The sporting year in 2020 already looks like one of great excitement. From football to golf, and from cricket to rugby – not forgetting the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo – sports fans around the world will be spoilt for choice over the next 12 months. Here, UCFB’s Shana Axcell, a lecturer in sports marketing, takes a look at how each tournament might look to capture their audience and promote itself above other events…

Being a proud South African and a sports marketing lecturer for UCFB, I’m always drawn to sports fan engagement and how major events build excitement pre, during and post event.

2020 is going to be an exciting year for sports fans with events like the Olympics, Euro 2020, the men’s and women’s T20 World Cups, Ryder Cup, Copa America and Six Nations! But how do all these sports capture your attention when there are so many fighting for a ‘share of the fan’s mind’?

Here’s what some of my second-year events marketing students had to say:

“Martin Garrix (DJ and Producer) has been presented as the official producer for the Euro2020 song. He was unveiled at the Amsterdam dance event on 19th October 2019. This is an effective way of showing two-way communication and an interesting guerrilla marketing technique as he was showcased to a live audience.” – Joe Jackson & Oliver Thatcher 

“The 2020 Team GB marketing campaign for the Olympic games in Tokyo showcases a minute-long video, which is made up of entirely black and white footage. It’s a very inspiring video which stands out more in comparison to other sporting adverts, due to how it is presented in a different light. The video highlights all the major sports that were played in over different years and shows many role models that will be competing, and who have previously competed.” – Jake Hockin

“I think that the International Cricket Council (ICC) are currently keeping cricket relevant with the videos they are posting on the ICC website regarding the best moments of the T20 qualifiers. However, I think the ICC need to keep the storyline of Ben Stokes alive, by covering the inspiring innings he playing during the World Cup final in July, which was essentially played in the style of T20 cricket. As for the women’s T20 World Cup, they should focus on players like Ellyse Perry and Tammy Beaumont to create a hype around the tournament.” - Sahil Sharma

“The theme of the Euro 2020 tournament will have a focus on the 60th anniversary of the tournament, and will be hosted across 12 different countries. I believe with the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU looming and the negativity surrounding future relationships in Europe, the importance of hosting across multiple countries has significant potential to grow, restore or create relationships within the European community – especially with England holding both semi-finals and the final. The tournament’s marketing campaigns will aim to target demographics based on the geographical location of the event; it will provide an opportunity to grow football by tapping into multiple different cultures and footballing backgrounds and aim to bring Europe together. The multi-host aspect has already proven to be a success with UEFA claiming over 19.3 million ticket requests, double that of the 2016 tournament (, 2019). This is likely due to the logistical variety fans and consumers have, making it much more likely they will be able to access an event without huge travel costs. Additionally, with the staggering growth of women’s football, the female demographic has become a major target market, so they would see this as an avenue to explore.” – James Cuneen

There'll be no Usain Bolt at the Olympic Games this summer for the first time since 2008.

Events rely on sponsorships, but in the same token, brands benefit from the global exposure of major events like the Olympic Games. Airbnb recently announced their partnership with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in providing unique experiences for fans, and in return, will benefit from exposure in an Asian market they are trying to dominate. However, the key to these successful sponsorship deals is ensuring the brand fits with the event.

The build-up to the event is often the most critical stage of marketing a successful global sports event. It has been proven over and over again that adverts achieve significantly higher reach and engagement when released in the weeks leading up to the event; WARC (2019) claimed that pre-released ads generated 57% more mentions in social media than those that premiered on the day of the game.

For the fan attending a sports event, they want a unique, unforgettable experience that is easily ‘Instagrammable’. For example, the 2020 Ryder Cup have offered fans packages including daily grounds passes, hotel accommodations, transportation to the golf course and Ryder Cup souvenirs with additional options for upgrades, an invitation to the Welcome Event and other premium offerings.

For the fan watching at home, consumption of the 2020 sports events will be vastly different to a decade ago. The 2020 sports fan wants real-time footage and constant entertainment, no matter the time or day. The sports fan of 2020 will be fully immersed into the sports event experience and thus want 24/7 content, possibly even on more than one device. Eurosport (owned by Discovery) have recently agreed a content and advertising deal with Twitter whereby they will be publishing real-time highlights of the Olympics to over 16 European countries. GumGum Sports research shows that non-owned and operated (unofficial) channels account for a substantial proportion (up to 90%) of sponsor value on social. Successful social engagement with the sports fan should include video highlights, GIFs, memes and livestreams. All of these tools will consistently engage the modern sports fan that is digitally connected. The traditional ‘pub banter’ has now transformed into ‘social media banter’ and events need to make provision for this new trend.

Another trend in sports events marketing is the integration of sports with the music and fashion industry. Often people are drawn to watch the Super Bowl just because of the half-time show, to witness artists such as Lady Gaga and Beyonce. Another recent example was the collaboration between Juventus, Adidas and Palace who designed the Italian side’s new ‘glow in the dark’ kit. The Generation Z sports fan engages with brands that are part of their ‘pop culture’ and sports events should seriously consider merging with some of the well-known fashion and music icons of the world to try and appeal to a much wider audience.

Alongside this, a recurring theme in the success of sports events marketing is telling the life story about one of the featured athletes and the challenges they had to overcome to be playing in a global sports event. This is shown through the success of Nike adverts, which typically represent the ‘underdog’ and the athlete who overcame tragedies in their journey to global fandom. Everyone loves a feel good story, and often these emotional tales are viral hits shared by even the non-sports fan on social media, thereby driving more positive publicity towards the event.

An example of this was during the 2019 Rugby World Cup where Siya Kolisi, the South African captain, had his life story shared by the tournament on all of their social media outlets. The first paragraph read: “The Siya Kolisi story reads like a Hollywood movie script. From hunger and deprivation in an Eastern Cape township to hero-worshipped captain of South Africa's rugby team.” Overnight, the Rugby World Cup had established Kolisi as a global hero, and inspired both rugby and non-rugby fans alike. As former South Africa president Nelson Mandela once famously said: “Sport has the power to change the world.”

Global sports events in 2020 have the power to make this change and inspire millions of fans around the world.