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James Perrin

How Digital Marketing is Changing the Sports Industry

23rd Jul 2012 Brand 12 minutes to read

This week sees London host the long awaited Olympic Games. With the event being dubbed as the first truly Digital games, it got me thinking; Digital Marketing has truly changed the way sport is consumed, packaged and sold to consumers. Let’s take a closer look at what I mean.

Now, before we start, let’s clarify exactly what I mean by both Digital Marketing and the Sports Industry. Digital Marketing is a term that encompasses modern marketing techniques used online, for example, Social Media, Blogging, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Pay per Click Management (PPC), Branding, Content Marketing, Video Marketing and App creation. As for the Sports Industry, well, this really is as broad as it gets. From a performance point of view, this could be the marketing of a sports event, an athlete, a club/team, as well as sporting professional such as psychologists, physiotherapists, nutritionist, etc. Then there are the businesses and retailers offering sporting goods and services who also rely on Digital Marketing as a key driver for their business.

Whether it’s your favourite football team, sports event, retailer or competitor, being seen online, as well as engaging with supporters and customers is now a vital aspect for effective sports marketing. In this case, it is worth highlighting individual examples to explain how Digital Marketing is helping to change the sporting world. I’ll also provide real world tips, using high profile examples so that anyone looking to market sport online can take away useful insights into the way they can optimise their Digital Marketing campaigns.

Social Media and Sports

The biggest change to the sports industry has been the advent of social media. With platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, there are millions of users for sports brands to promote themselves to. This is by no means a recent thing either, as sports people and their respective clubs and teams utilise such platforms to harness branding as well as engagement to make their fans’ online experience all the more rewarding.

For the average sports fan, affording expensive tickets to see an event is often extremely challenging, both in financial and often geographical terms. What social media does is bridge the ever increasing gap between the expense of live fandom and the free exposure of social media. In effect, this has created a new form of fandom, one which takes advantage of the new digital age.

Whether it’s exclusive content or live updates during a sports event, more and more fans are taken in by the power of sports social media. From the picture above, you can see how the Team GB Twitter page is getting geared up for the Olympics. Not only are they running all sorts of fun and engaging competitions and interactivity with fans, but they’re also providing live updates with news stories as well as the events as they happen.

In addition, Econsultancy recently ran a story regarding Manchester City’s social media strategy, which focusses on engagement. Whilst this is a bit of a no-brainer, after all, social media is a fantastic way of building your online branding through quality user experiences, it is possible to also drive additional traffic to your website from social media, if that’s your goal.

For any sports person, team, club or retailer who is reading this, ensure that your social media strategy is focussed towards user engagement. Ask questions, share information, run competitions, promote awareness of events, and so on. This will help to enhance your brand awareness, as well as create a platform for you to promote any products or services. Where appropriate, always link back to your website, so if you are running a competition, host the main details on your site, or ask them to visit your blog for more details. Not only will this get people liking your Facebook page or following you on Twitter, but you’ll also generate additional traffic to your site too.

A word of caution though, when you do interact with fans or users, be sure not to make any gaffes or faux pas, as this could harm your efforts, as well as your brand. In addition to the litany of sportspeople who seem to be prone to making stupid mistakes on the likes of Twitter, mainly footballers, there are also the clubs and sports brands that get it wrong from time-to-time. If you have any examples of social media fails from sportspeople that you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments section, but let’s take Liverpool Football Club for example – they took to the micro-blogging site to ask fans who should be their next manager.

For many, this came across as a desperate attempt for the fans to decide who the club should sign, rather than a competent and well-run hierarchy. Whilst Liverpool FC protest that this was taken out of context as they were just running a poll to see who their fans think should be the next manager, it came across as if they needed suggestions. In any case, it was a rookie mistake.

So, when it comes to writing updates or sharing information, remember, whilst it needs to be interactive and engaging, you also don’t want to harm your brand image, otherwise this could be a very costly mistake.


Teams and clubs across a variety of different sports have used blogging as a great way to showcase more of a human and real side to the trials and tribulations of supporting a particular team or club. Even national and local newspapers now have dedicated blog sections, where supporters can write down their thoughts of their Saturday or Sunday afternoon endeavours (or midweek evenings too for that matter). Sports fans now have huge numbers of followers and are part of a much larger online sports community. In addition to forums and chatrooms, many dedicated and die-hard fans set up and populate their own blogs with relevant and engaging material.

Some clubs hardly engage with their bloggers – not only is this doing little to garner their support, they’re missing a trick too. Other clubs, for example Arsenal Football Club, have a strong following when it comes to the online community. Thousands of different blog owners all like to share their views on what’s happening with the club both on and off the pitch, and Arsenal FC worked with blog owners to get a particular story out to their community of followers.

In short, the club had received negative press regarding the quality of medical care for its players. After launching a new state of the art medical centre, they utilised a blogger outreach programme to help generate positive publicity amongst their online community – and it worked too. For more information, see my previous post on this story, Arsenal FC See the Power of Online PR.

So what can you take away from this? Look to work with bloggers on a regular basis. Give them exposure on your website, or even provide them with exclusive stories for them to write about. This will garner far more favourable online coverage, especially if you’re a smaller sports brand that needs such online exposure.

SEO and Sports

Believe it or not, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has taken on huge prominence within the sports industry. Whilst social media and blogging can be used to engage with fans on a much more personal level, it is SEO that’s been used to enhance exposure and generate additional traffic to websites. For example, many retailers as well as sports professionals such as freelance nutritionists, psychologists, physiologists, fitness coaches and personal trainers have taken to SEO to raise their profile within the search engine results’ pages (SERPs).

