Sports Strategy in Digital: Transformed Introduction

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Sports Strategy in Digital: Transformed Introduction

The online course ‘Sports Strategy in Digital: The DATA MODEL Story’ is now available on Institute Of Sport

Excerpt from Transformed: Introduction

This Transformed module addresses the many ways that the relationship between the business of sport and its fans has changed as a result of digital forces and in particular digital and social media.

Prior to digital, there was broadcast media and the trick was to get attention of the consumer where they lived, worked or played.  Then came the digital era which removed the barriers to media publishing and the game for all businesses has become about embedding the brand experience into consumer’s mobile lives as a value exchange in an increasingly noisy world.

The modern goal is to capture individual’s attention and in doing so influence their lives in a positive way.  Attachment from those micro and mobile moments is what brands are seeking.  Fortunately, the narrative of sport is by nature an emotional one providing rights holders with the platform to unite with fans and members.

Similar to how SAP and Microsoft CEO’s have observed sport to be the most disrupted of all industries, sports is also the most influenced by social media.  In fact, social media is part of the sports experience making it part of the business ‘product’.

As Brian Solis says;

‘Social media isn’t owned by marketing but instead the entire organization, this changes everything’.

This is the philosophy that this module of Transformed is themed around. Whilst many topics centre around marketing principles, they are grounded in the notion that the whole organisation should be a social business collaborating in the process of fan engagement.

In the digital age if you are not reaching fans and potential fans by digital means then you are not reaching them. Whilst traditional media and publishing channels are either devaluing or disintegrating the foundational features of Internet 1.0 such as search engine optimisation, e-commerce and email campaigns don’t achieve the same level of effectiveness that they do without social activation.

Social media amplifies business objectives. The strategic task is to define organisation growth priorities and then determine how social platforms can contribute. Primary goals such as attracting new fans, increasing engagement and business innovation can all be supported by social media. Revenue will follow.

Aligning social to enterprise objectives is part of the code cracking process for businesses in the digital era to develop a sustainable business model.

Moving Social into the Business

Typically, digital has been Marketing’s responsibility to figure out with IT’s support.  This default mode arose mainly because of enterprise social media and the low investment needed to activate these channels at a base level.  It can appear that brands approached enterprise social media as ‘any new awareness is good awareness’.  As we will discover, this is not how fans perceive brands online. Now enterprise social media practices are maturing and the benchmark for how the best rights holders are engaging with their communities continues to rise.

The practice of social is now a creative, scientific and technology-enabled program. Sport businesses achieving the best results do so because leadership is involved and support social in terms of culture, collaboration and talent.  Collaboration is particularly important in unlocking social media’s value – whether that is gaining content from outside of marketing or sharing social feedback with product development and front-line staff.

Digitally mature enterprises understand that social media is not an add-on to marketing activities and, in fact, social is too big a responsibility to be left to the marketing department.  Social media has the power to unlock far more than branding for the organisation and leadership need to make that possible.  This is the essence of becoming a social business.

In Transformed then, we will consider the following digital and social media related topics;

  • Becoming a Social Business
  • Digital Marketing Models
  • Social Leadership
  • Social Channel Selection
  • Mobile Strategy and Apps
  • Monetising Social Media
  • Sponsorship in the Digital Age
  • Digital Trends such as Social in Crowdsourcing, Innovation and Recruiting
  • Social Community Management
  • Social Media Rules of Engagement

The Traditional Business Model No Longer Works for Marketing

Marketing has undergone a radical shift in the first half of the 2010’s reflected in the following insights;

  • Digital will account for more than 75% of marketing budgets in the near future
  • Mobile will account for more than 50% of marketing budgets
  • Earned media will be more important than paid and owned media; this means that priority is shifting to fans re-posting, liking and responding to brand’s social content rather than published or broadcast content. Engaging is far more valuable than broadcasting.
  • Marketing campaigns will unfold in real time which means that organisations need to be agile in their social media practices and analytic skills will become a core marketing competency

Reading McKinsey’s Making your Marketing Organization Agile: A Step by Step Guide

Brian Solis, in What’s the Future identifies the following problems that plague traditional businesses;

  • Most businesses don’t have an understanding of what a community is and why customers do, or do not, identify with it. Solis defines a strong community as ‘the net result of something designed to be meaningful and remarkable.’ The brand is therefore a collection of shared experiences aimed at creating alignment between vision and customer aspirations.


This reading is a good example of what can happen when leadership doesn’t treat its  community with respect Newcastle are no longer a football club in the conventional sense but a mutation of Sports Direct and the difference when teams do; How Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders Fans Took Supports to New Level


  • Businesses don’t have a singular customer view because the organisation is sliced up by the customer divisionally, by function and by the desired result


  • Departments don’t talk to one another because they are not measured by collaboration efforts, they are measured by the performance of their function


  • The traditional marketing funnel for sales no longer works on connected customers. Digital is far too dynamic and changes the business faster than vision, mission and business models can react


  • Many organisations are not designed to be adaptive; rather they are designed to optimize efficiencies and processes


  • Rather than looking at people and the experience we want them to have, businesses tend to look at the new technology as the crux of the engagement


  • There isn’t a top-down movement to create a singular experience for the customer. This means that a desire to embrace the customer in something more meaningful than transactional relationships is not there.

You may recall from Stratford Management Corporation’s survey of 2015 SEAT Conference participants that only 39% of rights holders had an integrated approach to customer experience with only 17% proactively measuring and monitoring objectives (and this was from most mature sports market in the world).

Reading: The surprising truth about which countries lead in digital

The Complexity Gap

Solis goes on to reference an IBM survey of 1,700 Chief Marketing Officers to determine their biggest challenges.  It revealed that marketers grapple the most with;

  • Data explosion (71%)
  • Social Media (68%)
  • Growth of device and channel choice (65%)

Importantly, the report identified what they refer to as a ‘complexity gap’ where almost 80% of the marketing officers expect very high to high levels of complexity in the next 5 years, however less than 50% feel that they are prepared for that level of complexity.   The conclusion is that there is a real gap between what marketers know is coming in terms of technology requirements and operating complexity needed to undertake marketing activities versus what they feel comfortably equipped for.

The key takeaway of this ‘complexity gap’ is the need for organisations to support their marketers to remain abreast of important digital trends and technologies including formal training in these areas.  Some large organisations have developed their own in-house marketing academy to address this issue.

These findings are supported by a CMO Council and Deloitte study of more than 200 CMOs and marketing VPs, which found that CMO’s struggle to step into the role of growth and business-drivers; CMOs Struggle to Drive Revenue, CMO Council Report Finds.