Create, engage, distribute, adapt, repeat

SPORTO 2018 key learnings: Content creation and creativity is one part of the story, the other part is performance and being smarter about the distribution of content; expect even more blending of music, fashion, culture, lifestyle and art into the world of sport in the future; one-to-one relationship experience on digital is crucial.

SPORTO 2018 gathered more than 450 participants from 15 countries at the 15th edition of the leading sports business conference in the SE region. Internationally well-renowned experts from eight countries offered valuable insights connected to sports communications trends and challenges. Recognise the uniqueness of #sporto2018 edition in the infographic data below.


SPORTO once again brought together representatives from some of the leading international sports organisations, agencies, brands, social media platforms and broadcasters, as well as sponsorship and marketing strategists that shared insight into their work and their views on the industry trends. SPORTO 2018 hosted, among other guests, UEFA, IBM, Facebook, Chicago Bulls, AS Roma, Discovery, Synergy, Activative, CEV, WePlay and the Croatian Football Federation.

The main guest and key-note speaker of the two-day event on the Slovenian coast was UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, who received a standing ovation, utterly impressed the audience and on the other hand self-critically pointed out: “We are too conservative in many ways and this hinders us from further evolution. I was lucky to be able to see how the US at the Super Bowl has been successfully implementing fast developing IT. In this field, we are a step behind, but I am certain that we in Europe will finally perceive the great importance of it.”

Aleksander Čeferin – UEFA President

According to UEFA President, football has a bright future globally and it is significant to recognise football as a global product that needs to open up with its transparency, sustainable strategy, social responsibility and inclusion as sponsorship partners expect a wider meaning of their contribution to a specific partnership. Čeferin sees Alibaba as a crucial partner that broadens the viewing angle of the future of football in Europe and globally.

Be there from the beginning. Be where it matters.

“Brands do not fill a stadium, passion does,” pointed out Carsten Thode (formerly at Synergy) and explained further: “Joint experience is not about a brand, since people do not come to see brands doing their things, they come to see sports, music, theatre. It is not about the size of the audience but the idea of them coming together. The best strategy is to be a fundamental part of that experience as a brand and to be there from the beginning, so that you earn the feeling of belonging all the way through.”

“Start with what you want to achieve as a business,” emphasised Jerry Newman (Facebook) and said that is the same advice they give the guys at the IOC or Premier League. Relative to all new FB products, he added: “You do not have to be everywhere but you have to be where it matters, where your audience resonates with you the most. Understand your audience and their engagement and build strategies around that.”

Jerry Newman – Facebook

Adapt and invest. Potential of one-to-one communication and fans’ co-creation.

Kenny Ager (WePlay) shared a similar view on organic reach, which is diminishing. “The good news is that every time there is a platform where the reach is getting lower, there is also a new platform with great organic reach. FB Messenger is great at the moment, Instagram still has a high reach and in WhatsApp, with people who are signed up, you can create very engaged audiences with complete organic reach. My advice would be to follow the audience. The audience is moving from platform to platform. And invest in paid media, it is the only way to get to all of your audience and new fans.”

Paul Rogers (AS Roma) is an advocate of the digital approach in terms of trying to give fans a one-to-one relationship experience – since fans want to feel closer to the club or players and not like they are just one among millions. “How to make someone’s day? It does not cost us a thing to wish a happy birthday or follow back a fan.” Rogers also noted that it is sometimes hard to be funny, which is a trademark of AS Roma digital channels. “I do not consider that what we do is best in the world, so I came here to learn, to see what other people do and how they do it.”

Paul Rogers – AS Roma

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” said Luka Dukich (Chicago Bulls) on copying concepts on digital. He sees sport fans not as just fans but as creative fans and according to his experience it is “easy to reach out to them on social media and start to collaborate with them to enrich your content.” Dukich also praised the NBA about the openness connected to highlights videos and other content. “They want you to innovate, they want you to be creative and that has resulted in a lot of teams hitting that mark of being innovative.”

Artificial Intelligence is the present, blending and merging growing trends for the future.

Sam Seddon (IBM) presented the insights about their tech sponsorship with Wimbledon, commenting also on tradition vs innovation dichotomy: “You do not get to continue be No. 1 in the world in your particular field unless you change and innovate consistently. At Wimbledon, they do it in the way that is authentic to their brand.” As for partnerships, he pointed out the need to really focus on value for both parties, which “can be complex when you get in details, but that is where true partnership comes.” Artificial Intelligence already is an important part of the sports tech industry. Seddon underlined its role and influence (in advertising, or for rightsholders capturing data and analysing it): “AI is here and it is going to grow and spread.”

Jeremy Edwards (Activative) anticipates a continuation of the blending of culture and sports in the sponsorships of the future. “We are going to see more blending of music, fashion, culture, lifestyle and art into the world of sport.” He also noted that “we are going to see rebalancing of the gender scale in sports, there is huge opportunity in women sport both from a growth perspective and a values perspective.” A niching of the small individual sports as they leverage relatively cheap access to audiences through platforms and a rise of the ‘made-up’ sports, a combination of two sports merging into one, is also something that we can expect in the near future, according to Edwards.

Jeremy Edwards – Activative

SPORTO guests agreed on the need to be flexible in the ever-changing world of sport. There really are no anonymous audiences in the 21st century. Kenechi Belusevic (Discovery) presented a critical asset of every rightsholder or broadcaster, which is “content optimisation with flexible engaging strategy which follows changes and adapts to them.” 2018 was also a year of Croatian football and Tomislav Pacak (Croatian Football Federation) gave an engaging overview of their strategic communication campaign #Family (#Obitelj) in the light of Croatia’s success in the World Cup. Ian Mollard (Curiosity 360 Production) shared the story of Hero the Hedgehog, the mascot of the IAAF World Athletics Championships 2017, who won the hearts of the audience, added value to the event and set new standards in fan-engagement. Setting new standards is what most of SPORTO guests have in common all the way from SPORTO beginnings in 2004.

To conclude, we live in an interconnected world where diversifying to digital and analogue has no sense whatsoever, as our everyday life and multiple roles we all play are profoundly internalised and thus indivisible.

The interviews with all SPORTO 2018 speakers are available on the SPORTO Conference YouTube Channel. With SPORTO 2019 activities already in full swing, follow our channels on the road to SPORTO 2019 and join us in (S)Portorož for the 16th SPORTO Conference on 21 & 22 November.

Thank you for being part of SPORTO community.