The Brand Conference: Five things we learned from the MLS, AJ Boxing & NFL

Last week saw Digital Sport head down to the latest instalment of The Brand Conference. A one-day event that took place at the home of cricket, Lords, and was run by SportsPro.

A number of interesting topics were discussed ranging from growing the NFL internationally to Esports to Juventus’ new brand launch. Here are our top 5 take outs from the event;


1. Authenticity is still key

A theme that comes out from almost every session about content, especially when it comes from brands and rights holders. Engaging with people outside of match day takes imagination and if you’re a brand trying to leverage your sponsorship, such as QBE with the British & Irish Lions, you need to have both context – a reason being part of the conversation – and offer value – be of some use to those who are reading/watching.

Another aspect to consider, that wasn’t covered here, is that you also need to be aware of what people are doing when you ‘interrupt’ them. If you can match in with this then you’re more likely to engage with them and become part of the event. The Superbowl is a great example as the adverts during the game as a much loved part of the ‘show’. Could the same be said for other sporting events and the associated brands?


2. The reasons for the decline of (US) sport viewership are not so simple

After hearing from SkySports at the last #DSLondon event and this from the NFL on why we’re seeing declines in TV viewership/subscriptions there are reasons for them to be worried, but also some for them not to be. Yes it is down when looking at the most common of mediums (TV’s), especially around live, but where on one side it’s taken away then on another you will see it rise. Rights holders such as the NFL are looking across all platforms and respond as they see trends change.

Personally, whilst I think the media industry as a whole is going through a huge amount of change, this change will throw up many opportunities in the coming years. This shift is a response to changes in how we, the viewers, want to watch our sport and also how our work/leisure habits are altering. With the likes of DAZN, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook getting involved in live sport, it shows that sport is not on the way down but in period of transition. The likes of the NFL are flexible and forward thinking enough to ensure they will stay relevant and move with the people/technology, of that I’m sure.


3. When it comes to athletes, it’s not just down to the money

A really interesting talk around the global brand that is Anthony Joshua, who SportsPro recently named as being the world’s most marketable athlete. Beating the likes of NBA’s Stephen Curry and Man United’s Paul Pogba into 2nd and 4rd places respectively.

In it they talked about how they been selective in who they work with and what those brands bring to the party, not just how much money they have put on the table. In the long term they’re looking to reduce the number of brands to the current 12 to around 6-8, ensuring that AJ has the time he needs to focus on his boxing, and that the brands he works with get 100% of him.

If you’re one of those brands then I imagine you might be getting a bit worried by this. But it’s a matter of making the best campaigns you can and not getting to the stage when there’s no involvement except for the athlete just turning up and saying a few lines then going home again. AJ appears to want to be involved from the start, but his time is finite. Those 12 brands need to make sure they’re fully committed and producing great work to stay with him and be one of the 6.


4. Anthony Joshua really is a nice guy!

It’s interesting that not only is he a brand’s dream but he genuinely gets involved in the campaigns he’s part of and is a very personable man. This story from James Young (Lucozade Sport) on their first meeting seems to sum him up nicely.


5. How sport is looking to blur the lines between physical and digital worlds

As we’ve seen in many campaigns now it can be hard to see when the physical world ends and the digital world begins, and vice versa. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can expect going forward as brands/rights holders start to understand what’s needed to see true impact. And that these worlds should complement each other and not compete.

This example from the MLS (there was a very US theme to this year’s event) where they worked closely with EA Sports in build up to the launch of FIFA 18 is a very good one. A campaign that has many layers and really did blur those lines, in ways we haven’t seen much of in sport up to now.

US sport will also be prominent at Leaders as we in Europe continue to look stateside for inspiration. There is much we can take from them but also much they can take from us. For sports such as NFL, MLB, NBA and WWE they cannot just roll out the same strategies as they do at home, they don’t translate to international markets and thus need to be carefully considered. Likewise a UK sport trying to move into the US, they have to take lessons from those already there and not just go in blindly. We can all learn from each other… which hopefully is the point of conferences such as these!


This week we’re off to Leaders on October 4th/5th at Stamford Bridge. We’ll be covering the event on @DigitalSportUK and if you want to say hi to Digital Sport’s Dan McLaren then either spot his DS logo’d laptop or message him on @danielmclaren


About author

Daniel McLaren
Daniel McLaren 820 posts

Dan is the Founder & CEO of Digital Sport. Can be found at sports industry events and heard every week on the Digital Sport Insider podcast. @DanielMcLaren

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