A sporting chance for branded entertainment
As much of the world slowly attempts to return to some form of normality, so too does sport. With football back, albeit behind closed doors, what opportunities are there for brands to connect with physically absent fans? Just So's Managing Director, Simon Bell, thinks turning to entertainment is the answer.
When sport was abruptly brought to a halt back in March we didn’t know when, or in what form, it would return.
After an almost complete pause on live sports in the UK for the last three months we are now entering into the early stages of a ‘project restart’, where sport is starting to return under controlled circumstances.
Engaging the population’s passion for sports has the potential to give us a huge collective lift.
In cricket, the West Indies have arrived in the UK in preparation for a ‘behind closed doors’ series against England in July, and England’s top two tiers of football are embarking on a logjam of daily football fixtures that make the Christmas period look like a pre-season kick about. Both of these restarts are accompanied by huge logistical challenges, complex negotiations and expensive planning and contingencies, but in the eyes of those making the decisions, it’s worthwhile.
Above: Brighton & Hove Albion plans to have cardboard cutouts of fans at their stadium, a concept used by German team Borussia Mönchengladbach.
One reason for this is that at the heart of ‘project restart’ is a commercial reality that almost demands sports get going again. With Deloitte reporting huge revenues already lost through ticket sales and broadcast rebates in the Premier League, it’s about limiting the damage as much as possible. Alongside the commercial imperative, there’s an equally important point around the power of sports to have a positive impact in society right now. Engaging the population’s passion for sports has the potential to give us a huge collective lift at a time when we’re settling into a strange and unfamiliar year.
How are fans going to replicate the experience of attending live sports, and how are clubs going to make up for lost ticket sales?
But with all sports rightly happening behind closed doors, and the prospect of games being played in empty, or limited capacity stadiums (something that will be with us for a while yet) how are fans going to replicate the experience of attending live sports, and how are clubs going to make up for lost ticket sales and matchday revenues? Both of these problems call for innovation, and I think crafted branded content and digital experiences sit at the heart of the solution.
We’re starting to see clubs put effort into creating novel experiences that respond to this dual challenge, with Brighton FC announcing this past week that fans can attend games as a cardboard cut-out of themselves, for a £20 fee. But I think the potential goes beyond initial short-term activations, with clubs and sponsors well-placed to lead the way and evolve their content strategies to capitalise on a captive audience keen to get closer to the sports they love.
Above: Netflix's The Last Dance combined the drama of sport with quality storytelling.
For a long time, a majority of digital content in sports has been produced following a newsroom model, with volume and regularity often taking precedence over craft and originality of creative idea. Whilst this type of content definitely has a role in the lives of sports fans, it’s going up against a very well-established machine of sports news media, and, in my opinion, takes less advantage of the unique perspective, rights and access that clubs (and their sponsors) have.
When access is combined with craft, sports content can create huge levels of interest and engagement.
When access is combined with craft, sports content can create huge levels of interest and engagement; look at recent shows like The Last Dance, where the natural drama of sport and the quality of the storytelling captivates audiences. We took the same approach in our work with Red Bull Media House on the series Way Of The Wildcard, with an emphasis on finding truly remarkable sporting characters stories and letting each one be told in its own unique way.
Above: An episode of Just So's recent branded content series with Red Bull, Way of the Wildcard.
It’s more bespoke than cookie-cutter and, as a result, there’s differentiation from other sports content, and a clear value for sports fans looking for new ways to engage with their favourite athletes/clubs/sports. And what’s to be done with this engagement? For sports that are looking to evolve their commercial models, it presents a great opportunity to do so.
We know that people are willing to pay for content and entertainment that stands out and offers value, and as sports organisations and clubs look to develop their own OTT models, a content strategy which puts emphasis on high impact content is going to be essential. Sponsors are also keen to connect with engaged fans, so co-creation and collaboration around high-impact, original content offers value for them as their usual touchpoints with fans in and around stadiums are going to be limited.
We know that people are willing to pay for content and entertainment that stands out and offers value.
Whilst the way we all engage with sports might be about to change for the foreseeable future, the desire to engage has not gone away, and fulfilling that with crafted digital content represents a win-win for fans, clubs and sponsors alike.