Two Circles was the BT Sport Industry Agency of the Year in 2017 (a big deal in the industry). The data-driven (they analyze billions of fans, customers and audiences across transactional, web, social, mobile and digital campaigns) sports marketing agency is well known in London (they work with Formula 1, a number of EPL clubs, Wimbledon), but just started taking on U.S. rights holders in 2016. I had a chance to speak with SVP Mark Thompson, and ask him a few questions about changing consumer viewing habits, experiential marketing and Amazon/Facebook’s impact on the future of sports sponsorships.
JWS: How are changing consumer viewing habits impacting the sports sponsorship market?
Mark: Sports sponsorship is in a state of flux. The top of the market remains relatively robust but changes in consumption habits have lead brands to Google, Facebook etc. who can offer specific audiences and a more robust evaluation process. Rights-holders must work to sell to one-to-one relationships that are owned versus relying on top line media and social footprint numbers. Demonstrating an understanding of fan demographics will not be enough without the same level of comprehension of attitudinal and behavioral data. We expect to see digital assets will become an increasingly important part of the partnership asset mix and rights-holders and brands will increasingly work together to track their return on investment.
JWS: Experiential marketing is more popular than ever. Why are brands moving in that direction as opposed to traditional sports sponsorship model (i.e. in stadium signage)?
Mark: Sponsorship has always been most frequently employed as a marketing tool to assist at the early stages of the customer life cycle (e.g. awareness) and been largely tracked by media equivalency for signage and surveying sentiment to assess the overall impact. Brands are increasingly investing a higher proportion of spend into experiences designed at the purchase stage for new buyers or upselling existing ones. The opulent sponsored premium areas in the new stadia speak to this. This has been made possible as brands and rights-holders use data better to identify, reach and engage high spending individuals/corporations and assess the impact. If you want to show-off a new high-end car as part of your partnership with a sports team, getting a small number of the right buyers engaged with a unique experience can be a better investment than getting a lot of visibility from people unlikely to actually buy your car.
JWS: You see stories daily about Amazon or Facebook acquiring sports rights. How does their ability to collect data/use data alter the future of sports sponsorships?
Mark: Amazon’s investment in broadcasting is a game-changer for B2C sports sponsors and advertisers.They will be able to slice and dice specific audiences for brands and thus increase the value of each viewer for the rights-holder. Don’t want to advert to anyone over 45, or a specific geography? No problem, as someone else will and will pay good money to. In addition, they will be able to monitor, record and communicate the effect that advert has had on consumption in the short and medium term on a channel taking up an increasingly high proportion of our daily spend. The availability and insight driven from data will transform sport’s ability to compete with other sources of marketing dollars. The ability to track web behavior on Google after viewing a piece of sponsored content on YouTube demonstrates value of the sponsorship not previously quantified.
Howie: Two Circles is a part of Group M, a WPP company (WPP). WPP is a London based multinational advertising and PR firm, traded on the NYSE. In late October, the company cut its 2017 earnings projections down to 0, while reporting a 1.1% drop in Q3 ’17 net sales. The company will report on Q4 and full year ’17, on March 2nd.
Fan Marino: Two Circles has built an impressive client base in the U.K., but I was more interested in hearing the names of some clients they’re working with on this side of the pond (the website, currently under redevelopment, doesn’t identify them). Can you name U.S. rights holders that you’re currently working with?
Mark: Sure, the NFL (and some individual teams), MLS, the Association of Volleyball Professionals Tour and the United States’ 2026 World Cup bid.
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