Simon Wardle: “There has never been a more complex time to be a marketer”

What: We talked to Simon Wardle, Octagon’s Chief Strategy Officer, about how sports fans have changed over the past few years, and the challenges and opportunities brands are facing to reach those fans. Wardle, Ph.D., oversees Octagon’s multi-faceted insights and strategy efforts to help clients identify the opportunities across sports and entertainment, and then make the next right move.
Why it matters: Wardle will be participating at Portada’s 2017 Sports Marketing Forum in New York City, on September 13. He’ll be presenting the panel 10 CRITICAL TRENDS IN SPORTS MARKETING, at 1:15 PM.

Simon WardlePORTADA: How has the sports fan changed the way it consumes sports events over the past few years?

Simon Wardle: We now live in a world of choice. Millennials and Gen Z, along with the advent of technology, are redefining how fans choose to consume sports and entertainment based on their own personal preferences and passions.

Consumers increasingly want the ability to consume, curate and create all at the same time – that is the new sports experience. Now that social platforms like Twitter and Facebook are starting to live stream sports content, a trend that will only continue to grow, it allows the content and the conversation to take place on one singular platform.

PORTADA: What role does the evolution of streaming and mobile have in this change?

SW: The ability for rights holders and broadcasters to live stream events, and for fans to access content through digital platforms, has rapidly increased the globalization of sports. Digital platforms and streaming services now give fans who are far from home access to content that allows them to stay connected to the sports they love.

Sports like rugby, cricket, and kabaddi – which enjoyed 100 million online viewers on the first day of the 2016 Kabaddi Pro League season – or even Liga MX, are quickly becoming a cost-effective way for brands to engage with specific communities within the US sports fanbase.

PORTADA: When talking about a multiplatform fan, how do brands need to adapt to reach the fans successfully?

SW: Living in this world of choice, it is essential for brands to embrace the change and create sport- and entertainment-related content for multiple platforms, which helps to ensure interactive fans are finding the branded content that leverages the IP and rights secured through official partnerships. Each platform and delivery option is unique, so we recommend that brands create and target their content for specific platforms.

PORTADA: What kind of strategy stopped working, and how should brands be talking to fans now?

SW: There has never been a better time to be a fan. Conversely, there has never been a more complex time to be a marketer. The diversity of platforms and content mean that it is harder and harder for brands – and therefore marketers – to get their message through to consumers. The one-size fits all approach of signage and a themed-creative 30-second spot is no longer sufficient to engage today’s digitally-minded interactive sports fans.

PORTADA: What kind of content should brands provide sports fans to engage with them?

SW: Rights holders and broadcasters give fans an enormous amount of content focused on the sport itself, and the athletes and the teams participating – they are offering holistic coverage of what’s happening on the field. So it is a challenge for brands to try to provide similar information and expect to resonate with consumers.

The priority for brands should always be to add value to the fan experience. As long as marketers use that simple philosophy as their North Star, then fans will choose to engage with your brand and you reap the benefit.

Octagon client Delta Air Lines is an example of brand leveraging their sponsorship IP to create compelling content for fans. Whether it’s a prank-laden digital video featuring mascots from three rival universities, a heart-warming story about gifting bikes to local youth in Indiana, or a look inside LA Laker Jordan Clarkson’s passion for fashion and design, Delta is creating stories that help to enrich the fan experience.

PORTADA: Among so much information surrounding a sport, and even a specific sports event, how can a brand manage to get noticed, and stay relevant to a fan?

SW: The key to relevance should always start with a deep understanding of the fan and how they choose to feed their passion. Our research indicates that interactive fans are more likely to change their purchase behaviour as a result of sponsorship, so it’s imperative for a brand to understand how interactive fans use digital and social media to enhance their fan experience through a combination of platforms that may include: digital content, social media, data or fantasy.

PORTADA: What does it take to be a successful sports marketer?

SW: At Octagon, we understand that while it’s a wonderful time to be a sports fan, it’s also a challenging time to be a marketer. That’s where we come in. Where others see complexity, we help our clients see the possibilities and make the next right move.