Like most sports fan, I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to sports documentaries over these past few months.
Three in particular – The Last Dance, Diego Maradona & Lance – made a lasting impression on me and I realised they all share something powerful. They provide a raw, unfiltered perspective on the life and mindset of a player.
"I think there’s something truly magical about being able to see both the legendary icon and the ordinary person at the same time."
As a fan, I get to peek underneath the polished exterior and learn about what makes them tick as human beings. To get an insight into how they think and feel and understand what drives their actions. To know not only what makes them great, but also what makes them flawed.
I think there’s something truly magical about being able to see both the legendary icon and the ordinary person at the same time.
It raised an important question for me, how can sports sponsors deliver more of that feeling to fans on a regular basis?
The universal truth of sport is that its fans always want to feel closer to the players.
It’s why people get names printed on the back of their jersey. It’s why people pay thousands for match worn boots. It’s why people wait for hours to watch the players transport arrive at the stadium.
"fans and players are growing further apart"
No matter what the sport is, fans idolise the players and want to feel closer to them.
But, in many sports, fans and players are growing further apart for a couple of reasons:
1. Player salaries have skyrocketed.
2. Media training is compulsory for many players, so interviews are often dull and full of clichés (‘we play for the team / one game at a time’ etc).
3. Players social media accounts are typically run by agents and used to promote products and services to fulfil sponsorship obligations.
The gap between fans and players is now bigger than ever before. This makes it difficult for the everyday sports fan to connect with the players they admire.
There’s an opportunity for sports sponsors to close the gap between fans and players.
Sports sponsors have an important role to play in helping to re-establish the relationship between fans and players by consistently providing rich access, insight and perspective.
Ironically, it was during a period of no sport when sponsors upped their creative game with player engagement. Fans were given the opportunity to watch, listen and interact with players in new, meaningful ways.
Paddy Power livestreamed a golf event with some of the top sports players and tv personalities competing against each other.
Santandar Bank launched the La Liga Santandar Challenge. A player from each La Liga club participated in an live FIFA2O Tournament with all donations going to charity.
Telstra created the Australian Dice Football League where Australian Football League (AFL) players battled it out in a dice-throwing game that was designed to mimic a football match.
"I believe it has opened up new doors for sports sponsors to explore how they get the most out of players and sponsorship assets"
While this type of content was in direct response to the full stoppage of sport leagues around the world, I believe it has opened up new doors for sports sponsors to explore how they get the most out of players and sponsorship assets by putting creative thinking at the fore.
Here are three ways for sports sponsors to bring fans closer to players:
In essence, livestream (Youtube, Twitter, Twitch) can feel much more authentic. There’s often some hiccups along the way, but that’s part of it. Fans get to see what players are like, warts and all. This raw and honest can often lead to nuggets of golden content.
Longform gives fans an opportunity to better understand the personality of a player over an extended period of time. Podcasts, which are naturally longer and casual, give great insight into what a player is really like because ultimately, the medium follows the flow of a natural conversation.
Sports sponsors must consider how they enable fans to engage with players. Twitter comments or polls, chat functionality, audio questions – there are tonnes of ways to do this. It offers another way for fans to feel part of the experience.
With the likelihood of sports events happening behind closed doors, or with less capacity, for the foreseeable future, sports sponsors will have to continue to be creative in how they utilise their sponsorship assets and how they approach sports in general.
An example of this is the virtual Tour De France which is kicking off this month. Race organisers have strongly stated that this is not a lesser version of the race, but is an alternative way to proceed with it given the global situation.
The reality is that major sporting events like the Olympics, Euros and Ryder Cup (all of which are happening next year) might be run very differently to what we normally expect. Sponsors must anticipate, plan and act on this.