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Amid Digital Sponsorship Options, Don’t Neglect Social Media

4 minute read | Max Barnett, SVP, Global Head of Digital, Nielsen Sports | May 2018

Digital has a growing share of total media investment for global brands, and rightfully so. Mobile usage in the U.S., for example, has skyrocketed to more than three hours per day, according to last year’s Mary Meeker report. Additionally, some industry onlookers claim that brands are now spending more than half of their media spend in the digital space.

Sponsorships on Social Media Channels

So with digital now a critical channel for brands, it’s no surprise that they’re actively looking to better understand and measure returns in the space. They’re also actively looking to social media and sponsorships as a way to amplify their digital returns. In fact, according to Social24, select sponsors are generating more than 40% of their total media value from their social media efforts relative to TV, online and print.

But it’s still early days for brands seeking high media value from social media activity, which means there’s still time to get in the game. Today, the global average social share for all brands we track is between 5% and 10%.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t outliers. In fact, a handful of leagues and brands are well ahead of the pack. The NBA, for example, generates 18% of its media value from its social media efforts. That translates into an estimated $350 million over the course of a season for all of the league and team’s official sponsors. Not bad, right?

Active Collaboration

So how are brands doing this? Firstly, they’ve realized that the era of contracts that stipulate “five Tweets per month” is coming to an end. Instead, they’re looking for more authentic ways to activate their campaigns via existing content stories being told by leagues and teams. Key content themes popular on social are training, behind the scenes and game-day build-up.

In many ways, activation has become a team sport. And in the social realm, that means collaboration and co-development of content and campaigns. And the proof is out there. The brands that are actively collaborating with teams and leagues are generating far more returns than those brands that go it alone. And the early adopters have quite a lead.

Branded Content

Much of the collaboration has come by way of branded content, and some major brands are deriving big wins from content they develop with leagues and teams. In looking at three brands that actively develop sponsored content in collaboration with the NBA and its teams, we can see that the efforts are paying off:

  • A telecommunications provider drives 84% of its social value from branded content
  • A beer sponsor drives 77% of its social value from branded content
  • A sports drink drives 71% of its social value from branded content

The trend toward using branded content isn’t new. Since Nielsen Sports began valuing social content five years ago, we’ve seen the value of branded content grow exponentially. Staying authentic and true to creating meaningful interactions is more important than ever, particularly in light of changes to Facebook’s algorithm.

Generating Value Along with Conversation

But savvy brands are adjusting—and they’re seeing results in return. For example, we’ve seen brands that collaborate with teams on branded content with exclusive access to team, league and athlete content drive significant share of value when compared against other brands in the leagues. NASCAR is a great example. Among the top 10 brands driving major returns from social media in 2017, NASCAR came out on top at 54%.

But social media isn’t just for brands. Teams can play in the space too, and Nielsen research shows that teams that have invested in social media early to acquire and engage fans derive more value from their social media efforts than others.

The teams that come out on top have larger social fan bases, and they tend to publish between 25 to 50 content themes (aka fan stories) across their social and digital channels 24/7. Example content themes include full-time scores, archive content and pre-game warmups.

Content Themes

When we look across the sports universe to in search of a content themes forerunner, European Soccer leads the way in terms of the variety of content themes it develops with its sponsors. Manchester City FC is a global leader in this respect, as it not only activates with sponsors around game-related content, but it also celebrates its global fan base through its partnership with Etihad Airways.

But Manchester City FC isn’t the only team that touts big gains for its sponsors. In the NBA, for example, the top 10 teams’ sponsors drive 60% of their media value from social media, with more than half of the value for their top sponsors coming from branded content.

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