Football is one step away from becoming one huge bulletin board

COVID-19 has set the stage, and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has shown how powerful a platform a football pitch can be. Top brands will follow and take advantage of everything the new football reality is offering. 

Football has been massively hit by lockdown. Premier League clubs face a one billion pounds reduction in their combined revenues for the 2019-20 season. Half of the reduction will be permanently lost due to rebates to broadcasters and commercial partners and the other half takes form in the collapse of matchday revenue with games played behind closed doors.

Football landscape has been substantially altered. The existing revenue streams need to be adjusted for clubs to pull through the most significant crisis they have ever experienced. The revenue stream that has the biggest manoeuvre potential is selling advertising space.

Sponsors are a huge part of the football culture. They have always known which club and which players to associate with to achieve a broad reach. Clubs’ advertising sales representatives always know which part of advertising space to offer to sponsors, so their logos get caught by the camera and get exposed to billions of fans around the world.

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has proved how significant a promotion potentially lays in empty stands. Sponsors are following the example, and we can already see stands covered with huge logos such as Nike, Adidas and Puma.

With David Wright, Football business expert and former Soccerex Director, we discussed the future of football advertising. It was important to understand whether more advertising is better for brand partners.

“While the obvious answer is yes, when the volume of messaging becomes overwhelming it becomes more difficult for brands to stand out and for those that do there is the negative impact of being associated with an overly commercialised approach.”

A glaring example, as Mr Wright calls it, ‘overly commercialised approach’ recently took place in the ‘MLS is Back Tournament’ when virtual ten yard-long Adidas logo, valued at between $75-100K per match, was located in the centre circle of the pitch.

“That case is interesting because we could see the industry backlash with many accusing the league and Adidas of ‘selling out’ despite similar on pitch branding being commonplace in other sports such as rugby and cricket,” Mr Wright explained.

In the same time, from the expert’s point of view, such an expensive logo strategy seems to be out of time if we take into consideration companies aim for more inclusive advertising strategies.

“With sponsorship strategies having long since moved away from the ‘logo-slap’ approach, brands are today looking for deeper, more collaborative partnerships with sports properties that can enable richer, more personalised relationships with fanbases.”

However, it seems that the notion of additional sponsorship properties appeals to Premier League clubs. The reason may lay in the increased awareness of supporting social causes. Opposite to the negative impact generated by placing logo next to other company’s logo, placing logos next to the empowering messages such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Thank you NHS’ is alluring to brands. 

“It is estimated that Premier League have given the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement more than £25 million in advertising value equivalency,” Mr Wright says.

“If increased in-stadium advertising is to continue next season, it could offer invaluable promotion for the third sector and clubs could strike a balance between the commercial and social that increased both their bottom line and their overall brand value.”

In recent years the advertising market has seen the rise of companies like Supponor, which replace traditional perimeter advertising in sports broadcasts with virtual and digital content. Fans across the world watching live sporting events see live TV matches, but with pitch-side advertisements relevant to them, based on their location. 

When fans are back in the stadiums, naturally, there will not be any space for logos and other messages on the stands anymore, so everything will return to normal. Fans will be paying for tickets, and logos will be placed next to the pitch as had always been the case. However, Mr Wright believes the current trends that emerged during the pandemic have immense potential for the future of advertising.

“Fake fan noise seems to be the resounding preference when watching restart games from home so, when real fans – and the atmosphere they create – return, will the TV viewer need to see them to get an acceptable match experience?” Mr. Wright asks himself.

“Recently, I ran a poll via my LinkedIn network. I asked if people preferred watching football since the restart with or without the virtual fan noise – 68% said they preferred matches with virtual fan noise, 32% preferred without it. Could there be an opportunity to use the virtual in-game advertising technology, provided by companies like Supponor, to turn blocks of the stadium into virtual advertising boards, only visible on TV, which can be populated with geotargeted messages for the clubs growing array of global partners?”


About the author

My passion is life. Sorry, I meant football! My vision is to write about the economy, sociology, technology, medicine and particularly philosophy, but using football as a channel to describe, explain and present phenomena happening in those fields of society. Most of the time philosophy is abstract, but using football as a tool, I can make it understandable to readers. Since I have been following football for 15 years, football is my main source of knowledge, and therefore my tool to write. I have realised that football mirrors society so everything we face in daily life exists in football as well. Everything! I want to show that to readers, and make them understand what really means when they say: "Football is life."

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