In much the same way sporting achievement and on-field standards have increased steadily over recent decades, the age of online and the growth of digital has meant brands and sponsors have had to move with the times to keep up with, and continue to stand out from, the crowd.
In days gone by, it may have been sufficient to simply appear on the front of a shirt or the backdrop to a press conference. However, the crowded nature of the modern digital landscape means companies need to work harder and smarter to engage with audiences.
The growth of digital has been something of a double-edged sword in certain industries, bringing an increase in competition and a tougher battle for attention but also offering greater opportunities for growth.
In marketing, advancements in technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning mean sponsors can increasingly arm themselves with a greater array of tools to get their message across.
The betting industry is one sector with a particularly saturated online advertising market but it is also one where operators are still managing to secure strong penetration. Shirt sponsorship remains popular with bookmakers, while the shrewder ones are also looking to automated digital advertising, player rights and wide-ranging packages to get their message across.
A blend of traditional advertising to raise awareness and tech-driven digital tactics to improve transparency and efficiency is increasingly proving the right mix for bookmakers of all sizes.
One such operator is Malta-based Interwetten – a brand which this season added Sporting Gijon to a portfolio that also includes German top-flight clubs Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg. The bookmaker also counts La Liga clubs Espanyol and Sevilla among its former partners, with Interwetten clearly retaining a strong interest in soccer audiences.
Dominik Beier, Interwetten’s speaker of the board, believes the latest partnership - facilitated by ad:s, Sportradar’s marketing service for bookmakers, and CA Sports Marketing - highlights the need to be smart with marketing spend.
“Football continues to be a great area for us to invest our marketing and ad spend,” Beier explains.
“However, there has been a sea change in the last few years towards a more targeted approach. Raising brand awareness is a minimum for Interwetten now, we also want to be using tools like programmatic advertising to get the best ROI possible.”
As part of its continued expansion into the Spanish market, Interwetten is not only able to use the automated programmatic advertising solution from ad:s, it also has access to a range of player and club rights from Gijon.
It means Beier and the company can continue to generate brand awareness in Spain with front-of-shirt branding but remain targeted with their approach by using AI and algorithm-driven marketing to focus in on Interwetten’s core audience.
Tania Sánchez, Sporting Gijon’s marketing manager, explains: “During the last decade, brands just needed to increase brand awareness to be known and there weren’t too many competitors. Nowadays, the situation has changed. Clubs have to create ad-hoc packages to fit all the [brand’s] needs.
“Image rights, digital activations, regional partners, player access or VIP experiences are just some of the main assets that could be included in the agreements.”
Ensuring such agreements are a two-way street is also key. Interwetten is not just benefitting from Gijon’s reach in Spain, it is also hosting an educational Sportradar workshop for players and staff to highlight issues around match fixing and betting restrictions.
Sánchez describes the right fit between the two entities as “crucial”, adding: “Sponsorship is a way to develop business following a specific strategy so, if you don’t select the suitable club, you won’t reach your targeted audience.
“Sponsorship is actually quite a young industry, which has just started to become more professional, and during the last ten years there have been many changes in terms of how clubs, brands and agencies manage sponsorship deals. There are still a lot of things to improve but we have seen progress in terms of the clubs’ management and how brands select their assets.”
Betting operators' work in soccer sponsorship has proved a sore spot in terms of public relations, with Paddy Power’s recent ‘unsponsoring’ campaign propelling the issue back into the spotlight.
That debate will run and run, but operators need not start from scratch in response. Front-of-shirt sponsorships will continue to be a strong option for bookmakers of all sizes but they should not pass up the chance to solidify those agreements with targeted, data-driven insights.
The prospect of both raising awareness on the front of a shirt while also getting a better return on digital investments should be an open goal for operators in what is now an increasingly crowded online playing field.