As Live Sports Return To TV Screens, Digital Marketers Rev Up Campaign Efforts To Reach Fans

Marketers are feeling the uncertainty of the future of in-person sporting events as a result of ongoing social distancing requirements – affecting both the professional sportsleagues and the brands that work closely with them throughout their respective seasons. Nonetheless, following a long hiatus, professional sports are forging ahead, with the NBA, MLB and more back in swing, and marketers are celebrating with a slew of new campaigns, partnerships and inspirational ads.

Pepsi Goes All In On Multiple Sports Marketing Initiatives

Pepsi has been busy pushing their pandemic-friendly sports marketing efforts into full gear as of late. Most recently, the soft drink brand introduced “Made for Football Watching,” which it calls an “NFL marketing platform,” featuring multiple TV ad spots, customized retail products, interactive filters for social media and a standalone website. Each initiative within the Pepsi football platform is geared toward sports fans transitioning to the new at-home sports-viewing experience. “Despite disruptions stemming from the health crisis, Pepsi hasn't altered its spending around sports marketing, but rather tweaked its strategy to better account for pandemic-driven changes,” noted MarketingDive.

Pepsi also launched two fan-focused sweepstakes centered around the NHL and MLB seasons. Through the brand’s “Pepsi Zero Sugar NHL Shutout,” fans wereencouraged to post “special tags” on social media – using the #PepsiZeroScores hashtag – after any shutout game during the NHL Stanley Cup qualifiers for a chance to win $500,000. On the MLB front, Pepsi partnered with New York Yankees superstar Aaron Judge to entice fans to forget their planned to-do lists and instead use the “Judge Free Pass” to enjoy opening day. The Pepsi MLB promotion featured personalized “away” messages from Judge for fans to use and encouraged participants to share the #JudgeFreePass hashtag on Twitter.

“While there’s still a lot of uncertainty, the one thing I’m 100% certain of is that people will be watching,” said Todd Kaplan, VP of Marketing at Pepsi. “This is a nation that is starved for sports.”

Nike Ties Sports Marketing Efforts To The Ongoing Social Justice Movement

While many brands are doing their best to rally excitement around the return of sports, Nike took a different approach to their sports marketing efforts. Launching the “You Can’t Stop Us” campaign, Nike combined the return of the NBA season with the prevalent social justice movement, as many athletes are using their platforms to raise awareness and create meaningful change to combat racial inequality. The Nike campaign features several well-known athletes, including Megan Rapinoe, LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams and Colin Kaepernick. “Developed through research of more than 4,000 pieces of footage, the resulting montage underscores commonalities shared by athletes around the world,” Nike noted.

The campaign aims to show viewers that “a better future is possible,” while highlighting Nike’s alignment and dedication to today’s social causes, likely resonating with many consumers that seek brands taking action to create change and promote impactful messaging. The Nike “You Can’t Stop Us” ad brought in more than 31 million views on YouTube after only two days. “Players may be back on the pitch, but we are not going back to an old normal. We need to continue to reimagine this world and make it better,” said Rapinoe. “We have all these people in the streets, using their voices, and those voices are being heard. I ask people to be energized by this moment and not let up. I believe it’s everybody’s responsibility to advocate for change.”

Bodyarmor Sports Drink Partners With The U.S. Tennis Association, Just In Time For The U.S. Open Tournament

Bodyarmor Sports Drink aligned itself with the country’s biggest tennis event, the U.S. Open, through a multiyear partnership with the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA). As the official drink of the U.S. Open, Bodyarmor will give products to tournament players, with additional “digital marketing, social integrations, PR and retail events” still to come, according to MarketingDive. Rising tennis star Naomi Osaka will represent the Bodyarmor and U.S. Open partnership in an effort to attract a younger demographic.

With many major sporting events still being postponed or cancelled entirely, this year’s U.S. Open has the ability to bring in a major TV viewership, and, as a result, give increased exposure to the Bodyarmor brand. The lack of sports entertainment over the past several months has led to record-breaking viewership numbers throughout the summer. In fact, according to MarketingDive, “CBS Television Network’s live airing of the 2020 World Team Tennis Finals match was the most watched in the league's 45-year history.”

By shifting away from the traditional stadium activations and investing in at-home, digital experiences, marketers can still resonate with one of the largest audiences (sports fans) and maintain that sense of community so many sports lovers crave. However, marketers will need to continue evolving their strategies to maintain relevance and reflect the “new normal” as it exists any given time. 

“It’s [sports marketing] just going to look a little bit different this year, but I do think you're going to see a growing importance of the home,” added Kaplan.