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Collision: Three Key Sports Opportunities for Brands

July 10, 2024
By Ryan McKenna

Collision, one of the world’s biggest tech conferences, landed in Toronto recently and offered insight into emerging opportunities intersecting sports and business.

FleishmanHillard was on site for the conference, which took place from June 17 to 20 and featured almost 38,000 attendees from 117 countries. Fortune 500 companies, investors and start-ups packed into the Enercare Centre to see and hear from the top voices in the industry.

FleishmanHillard is always staying on top trends in communications and sports, and Collision was an opportunity to hear unique perspectives that could positively inform how we guide our clients.

Tennis legend Maria Sharapova and NFL stars Austin Ekeler and Ndamukong Suh headlined one-on-one conversations between journalists and athletes. Here are three key opportunities and takeaways brands should consider when getting involved in sports.

1.           Redefined fan and athlete connection provides brands’ opportunities

Austin Ekeler wants to provide sports fans with the opportunity to stay connected and be closer to athletes. It’s why the veteran running back created the app Eksperience to bridge what he feels is currently a gap between athletes and fans.

From one-on-one chats, recorded video messages, social media requests and more, Eksperience allows fans from all over the world to connect to their favorite stars. It’s a more direct pipeline to the athlete than what’s already available to fans, Ekeler says.

Ekeler is looking for partners to help him expand his venture into other leagues. The app currently only connects NFL players and some college football players as well. There are opportunities for brands to partner with Eksperience, but Ekeler says it can’t just be about the money or branding. He wants his partners to have a deep rooted and authentic interest in sports — either as a player or a fan.

2.           Brand opportunities in women’s sports continues to grow

According to Diana Matheson, women’s sport wasn’t treated as a business until the last five years. Now, the CEO and co-founder of Project 8, is launching the Northern Super League (NSL) next year — the first professional women’s soccer league in Canada — and sees a plethora of opportunities for women’s sports.

The six-team NSL will have franchises in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Canada has the third-largest women’s soccer talent pool in the world, Matheson says, and building the pathways like this new league will be a solution to grow the game.

Matheson says building the league’s audience over the first three to five years is crucial for its success. There’s a unique opportunity for brands to align themselves with start-up leagues like the NSL to not only connect with athletes and fans of women’s sports but also to integrate products and services that will help the league grow.

3.           Gen AI creating new lead-ins with brands and athletes

If there’s one thing that’s evident from Collision, more and more athletes are getting into business when their playing careers are finished. Collision heard from athletes like Suh and former NBA star Metta World Peace, both of which have created successful ventures post-retirement.

Generative AI is one of those current business opportunities and Collision highlighted countless organizations leveraging this emerging technology. Sharapova spoke about the use of AI in tennis and pointed to the U.S. Open’s removal of line judges as an example of AI’s use in the sport.

AI technologies will continue to be developed for sport, whether for in-game use, athlete performance or elsewhere. Brands should consider getting involved with advertising on these new emerging platforms that will be seen by millions at some of the world’s biggest events.

While the three opportunities outlined above are great examples of ways brands can better align with fans through technology and sport, brands must also consider how these partnerships are amplified through communications. Ensuring there’s a robust communications plan that positively influences target audiences is almost just as important as the program or partnership itself. When evaluating potential opportunities like those above, it’s integral to keep in mind how you plan to promote them and bring value to fans and key audiences.

Get in touch with FleishmanHillard today to discuss these opportunities and ways for your business to get involved.

Ryan McKenna is a communications counsellor for FleishmanHillard based in Toronto, specializing in sports, issues and crisis management. Prior to joining FleishmanHillard, Ryan was an award-winning reporter with The Canadian Press and Sportsnet.