In 2005, author Thomas L. Friedman released the critically-acclaimed best seller, The World is Flat. In it he posited that advances in technology – telecommunications, software and consumer-generated media to name just three – have created an environment where competition for jobs is no longer based on geography or industrial capital. For the sports marketer, a parallel trend has emerged simultaneously and on no less global a scale. In fact, this flattening described by Friedman has helped to create an environment burgeoning with opportunity for the global sports marketer.
The proliferation of new generation communication and distribution channels such as broadband, mobile telephony and satellite television has changed the way people consume and experience sports. Nothing less than a paradigm shift has occurred and sports marketers, to truly maximize their investments, must re-evaluate their entire communications mix. We live in a world where a sports fan in New York can be seen wearing the football (soccer) jersey of a team based in London with the name and number of a player from the Ivory Coast on the back. How do you target someone like that, and with what message?
The most watched sporting event of 2007 may have been the Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears, but take a look at some of the other events in the Top 10: The Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa came in at number four with a reach of 61 million fans; the Handball World Championships drew 56 million to land at number seven, and; the Twenty20 Cricket final from South Africa rounded out the top 10, netting 40 million viewers. Those are big numbers for so-called second or third tier sports. For savvy marketers that represents an opportunity.
Last year I was involved with the launch of a major sports-based initiative on behalf of Gillette. The global program involved three brand ambassadors. Less than a decade ago it’s likely the program would have featured an American football player, baseball player and basketball player. But today the sports chosen were golf, tennis and football (soccer) – global sports, with global ambassadors: Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Thierry Henry. The location for the launch? Not New York, London or even Paris, but their 21st century counterpart: Dubai, U.A.E.
Last season FedEx, another American brand, named several NBA stars as brand ambassadors. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony? No, the focus was on foreign-born players representing previous sports marketing backwaters such as Russia, Argentina and Serbia. Deals like this are sure to increase in frequency as barriers of language, geography and time have little meaning to today’s sports fan.
Next week, part two of my look at the Flattening World of Sports Marketing