Sponsorship ‘Trends’ 2022
Updated: Apr 20
The past 3 years’ trends in Sponsorship (and most other industries for that matter), have been one of the industry’s hot topics. Understandably so, since the industry has seen its very essence turned on its head and had to constantly evolve from no sport and gatherings, to sport with no live audience, limited audiences, full audiences and ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ between any combinations of the afore-mentioned limitations.
With the landscape shift, the industry had to look for new and innovative ways to leverage and create leverage opportunities for brands with learnings from industry peers and trends leading the process of developing strategies and tactics. A recent article released by The UK Sponsorship Awards, took a comprehensive look at the trends and themes for Sponsorship in 2022, but how do these play out in the South African context?
First was the need for a Plan B. I think that the options available have previously existed but what has changed is the order of importance. Whereas in pre-COVID times leveraging tactics at matches, hospitality etc would have taken preference over social media and digital presence, the match day restrictions have seen brands needing to leverage the available opportunities, which has seen an exponential increase in social media and digital presence to sometimes huge successes. Digital has allowed brands to have the always-on presence which was always spoken about but then thought of as the blue sky idea and not always successfully implemented.
Through social media and digital platforms, brands have been able to increase and improve engagement with fans. More opportunities to engage with fans, rewarding fans and the seeding brand or product messages have been realised through online platforms. With sport normalising and fans coming back into stadiums, will brands revert back to the old way of leveraging sponsorships with match day activations, given cost vs engagement ratios or has online become king? Has Plan B become Plan A?
Going green has been rather topical lately, but more so in more developed nations with South Africa, somewhat lagging in taking up the challenge most likely due to priorities and challenges being different. The reality of climate change and the responsibility of industries to do their bit in adopting a green policy is real if they themselves are to remain competitive and, more importantly, create a brighter future for the next generation. While going green is in most cases a corporate affairs function, a sponsorship being cognisant of such and being a contributor to these goals is always a good story to tell. Early adoption will see brands become trend setters in this area.
Corporate green responsibility leads to the discussion around community activism. Communities are ultimately the reason for your brands existence and product and service sales. Sponsorship platforms allow brands access to communities and the tools to initiate programs for post-pandemic restoration and social cohesion.
Checks and balances and undertaking a comprehensive due diligence exercise has always been imperative in any new sponsorship. The attributes, successes and failures of brands and sponsored properties become the attributes of the collective, so, we win together, we lose together. With anyone with a social media account now having social commentator status, it has become more imperative that checks and balances are thorough when brands associate with sporting bodies or individual sport stars or celebrities to avoid societal backlash when ethics or actions of the sponsored party are brought into question. Trial by social media is usually swift and effective and often guilt is assumed so consider the risk with high profile association.
I must agree with the written piece from The UK Sponsorship Awards that digital platform success is often thought of in terms of followers and likes. These however do not necessarily translate into brand engagement, brand loyalty and ultimately sales. Learnings have shown that creating opportunities for engagement often go hand in hand with prizes and rewards up for grabs. Reward audiences and fans who engage more and the quality of engagement will improve. These fans will ultimately set the bar for other fans and with time, brands will be able influence the quality of a fans’ engagement. Be aware though, once you set the bar, you’ll need to keep it up!
Having earlier touched on the point of a plan B, there is no doubt that there is no substitute for the physical experience. Digital environments will only allow for fan satisfaction up to a point and brands should look to enhance that physical experience. The real question which we’ll be looking to answer is by how much the fans live consumption pattern might have changed. Do they still want the same experiences as before? The test would be to put all the traditional activations into play along with the digital learnings from the past two years, and see how fans react to determine how best to cater to their needs. My guess is that fan consumption has evolved but by how much we’ll need to wait and see.
The 360-degree content ecosystem has been rather well implemented by the majority of South African sponsors. Gone are the days of just erecting branding and building a commercial display stand. The leveraging opportunities extend into multiple consumption touchpoints in both the physical and digital environments. This has allowed brands to deliver the always on association with sponsored properties and extend engagement in the digital environment.
While E-sports has been around and growing steadily for the last 7 years, the pandemic triggered rapid growth in this area. Technological advancement has also seen improvement of the E-sport experience, supported by refinement of VR, AR and AI experiences. The enabler of the experience is connectivity and increased network speeds while connectivity cost reduction has seen audiences and engagement increase. Consumer tech companies are particularly well positioned to take advantage of these sponsorship opportunities; it’s a natural fit and showcase for the sponsors products. Disruption sure brings opportunity.
The past 2 years has seen the politicisation of sport on a global scale largely spurned on by the growing trend by athletes to ‘take the knee’ in protest to racism. While politics has always been close to sport in South Africa due to our political history, the global uptake has opened the topic to more constructive discussion with sport having served as a platform to effect societal reparations. With long standing rhetoric having been to keep politics out of sport, how ironic that it was sport that provided the platform for political discussion? Brands have often taken the stance of being apolitical; this new trend could however open the opportunity for brands to issue a statement about their values. Alternatively, brands could still choose to not take up a stance on social activism but there is the risk that their position could then be dictated by society by association through a particular sponsorship and the stance adopted by that sponsorship.
Women’s sport has seen a massive upsurgence in recent years. In South Africa we’ve had Banyana Banyana qualify for the World Cup and Springboks Women’s Rugby embark on more tours to stiffer global competition. Women’s interest in sport as spectators has also increased to the point where rugby audiences in South Africa reached a peak of 49% in 2019.
In conclusion, we’ve seen some drastic changes and have had to adapt to ensure the ongoing existence of sport and its commercial viability. Trends are based on what has been done and the outcomes and offer learnings and maybe a glimpse at what the future might hold. Every brand and sponsorship partnership are unique and will bring a different set of opportunities - therefore take it back to your set of first principles. Why did you sponsor a particular property, what does that property represent, what are the opportunities, what would you like to achieve? Maybe next time the trend will have been set by your unique thinking…
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