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Breaking Through During the World’s Largest Sporting Events

February 15, 2021

All football season long, media and fans speculated and reported on things like, how has the pandemic affected ticket sales? What would brands do with sponsorship dollars? What would the future of attending live sports look like? The remote, scaled-down nature of this year’s big game was also a much-discussed topic as to how brands would derive value from activating in this space.

Would there still be the usual halftime commercials? Would brands use their time to promote fewer commercial messages? Is it still “worth it” to advertise in the traditional way?

While we don’t have answers to all of the questions, our work with brands, athletes and reporters did yield some observations that may point to how the pandemic will change the way marketers approach the unofficial national holiday in years to come.

Here are my takeaways from this year and predictions for how future brand activity will be affected:

  • Video really does kill the radio star. In conversations with top national sports producers, editors and hosts, I heard a recurring theme: in-person will always supersede video. One producer at a major sports outlet even told me that they had approximately three times as many no-show interviews as in any year that they’ve done Radio Row.
  • We’ll have to work harder for product placements. Products were harder to give to media members to showcase on air. In previous years, simply handing talent a product and then having them walk on set would get the job done. While we shipped products to some outlets prior to the event and provided them with an updated way to experience the brand in a digital setting, multiple outlets that previously accepted product placements in the past turned them down this year.
  • The end of an ad era? Several major sponsors and advertising regulars sat out this year’s push. In the future, I believe that we’ll continue to see more legacy brands opting not to create multi-million dollar ads and find other ways to spend their dollars, and new brands will find creative ways to fill the void (like five-second ads, for example).
  • No more hiding on the sidelines. The power of purpose messaging is not a new phenomenon, but one that I believe will continue to push its way into the sports conversation. Brands will have an increasingly difficult time being a part of/adjacent to sports culture while not participating in the issues that affect their professional populations. While pure entertainment is always welcomed, consumers are increasingly looking for brands to use their platform to say something meaningful.
  • We’ll come back together. Lastly, there have been many conversations around how the pandemic will change the way we live and work forever. While that will certainly be true in some instances, I feel that many of those predictions and stories are missing the simple human desire to be around other people. People will ultimately crave the camaraderie, energy and connection that are supercharged by sports.

Sports will continue to be one of the most powerful ways to reach consumers and that relationship will evolve as our society does. Brands that understand how to balance the cultural context in which they’re marketing and quickly adapt will be the winners.