When Brands Meet Sports Fans

How to create effective fan activation experiences...

It’s been a spectacular summer of sport. We’ve had a tremendous Tour de France, a wonderful Wimbledon and a fascinating FIFA World Cup. Here in the UK we’ve also had Test cricket, boxing at Wembley Stadium and the Commonwealth Games. And there’s more to come. The Rugby World Cup comes to town next year, the Ashes is also on our shores, plus a host of other events too.

The most passionate fans buy the ticket, don the colours and make sure they’re there at the event. Being there too (sponsor or otherwise) creates an amazing opportunity to build truly meaningful relationships with this audience. But only if it’s a relevant, appropriate experience that really demonstrates how you share their passion.

So how do you do this effectively without intruding, patronising, or even worse – turning fans off your brand with a poor experience?

They are not there for you...

Rule number one, and an obvious one. But always something to have in the back of your mind when planning your experiential activation. You will always be a side-note to the main event, no matter how big and bold your presence is. So act accordingly, with a tone of voice that reflects this.

Understand the mindset of the fan at every juncture: before the event (I only have a certain window of time to talk to you, so get to the point) and after it (whatever you do has to be captivating if you want me to stick around). Make sure whatever you do reflects and respects this.

Get the right staff - and train them properly.

This could be applied to any experiential activation where you’re relying on promotional staff to be the face of your brand. But it’s as relevant here as anywhere. Sports fans can be a trying bunch; they’re not there purely to engage with you, there may be alcohol involved, and passions may well be running high if it’s a big match where supporters are especially loyal to their teams.

Having well-trained and experienced staff who understand all this means you’re less likely to encounter any issues. Make sure they’re immersed in your brand, understanding exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing and knowing as much about your audience as you do. Even better – recruit staff who are fans of that sport themselves, and can converse on your audience’s level.

For sports fans heading to watch their favourite team live, it rarely gets better than that. But with a little creative thinking, you can find ways to improve their day even more.

Clever giveaways (we once handed out HTC-branded periscopes to cycling fans in the back few rows) can add something extra. Also think about the kinds of opportunities that the average fan doesn’t normally get – access to certain areas, or additional information like stats and tips that you can provide.

If you’re a sponsor, use your access to individuals or stadia creatively. How can you go above and beyond the usual meet-and-greets to give your audience a truly amazing experience?

Make the link in a relevant way.

There’s a reason you’re aligning your brand with the sport you’re targeting. The values you share with that sports will also be values that its fans hold dear. So think carefully about how an experience could link your brand/ product with the sport in a way that communicates this message.

Much of our experiential work with Castrol is around their FIFA and UEFA sponsorships. Their messaging at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was all about the brand’s understanding of performance. So we created an activation outside Soccer City in Johannesburg in which fans got to measure their own ‘performance’ by racing against Cristiano Ronaldo on a dribbling course – Ronaldo on a life-size video wall, and them on the same course in real life. It was hugely popular, and won two awards as part of the wider experiential campaign.

Engage their passion points...

It’s easy to see why brands get involved in sport. You don’t create the emotional appeal, you ride on its waves. And proving that you’re in tune with that emotion, that your brand lives and breathes the sport as much as they do, gives you such a captive, tuned-in audience.

But sometimes it’s easier said than done, and your audience will see straight through you if it’s a bad fit or if you’re lacking in authenticity. So try to really delve deep down into what it is about that sport or that team that fans are most passionate about. As already mentioned, put yourself in their shoes. What do they want that you can give them?

It’s also important to be sensitive to sport’s ebbs and flows. There are bad times as well as good, and your brand may well be in the thick of things for both. So plan for this, train your staff appropriately, and you’ll avoid any negative consequences.

Be original.

We’ve lost count of the amount of tennis events we’ve been to where brands invite fans to ‘see how fast their serve is’. And we’ve agonised about those who repurpose activities such as a bucking bronco and chucked in a tenuous link to ‘strength’ or ‘endurance’.

These activities may well draw in a crowd, but do they really communicate your brand and your message in the way you want them to? Will they make your brand truly stand out? And will they give people the impression that you’re original and different from the rest?

Don’t settle for mediocre. Create relevant, engaging experiences that your audience will talk about above all others.


- Guy Tremlett
Creative Director, SET LIVE