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Sports Marketing Without Sports

Sports is the common unifier, but what happens when stadiums go dark? The suspension of professional sports has been challenging for fans of all ages, but their passion and sense of community hasn’t wavered in these unprecedented times. We need the sporting community more than ever before; going dark is not an option. The human spirit is too strong, and our sense of belonging too great, even for Covid-19.

In this new normal, sports marketing is evolving to maintain fan engagement. Brands like ESPN are leading the way by broadening programming to include ‘inter-league’ takes on eSports – like televising NBA players playing NBA 2K, and airing off-beat competitive events like marble racing.

Just as the world’s most venerated sports-network is adapting, other brands that leverage sports to better connect with consumers are also finding new ways to play to fan passions while the fields and courts are idle. So whether you’re in the midst of a reinvention, like ESPN, or are trying to engage fans in the new normal, here are some ways brands can execute passion-driven, community-first engagements in today’s sports climate:

Issuing Fans Social Challenges to Build Comradery – StubHub “#Sportober”

To promote advocacy and reward the “every fan” fan, StubHub collaborated with trick shot influencers Dude Perfect on four unique social challenges housed in a single, phased digital experience. Weekly challenges ranged from wearing gear from as many different sports as possible to inventing the perfect snack food. Each challenge was designed to engage true ‘fan’s fans” and reward them for being a part of the larger sports community with exclusive meet & greets, as well as StubHub gift cards and autographed memorabilia.

Giving Enthusiasts Their 15-Minutes of Fame – Gatorade “Unreal Around the World”

Looking to encourage fans to show how their training and hard work translates into ‘unreal’ performance on the field, Gatorade asked soccer enthusiasts across the globe to post videos that demonstrated their handling skills, creativity, and originality, and include a brief description of the work they’ve put into improving their game. The winner won an “unreal soccer experience” from the brand, and as a bonus, entrants received their 15-minutes of fame by being featured in the global gallery.

Celebrating Community Milestones PlayStation “Player Celebration”

In recognition of its 100+ million PS4 players, PlayStation rallied their online community to work collectively towards a shared set of goals by playing games and earning in-game trophies for prizes. As players met pre-determined milestones, the entire community unlocked exclusive PS4 themes and avatars, and could participate in a chance to win promotion for a shot at a PlayStation kit that included an engraved Platinum trophy.

Long after Covid-19 has passed, sports will remain standing. What that looks like after this crisis is still to be determined, but when sports are back, brands will see a re-awakening of casual and die-hard fans who not only turn to sports for a sense of community, but also a sense of normalcy in these uncertain times.

Brands, like ESPN, who can offer a temporary reprieve and engage their fans in new ways, will be better for it. As will brands’ whose sports marketing plans evolve to be community-first activations that rally around passionate fan bases. These brands need new ways to engage fans, while we wait for the stadiums to turn their lights back on.


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