As the dust begins to settle on the majority of the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification rounds, we now know the identity of (almost) all of the teams who will be heading to Russia next summer, with only a handful of places left to be claimed.
Qualification is a serious matter, not just for fans, players, managers and governing bodies but for brands too. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event on the planet, with the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Brazil drawing almost one billion viewers alone.
With so many eyes watching, sponsorship and branding around the competition is big money, with thousands of brands owning a multitude of rights and competing to produce branded content that will stand out amongst the considerable crowd.
There have been some interesting developments over the past few weeks in this pursuit of attention. Most recently, Australian striker Tim Cahill showcased a ‘sponsored’ goal celebration on behalf of an Australian travel company for whom he is the ambassador. A move which has caused quite a stir amongst both football media; who bemoaned the never-ending commercialisation of ‘the beautiful game’, as well as the game’s governing bodies who may yet investigate Cahill under the same laws which prohibit removing one’s shirt to reveal slogans or advertising.
Popular character Harry Redknapp recently tweeted his enthusiasm for cryptocurrency, a move which confused many, as fans struggled to draw the link between ‘Arry and the digital payment method. In the absence of a clear link, football fans assumed Harry had simply been paid to post, despite the company sharing tweets denying this.
Football audiences are unique. They can be tribal, intensely sceptical and frustratingly demanding. At the same time, they can also be rich cultural hubs, empowering communities, and downright hilarious.
Whilst there are many nuances to each football crowd, I believe there are some general rules which can be applied when deciding on the best way to maximise sponsorship rights and to produce engaging, motivating branded content which strikes the right chord with your audience:
Be Fan-focused – Football and sport in general is nothing without the fans. Understanding who they are, their unique fan culture, their traditions and their history is a must. Few audiences will be less forgiving if you miss the mark, but few will be more appreciative of content created for them, by a brand who understands them.
Ensure relevance and authenticity – For the most part, content should have a clear, authentic link between brand, sportsperson and creative concept. As was made clear with the Harry Redknapp/cryptocurrency example, in the absence of a clear link fans were taken aback by the comment and it was clear by their reaction that it came across disingenuous. Even though it’s been said that Harry had posted it as a personal point of view, it is likely that potential positive brand associations, were diminished from what they might have been.
Add to the experience and culture – Branded content must add to and enrich the football culture and conversation. The biggest asset that brands have at their fingertips is often the access to the clubs and players that their sponsorship rights give them. Tapping into this and bringing fans closer to their idols, in a way that they haven’t experienced before, is perhaps the most powerful tool of all.