As you can see from the above image, when searching for a term as competitive as, ‘sports shoes’, you can see the advantages of gaining that number one spot. Within my annotation I have just highlighted the Meta, and how well this has been optimised. However, any SEOer will tell you that much more goes into SEO campaigns. Even such optimised Meta is no longer an actual ranking factor, but rather a way to enhance Click through Rate (CTR), which in the example above would work incredibly effectively, given that I was searching for ‘Running Shoes’.

In addition, if you’re a freelance coach for any sport and exercise specialist, then utilising the search engines to promote your business or just yourself is an excellent way of achieving additional traffic, and potential custom. In the above example, there’s clearly a need to rank well for the term ‘Sports Psychologist Southampton’, especially if any sports person or team are specifically looking for specific expertise – something to bear in mind for any sporting professional. For more information on SEO services, check out our SEO services page.

Brand Management within Search Engines

Another way in which the sports industry is using SEO for its Digital Marketing efforts is through brand management. Traditionally, brand management or reputation management within the search engines refers to the way in which the listings can be manipulated, so that only positive listings appear with the results. That means when someone searches for a brand, they will only see quality on-brand links, with anything negative or potentially harmful listings pushed down the results page. This can work wonders for any sports team or brand.

Despite receiving much negative press and online coverage over the betting scandal involving cricketers from the Pakistan cricket team, their listings are actually really rather positive. Whilst it’s unclear whether or not over time such negative listings disappear naturally, it does pose the question, if you’re that serious about how you’re perceived by others, why not do something about it online too? Take the next set of results for example.

SERPs of this nature do not make good reading, not only for John Terry himself, but also his parent football club as well, Chelsea FC. Such association could seriously harm any sort of brand value. This brings us onto another issue, surrounding the responsibility of athletes, not just to their fans, but also their clubs and teams – something for another time perhaps.

Obviously, the more high profile the sports person, team or brand, the more likely they are to incur negative listings. But if you’re trying to run a business, or preserve the image of an athlete or team, then ensuring the search results are free from any negativity is surely a priority for branding and potential commercial value.

PPC and Sports

Now, Pay per Click (PPC) listings within search engines are really for those teams, clubs or businesses that are looking to increase revenue through the selling of tickets, merchandise, clothing or services for sport and sporting events via the search engines. With this in mind, this type of Digital Marketing activity isn’t exactly exclusive to the sports industry. However, what I have noticed is the way that certain paid listings can be quickly updated to piggyback off any recent sporting achievement, associated with what is being sold with the paid advertisement. The example below highlights my point.

As you can see, two very different businesses have harnessed the buzz surrounding the Olympic games, and tailored their PPC ads accordingly. Cisco systems, one of the official Olympic sponsors have gone with, “Is your business fit to benefit from the London 2012 games?”, whilst Thomas Cook, the official partner of short breaks to the London 2012 games have used a variety of Olympic based text. It should be noted that with this example, only official sponsors at partners can actually use Olympic related terms. However whatever sports related product or service you’re looking to sell, you can always harness the buzz around recent sports events or achievements to create additional context, which will ultimately help with conversions.

Content Marketing and Video Marketing

This is referring to the creation and distribution of unique content, whether written, pictorial or in video form, which can then be optimised, giving it a greater chance to be seen online. Such marketing techniques have many benefits. From a technical point of view, it builds brand awareness, creates additional links as well as traffic to one’s website. From a sporting perspective, such content keeps fans, followers and potential customers interested and engaged.

Let’s take Wimbledon’s YouTube channel as an example. This channel show how any sports brand can keep their fans and followers up-to-date with relevant, but unique and engaging content. If you’re hosting an event and you have the television rights to use this content, then this can be something to think about, alternatively, interviews, games, information, instructions, tips and all sorts of other content can be created instead. This is especially true if your sports business does not have the rights to show or stream sporting footage.

If you offer sporting goods or services, then creating additional content like this can highlight such goods and services, but also can generate a community of online followers who are willing to share and interact with your content. As search engines are now factoring in social signals [See: Why Social Should be an Integral Factor for Your Content Marketing Strategy], Content Marketing and Video Marketing will be hugely beneficial to your online marketing campaigns, whatever sporting perspective you’re coming from.


As with social media, the use of club or event specific Apps are now more important than ever. Whilst many sports events have become increasingly difficult to attend, due to costs and logistics, following a specific sports person or team with the use of decent application can help bridge the increasing gap between fans and their sporting idols or clubs. This is especially true for sports that have become increasingly popular as well as increasingly expensive. A new type of fandom has been created, and Apps are a fantastic way of keeping such fans engaged with their brands.

Image Source (BBC)

Take Barcelona Football Club for example. Not only are they popular within their home country of Spain, but this footballing dynasty has major support all over the world. So how do fans within England, America, China or Australia, for example, get to feel part of the Barcelona experience if they can not travel to Spain to watch their home games? With a well branded app for their smartphones or tablets of course.

Such an app can provide all the information any fan needs. Highlights of previous games, exclusive interviews with players, images, wallpapers, soundbites as well as a whole host of club specific information. The BBC recently published a great article showcasing Barcelona’s endeavours on the Digital front.


It’s clear then that whichever Digital Marketing tool you use will depend on your overall marketing goals. For high profile brands and athletes, engaging with fans and being on-brand is of paramount importance, whilst for smaller teams, clubs, retailers and sports businesses, social media as well as search engine marketing seems to be a no brainer if you want to enhance brand awareness and exposure within the search engines.

If you can think of any additional examples of the way in which Digital Marketing has changed the sports industry, then please share your thoughts below, I’d love to hear them.

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