SPORTO 2017 Summary

SPORTO 2017 key learnings: authenticity can be learned on social, identifying the why before starting the creative process in sponsorships, utilising the body of (digital) conver­sation from the community or technology and never underestimating fans’ eagerness to consume interesting and innovative content.

Before the thorough introduction of the celebratory 15th SPORTO Conference edition this year, we would like to invite you to take a quick look back at the 360-degree in­sights of SPORTO 2017. There has never been a more diverse line-up of international speakers in (S)Portorož. Experts from 10 different countries presented trends and challenges in their fields, while more than 400 participants from a record-breaking 16 countries attended the conference. SPORTO Conference, the biggest event of its kind in Southeastern Europe, remains a great opportunity for networking.

The speakers of SPORTO 2017 included representatives from some of the leading international sports organisations, agencies and brands, as well as sponsorship and marketing strategists, taking on solo projects at the peak of their careers. The attendees were offered an insight into the work of the global sports organisations and events such as NBA, UEFA and Super Bowl, and the opportunity to hear the inspirational story of Primož Roglič, a former ski jumper who broke traditional sports rules by making a transition into professional cycling. The two-day conference began with Michael Cole’s (TrueGold Communications, now PGA European Tour) experience of the Olympic sponsorship of the brand British Telecommunications and his insights about the ‘beyond the logo’ approach. The Olympic Games connect two global brands represented at SPORTO 2017; Toyota started their cooperation with the IOC and IPC with the campaign “Start Your Impossible”, which was presented at SPORTO before the official launch, while Coca-Cola Slovenia took on a close partnership with the Olympic Committee of Slovenia with the integral project #SupportAlways (#vednopodpiraj).

The guests were also offered insights into the communication of EHF Men’s EURO Croatia 2018 (Anita Šikić) and UEFA (Laurent Morel, Pierre Lienhard) strategy behind the development and growth of their younger disciplines, as well as into the way UEFA positions events such as UEFA Futsal EURO 2018 that was organised successfully in Slovenia between 30 January and 10 February.

 “Sports is serious and fans are serious about their team, but sports is also entertainment and it is supposed to be fun.”
Jeramie McPeek (JMc Communications)

The topic of esports was introduced at SPORTO for the first time and Guilherme Guimaraes (Ativa Esporte) demonstrated Brazilian fan engagement activities on Twitter and Facebook during the recent sport events in Brazil, FIFA World Cup 2014 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The regional strategists from Gorenje (Edita Gabrič), Coca-Cola Slovenia (Anja Vačun) and Toyota Serbia (Aleksandra Graovac) were joined on stage by the strategists from the software company SAP (Achim Ittner presented some of the cooperation models for sports and software technologies), Irish bank AIB and individuals with leading experience from Havas Sports & Entertainment, Interbrand (Creative Director Paolo Insinga revealed how the bold ambition led to the new brand identity of the legendary football club F.C. Juventus) and Strive Sponsorship.

SPORTO remains at the crossroads of all aforemen­tioned topics with one touch point –harnessing the power of sport.

A 20-year veteran of the sports digital space (Phoenix Suns, Super Bowl Host Committees) and award-winning digital consultant Jeramie McPeek believes that authenticity can be learned and that “no matter who you are, you have to be careful about what you are posting on social media.” Social media is also about “listening what your fans are saying and reminding them, why they became your fans in the first place,” says Jeramie who also advises everyone involved that just sharing the right content can sometimes come a long way and get attention and response from the fans. When asked how enter­taining can sports properties be on social, Jeramie responds that “sports is serious and fans are serious about their team, but sports is also entertainment and it is supposed to be fun,” elaborating, “I think there are ways to have fun in social media. You can put your team in a different light than you see them everywhere else, but at the same time your fans want to see you win and that is really what it is about. It is not something you want to be doing every day and all the time but you can pepper it in here and there.”
Also from the highest possible level of basketball, represented by NBA, comes Maik Matischak, Senior Director of Communication NBA EMEA. Maik believes there can never be too much content. “Fans really appreciate the way that we provide them with content. I think NBA is leading in providing con­tent to the fans; game content and off-court content.” The fans in his opinion will always appreciate localised content and innovative approach. And Jon Burkhart (TBC Global), American content strategist who created a strategic framework built around the notion of constant curiosity, agrees with him. “Fans are ready for our content if we make it interesting at any time,” Burkhart discusses content that can ‘get and keep fans’ attention.’ Another one of his memorable remarks is that specialists need to show those responsible a possibility what can be done. If not, you will have them “doing the way it has always been done. And that is the most danger­ous phrase in marketing.”

