How Social Media Plays a Big Part in the Sponsorship of Football Today: Interview with Shea Warnes

Inspire Football: Social media plays a big part in people’s lives, but how big is the opportunity in sports sponsorship?

Shea Warnes: Absolutely huge! Coming from ad land where I worked across various verticals you really get to appreciate the levels of high advocacy associated with sports audiences. They are passionate, seeking out new stories and love to voice their opinion to anyone who will listen. The World Cup highlighted this with the 672m tweets and 3bn interactions on Facebook! People love sport and are looking for refreshing ways to experience it – it just so happens they are using social media as the platform to get closer to those passions.

For brands, they realize that brand exposure / impressions isn’t enough. It’s a very noisy, cluttered market so to build any sort of relationship with customers they need to stand out by adding something valuable. The volumes of conversation happening on social should be a mouth-watering opportunity to engage fans using the sponsored property. Besides, if the brand has spent a lot of cash on the sponsorship, surely you want as much of audience to know about it as possible! The question is not “Should we?” but “How?”

IF: What then are the main benefits of social media for brands?

SW: The benefits of social media span beyond the obvious of creating dialogues between you and your customers, as well as incremental, earned reach. There are loads of reasons for investing time and money into social media:
  •  Reporting (how your campaign performed online, knowing what your fans are saying about the activity, being able to adapt and optimise mid-campaign to make it as great as possible for the target audience)
  • Targeted broadcasting (social ads that get a message across to a very refined audience)
  • R&D (maybe you have an endorsed product you plan to release. Rather than send it out far and wide, use your loyal advocates online to test the product and give quick turnaround feedback)
  • Influencer outreach (ensuring the influencers across Twitter, Intagram, YouTube etc are on your side, ready to push out your activity to help accelerate conversation)
  • Customer Care / Loyalty (profit doesn’t come just from sales. It comes from extending the ARPU of your customers – this was a big issue for Virgin Media for example that has an incredibly high quarterly churn rate).

IF: What advantages does being an official sponsor give to fan engagement? 

SW: Two key pillars as I see it: access and borrowing audiences.
Access: Access gives a brand a more interesting dialogue to have with the property’s audience, a license to speak in this space. You hold content, knowledge and experiences fans want and with that arsenal you have the opportunity to drive huge levels of engagement, advocacy and sponsorship awareness. Without access you can still stand out through an interesting point of view or creative but it is harder when everyone else is shouting from the same stand.

Audience: A really powerful opportunity sometimes overlooked is the advantage of being able to engage through your property’s touch points. Most likely their audience is bigger, more engaged and highly relevant to your conversation. This saves you big money on paid to get your message out there, but also the conversation holds more weight as its being pushed through official channels.

IF: How can brands prepare to jump on the social media agenda through sponsorship or other means?

SW: The majority of brands have an established presence to varying degrees of success so it is no longer a case of jumping on the agenda. The challenge is how to integrate sponsorship into the current content strategy and how to maximize the sponsorship across the digital ecosystem to deliver on marketing objectives. One opportunity worth investigating should be real-time sports news and conversations. The nature of appointment-to-view in sport opens up a great opportunity for a brand to stand out by aligning a refreshing idea / message (with supporting sponsorship arsenal) with a spike in chatter or interest. We’ve seen a few examples of this already – adidas’s #Unlock The Game for example – but I’m looking forward to new and interesting ways of engaging fans in real-time on the tools they use.

IF: Who wins the battle between official sponsors and guerrilla marketers who may use social media-based promotions without buying rights?

SW: Two key areas again:
License: You have content that allows you to be more intrinsic to the things your audience is most passionate about.
Audience: You don’t have to work as hard to speak to the right people as you should be able to use the property’s channels. If not, you are competing in a very noisy market – even in paid!

However it ultimately comes down to a good idea. When non-sponsors shine it is because they have delivered a more exciting, refreshing idea e.g. Beats or any recent World Cup Nike campaign! A reason why so many non-sponsors see success could be because without rights they have had to work harder for a creative idea and story.

IF: Can the number Facebook likes and Twitter followers affect the bottom line of a company's business?

SW: Absolutely. First if a brand has a robust social strategy those likes and followers should also be your customers and prospects waiting to be engaged with so it is important to not look at your followers and fans as some completely separate audience from those you speak to in other channels. Social is an incredibly powerful marketing tool for pushing people through the purchase funnel (awareness, social engagement / consideration, peer recommendations / purchase, social incentives / loyalty, Social CRM) – the question for a brand is understanding where social media adds most value in that strategy.

Also, for many brands they see social as a brand building tool, so if you can prove brand building drives profit then, thew answer's also yes.