Is sports marketing obsessed with digital?

There continues to be much debate in the marketing world around whether we are obsessed with digital. In my opinion our interest in digital channels is only natural for a profession which has swung in recent decades from a transaction- to a relationship-based approach. Terms like “customer lifetime value” and “customer-relationship management” are now embedded within modern marketing parlance.

Clearly, any company looking to develop a relationship with an end consumer, be it in sports or otherwise, will quickly figure out that the reach and engagement digital channels can provide is at least worth considering.

Digital’s global reach

There are an estimated 2.8 billion internet users globally (39% of the world’s population) and an estimated 5.2 billion mobile phone users (73% of the world’s population). Digital channels are continuously moving the needle on what is possible in terms of segmentation and targeting via mobile and desktop web, mobile apps, social media, ibeacon technology and wearables, to name a few.

So why shouldn’t we be obsessing over digital?

According to KPCB’s Internet Trends 2015 report, internet and mobile continue to grow in terms of share of US media consumption while traditional channels decline. Together media consumption in these two channels is significantly higher than TV. These kind of numbers give an indication as to why we might obsess about digital particularly when you consider the enormous ad spend growth opportunities that could be exploited by media owners and brands.

KPCB internet and mobile chart

Focus on the fan

Turning to the sports marketing world, would an obsession with digital channels be unwarranted? Since marketing is about delivering customer value, one has to ask, “Where can sports fans be found”? According to a study by Navigate Research and Wasserman Media Group, 91% of sports fans use social media on a daily basis.

It is no coincidence that the latest IEG / Performance Research study of sponsorship decision makers found that 90% of respondents ranked social media as an “extremely important” channel to leverage their sponsorship. Sponsors recognise the need to leverage their deals through digital and social media channels if they are to connect with sports fans.

IEG leverage channels

Rights holders slow to take advantage

Despite the interest from sponsors, sponsorship rights holders appear to have been slow to monetise content during these booming digital years. IEG’s inaugural rights holder survey found that 94% of property holders were providing social media content but only 30% were monetizing it. Printed publications were the most monetized source of content showing that while the sports marketing industry might talk and think big around digital, we are not quite “walking the walk”. If we in the sports marketing industry are ever accused of a digital obsession, we could point to the need to better exploit content as the source.


Social is king of sports

Let’s face it, social media continues to be the ultimate digital channel with which to create and foster sports fan relationships. As said before, this is in large part where you will find most sports fans and where sponsors see value. A list produced by Result Sports last year illustrates the shifting marketing paradigm whereby many of the world’s most commercially successful football / soccer clubs have invested to build massive followings on social media in support of their relationship marketing goals.

social football clubs

Whether digital or traditional, desktop or mobile, sports marketer or marketer, the question remains the same: How do I create and deliver customer value in a way that is mutually beneficial? Achieving this in our digital obsessed world is challenging sports marketers like never before to carefully and seamlessly integrate the digital / online experience with the live event experience.


About the author of this post:

David is a Chartered Marketer with more than 15 years experience in international sports marketing roles. You can follow David on twitter @davidgfowler or connect on LinkedIn at



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