From Ruth to Roc Nation – The Rise of Digital Sponsorship

By George News, WePlay Comments Off on From Ruth to Roc Nation – The Rise of Digital Sponsorship

WePlay Spotlight

Jack Edwards

Paid Media Manager

Welcome to a brand new edition of Spotlight, a monthly series where our in-house experts take centre stage to unpack the digital topics of today with a specialist lens.

This month, WePlay Paid Media Manager, Jack Edwards, explores the evolution of sports sponsorship and why its recent digital incarnation represents an unmissable opportunity for sports organisations.

From Baseball Cards to Instagram Ads


Sponsorship is a sector that has played an important role in the sports industry for several decades, even centuries. We could go as far back as the 1800’s with the birth of the baseball card, where tobacco companies printed images of baseball stars in their cigarette packs as a marketing ploy. Tobacco companies were no doubt reaping the rewards as baseball fans desperately searched for that famous Babe Ruth card.

It is only in recent years that we have seen the shift of focus from traditional sponsorship marketing to digital sponsorship, and with that transition, a whole new door has been opened.

Sponsorship: From Past to Present

Lockdown Losses


If you asked football fans for their best memories of the sport, many would probably recount a matchday experience. Maybe it’s the feeling of excitement as you walk up the steps of the stadium for your first ever game, or witnessing Alan Shearer score in the Gallowgate End in front of thousands of Geordies (admittedly the second one might be more of a personal highlight). COVID-19 and lockdown has temporarily taken away that fan experience from the game. However it’s not just the fans who are missing out – football clubs are also feeling the effects of empty stadiums.

Football was one of the first industries to be heavily hit by the outbreak of COVID-19, with all matches across the globe postponed for at least 3 months. On average, 60% of revenue from the biggest football clubs in Europe comes from broadcasting & matchday income,* both of which were extensively compromised by COVID-19. The estimated revenue loss of UEFA having to postpone Euro 2020 was said to be around €300m.*

The question was then raised – how can football clubs continue to generate revenue during such a period of uncertainty, with clubs so dependent on live football as their many source of monetisation? Enter the world of digital sponsorship.

The forced transition from in-stadia to at-home fans has meant that rights holders have become more and more reliant on the value of their digital touchpoints. It is said that digital sponsorship is currently undervalued by over £13.7bn,* so there is no question where the opportunity currently lies.

Sources: Deloitte, Statista, SportsPro

The Sponsorship Pillars


The benefit of digital marketing is that it allows you to reach your fanbase wherever they may be in the world, through one common platform. 

For some, the intention might be as simple as getting more brand awareness of their product to audiences in the sporting world. For others, the objective might be more revenue-focused, in which case, the activation strategy becomes much more important. 

Here at WePlay, we have defined four key pillars which act as the most common objectives of sponsors when entering a partnership with a sports brand. These are as follows:

Bringing It To Life (Another One)


One of the great things about sponsorship activations is the opportunity to collaborate with other brands in both complementary and separate industries, in support of a common goal. Here at WePlay, we have been lucky enough to work on many projects in the last year that showcase the power of this collaboration.

If you are a big DJ Khaled fan, this next section is for you…

WePlay had the pleasure of supporting on the #FromMilanWithLove live concert hosted by AC Milan and Roc Nation back in April 2020, in support of key workers in Milan. It was the perfect example of two colossal brands joining forces and showing great reactivity, helping to put a smile on people’s faces whilst also establishing themselves as leaders in the digital sponsorship space.

Through live streaming the event across AC Milan digital channels and leveraging the relationship with Roc Nation to showcase artists like Alicia Keys, DJ Khaled and the Jonas Brothers, the event proved to be a great success – both financially in terms of money raised, but also in terms of live stream viewers. 

Looking at it more laterally from the AC Milan perspective, this campaign also allowed the club to reach and engage brand new audiences outside of the football industry, and more importantly get exposure in markets where they were looking to grow (e.g. USA).

From Milan With Love

The Opportunity Going Forward


As long as global sports brands continue to grow their social media following across channels like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, we should see the valuation of digital assets and platforms continue to soar over the coming years.

Partners and sponsors will be willing to pay more and more to have their content featured on specific channels and placements as they begin to understand the value that can be generated from these activations.

Not only is the digital world developing rapidly in front of our eyes, but the sports industry is also right at the forefront of that movement. Globally, 22% of internet users say that following sports events is their main reason for using social media,* highlighting the power the sport industry holds on the digital world. 

So what’s the moral of the story? The sports industry has more of an opportunity than anyone to capitalise on the evolving space, and now is the time to get creative in the ways in which both sports organisations and brands take advantage. 

*Source: GWI

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