends

3. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality

The developments in VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality) are impressive, reported Daniel Macauly. "In the past, VR and AR were expensive and uncomfortable, but now the focus is on benefits," the sports marketing specialist said.

Online shops have to struggle with high CPAs (cost per acquisition) because the free delivery conditions have resulted in an unpleasant pattern of behavior: "Customers order each product in three different sizes and colors, try everything on at home and in the end - if at all - keep only one. The rest go back."

With the help of AR, for example, sports shoes can be tried on virtually beforehand. Through glasses or a smartphone, the customer can see what the shoe looks like on his own foot - and hopefully selects more precisely.

4. Wearables

The wearables market has emerged from its niche and has long since become one of the most important fields of the entire sports industry. Or as Daniel Macaulay put it, "wearables are mainstream." For the year 2022, according to a study, the estimated sales of wearables worldwide are up to 94 billion US dollars.


Exciting, for example: The Twiceme technology, which is installed in helmets and other gear and relays important safety information in an emergency.

5. eSports

No sports marketer can afford not to take eSports seriously. Video games are becoming increasingly popular and more and more gamers are finding their way into the world of eSports. According to forecasts, the number of global sports enthusiasts is expected to rise to over 500 million by 2024. Daniel Macaulay sees huge potential here for sports marketers.

But the Brandwave CEO has noticed another development: "It's exciting that there are now also sports areas at tech conferences."

6. Dark Social

With his remarks on Dark Social, Daniel Macaulay provided many thought-provoking faces, as most listeners had not yet dealt with this phenomenon. "Dark Social refers to all website traffic that cannot be accurately attributed," Macaulay explained. "Over 80 percent of global traffic comes from Dark Social."

Such traffic occurs when users send each other links via whatsapp, instagram or e-mail. Then the analysis tools are overwhelmed, because one does not understand "why the user suddenly stands in front of the door and how he got there". And what you can't analyze, you can't (well) use for marketing.

Adidas understood the phenomenon as an opportunity and initiated an exciting Dark Social campaign with Adidas Tango Squads. "Selected influencers were provided with exclusive products and invited to events," Macaulay explained. The dissemination of information then took place mainly via messenger services and social groups.

7. Sustainability

Sustainability and sport are now closely linked. "80 percent of the products are purchased for emotional reasons - and 20 percent for functional reasons," Daniel Macaulay said. Sports marketing is therefore increasingly about giving customers the feeling that they are doing something good.

Good examples of sustainable sports products are outdoor jackets or sports shoes made from recycled plastic. The trend towards environmental protection even goes so far that plogging, collecting rubbish during jogging, has become a serious movement.

"Good gym has spread in Great Britain," Macaulay reported. The point is to do good while jogging, for example by shopping for the old neighbor on the way back.

But "ethical consumerism" also knows limits, the sports marketing expert said. It is essential to ensure that a campaign also fits the brand. As a negative example, Macaulay cited Gillette's #MeToo advertising, for which the company had massively lost brand popularity: "The tone was completely wrong."

8. Women in Sport

For decades, the sports business was a male domain. But with the changes in society, the sports industry is also being strongly mixed up. This is also due to the fact that women are an increasing financially strong group of buyers. "Like many other industries, the sports business is experiencing increasing target group segmentation," Macaulay said.

ISPO recognized this trend at an early stage and with "Connecting Women" offers a top-class program for committed women.

But companies such as North Face, which are also attracting attention with their "She Moves Mountains" campaign, are specifically campaigning for women in sport, reported Macaulay, who brought another example from the British Isles with him: With "This Girl Can" the Government of England addresses the female population.

9. Children in Sports

In times when eSports are booming and news about overweight children and adolescents are being spread daily, a counter-movement is all the more important. Not only for noble goals, but also because digitalization offers completely new distribution opportunities. Manufacturers of niche products, such as e-mountainbikes or climbing shoes in children's sizes, can advertise and sell their products specifically on the Internet.

According to Daniel Macaulay, it is important that children are introduced to sport as early as possible because "it will be much more difficult later to motivate people to take part in sport". With „The Daily Mile“ the sports marketing expert presented a campaign involving almost two million children in the UK. The principle is simple: the children jog at their own pace for 15 minutes every day during their visit to school.

10. Seniors in Sport

If you look at the large public advertising campaigns of sports companies, it should quickly become apparent that they use pictures of extremely sporty and active people who are full of life. But here, too, rethinking is taking place: More and more sports products for older people are coming onto the market. On the one hand, because the target group of senior citizens is growing from year to year, on the other hand, because this target group is extremely financially strong and is becoming much more demanding.

Many Western societies are aging - "this creates enormous costs for the public health system," Macaulay said. He cites "Make Health Last" from Canada as a particularly successful example of a campaign for active seniors. "What will your last ten years look like?" is the motto of this campaign - and offers a variant with and without sport for illustration purposes.


Summary of Sports Marketing Trends

Digitalization, individualization and sustainability are certainly three of the most important trends in the sports industry - and they also require a fundamental change in sports marketing. "The world is undergoing extreme change and digitalization is accelerating it," said Daniel Macaulay, summarizing the situation.

To be successful in sports marketing industry analysis, you should always know what is going on left and right. Not all the possibilities that are opening up are becoming mainstream. However, it is advisable to keep an eye on the ten sports marketing issues listed here.

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Joscha Thieringer
Joscha Thieringer