The Superbowl is the perfect example of a sporting event that’s now more popular for its commercial success than the sport that’s on display. Commercial partners line up to cash-in on the exposure, connections and opportunities it presents – with many people tuning in for the half-time entertainment alone.
This year Pepsi has teamed up with social media influencers, magicians and created a “Wild Night In” campaign with prizes to capitalise on the fact that most people watch the Superbowl at home with friends and family. It also taps into the ever-growing trend of people preferring staying in over going out.
This approach is used by brands to create connections to sporting events, winning hearts and minds by association. We’ve written previously about ice cream brand Haagen Daaz creating new flavours of ice cream and campaigns to accompany it for the Wimbledon tennis championships. [DG1] They built experiences around the new flavour, handing out ice cream samples on the street and creating Wimbledon-themed pop-up shops to drive engagement.
But you don’t have to be an official partner or sponsor to take advantage of sporting events with your brand. Back in 2022, Sports Direct launched a campaign to promote women’s football in the build up to the Euros. It carefully positioned its campaign to target women’s football, rather than the event itself.
Just like supermarkets do when they run offers during certain times to target big events – simply a connection that the customer can make in their mind is enough. You’ll see aisles full of sporting decorations, next to items they want you to buy – drinks, snacks or clothing.
Back in 2012, Beats by Dre took a riskier approach and sent British athletes union-jack themed headphones to wear at the London Olympics, despite not being an official partner or sponsor. This could have resulted in legal action, and was a high-risk approach, but it shows the importance of thinking about how you can create campaigns for your brand that capitalise on large sporting events – even when you’re not an official partner.
There’s nothing like national pride to channel your brand into the hearts and minds of people. During major national sporting events, it’s not uncommon to see retailers making small changes to their branding in the build-up and duration.
As a retailer you might decide to change your in-store shopping bags in the build-up to a major sporting event. Printing your national flag on your bags for a temporary period can help to tap into national pride and make people feel good about spending with you.
You might choose to re-decorate your store, temporarily re-brand your website with national colours or do something larger scale to build on the increased sentiment that appears during major sporting events.
Netherlands-based food retailer, SPAR International, has been sponsoring European Athletics since 1996. This approach is a way for retailers to become associated with a continuous programme of sporting events, embedding your brand within the sports arena and tapping into national and continental pride on a regular basis.
Building a sense of connection and unity through sponsorship, either of an event, a programme or an individual athlete can have a powerful impact on how your brand is viewed – connecting sporting events with your brand on a permanent basis.
Of course, that’s not always an option for smaller brands but you can still use it to your advantage. Creating a sporting atmosphere in-store in the build up to a big sporting event is an easy and accessible way to capitalise on the sentiment and pride that swells around these times. You could host a pop-up event and give away prizes, branded merchandise and celebrate with themed displays.
This could help your efforts to last longer and have a bigger impact since long-lasting events, like the Olympics, can drive down in-store footfall with people staying at home to watch the events.
Spark a bigger conversation
You could choose to take the opportunity of a major sporting event to stand up for a cause your brand believes in or a stance that you want to share with the world.
Large sporting events are often great times for raising awareness of surrounding issues that might normally take a back seat, but you want to highlight and bring into your customers’ consciousness. Think about the other conversations that happened apart from football around the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.
We know that sporting events generate lots of attendees, and lots of business opportunities. But they also create a lot of waste. You may have seen the stories of Japanese fans tidying stadiums after games, and this type of story is one that is often hidden among the noise of major sporting events.
If your brand is committed to environmental goals, and reducing waste wherever possible, you could choose to tie in your message and any potential campaign to wider themes that emerge from sporting events. It doesn’t have to be about the sport itself. Whether you take the time to run an in-store recycling programme that’s tied to the event or financial incentives for customers who bring back items for re-use.
Plenty of brands used this approach in the build-up to, and during, the Qatar FIFA World Cup. Denmark-based sports apparel company, Hummel, who provided the Denmark team with their kit ran a toned-down version of its kit because it “didn’t wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives.”
Players stepped out on to the pitch with branding on their shirts almost invisible – a protest from Hummel against Human Rights infringements at the World Cup. Taking a stance, and making it visible in-store, can build brand awareness and solidify your connections with your customers.
Capitalising on large sporting events is a great way for retailers to find connection with customers and tap into national pride or wider causes. With Europe on the cusp of several major sporting events this year, it’s worth considering how you might use these events to boost your brand exposure.
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