“The most dangerous phrase in marketing is ‘we will just do it the way it has always been done.’”
– Jon Burkhart (TBC Global)

Fredda Hurwitz (Gingernut Thinking, now RedPeg Marketing) is a renowned brand and sponsorship strategist who left a big mark in Havas Sports & Entertainment and has worked on a diverse group of brands, brand experiences, international sponsorship and integrated marketing programmes throughout her career. When asked if social media helped in spreading the message ‘doing good is good business,’ she answered, “Social media is putting much more pressure on brands, on rights holders, on fans to do something and not just sit back, pay your money for your ticket, eat your hot-dog and walk out at the end of the day.” But Fredda thinks that is a good thing and gives an example. “For years there has been a mantra that sport can do good around the world … It can, but not if it is done in isolation and if it is done in a fragmented way. “Common Goal” is bringing people together that genuinely believe that sport can be a tool for good. People involved are investing their own money, which is unheard of. And they are bringing more people into that ‘community.’ It is also not a one-off thing and the community can grow. It is brilliant.”

The tricky part, after you can comfortably explain to your CEO that the reason why go into sponsorship is because it is going to help us achieve x, y and z, is about identifying the ‘what.’ “You really need to determine (and most brands need to do it with an agency, integrated or research) what are the criteria that are important to us and that we need to match up with whatever that property is,” gives advice one of the keynote speakers at SPORTO 2017.

We asked Malph Minns, founder of Strive Sponsorship which specialise in sport, music, esports and film partnerships, what sports can learn from esports. “Fundamentally, in esports they have ‘the community or the gamer first’ approach. Whatever they do, always at the heart of it is will this make the experience for the gamer or the community better. I know that is a basic principle of marketing, but I think in sports it is often lost,” explains Malph and points out another esports’ advantage, “As a relatively new industry compared to sports they are doing a lot more innovative things. And because it is technology-led they are more open to trying different things.” What sports and sponsorship industry have in common is also that “it is hard to win that first gold medal, but it is even harder to get the second one or to have a continued success,” reminds Malph, who was the first global expert in Slovenia to present esports opportunities for sponsor brands and traditional sports teams.

“Momentum is the greatest thing. As soon as you have a body of conversation, you have momentum. That means you are not starting from scratch every time. That is the benefit of having such a big community around the #TheToughest.“
– Mark Brennan (AIB)

From industry disruptors as a relatively new branch of the business to the representatives of the Irish bank AIB which re-established brand trust and increased positive sentiment of the public through #TheToughest, sponsorship of the Gaelic football Club Championship, Mark Doyle, Brands Group Director, and Mark Brennan, Head of Digital and Innovation, captivated the SPORTO audience with their multi-awarded case study. “We did a due diligence on how deep that sponsorship went at the community level, and that was key for us. From the marketing perspective, we saw it very much as a vehicle to rehabilitate our brand, particularly at the community level. The sponsorship was a way for us to get back into those communities and really talk about our brand in a positive way,” explained Mark Brennan for SPORTO Magazine No. 10. Due to the restricted marketing budget AIB was ‘forced’ into digital. “That was actually a huge opportunity,” ad­mits Mark Brennan retrospectively. “That is where the people are and we needed to work a lot harder to get cut through and impact.”

The explosion in digital followed when the people involved in the grassroots level felt that the status of the competition they were playing in have been elevated. “Momentum is the greatest thing. As soon as you have a body of conversation, you have momentum. That means you are not starting from scratch every time. That is the benefit of having such a big community around the #TheToughest.” One of the examples of innovative use of branded content that showcases moving the banking boundaries is AIB’s TV documentary series titled “The Toughest Trade,” starring professional athletes trading places with the amateur GAA players. “What came through in every single trade that we did,” continues Mark Doyle, “All of the professional players said when they came to Ireland and played with the local club that it reminded them of why they started playing sport in the first place. That it was a real purity about it.”
Interviews with the SPORTO 2017 speakers are available on the SPORTO Conference YouTube Channel. More details about SPORTO 2017 action-packed programme are available in the digital publication SPORTO Summaries (lectures and debates). You are welcome to follow our channels on the road to #sporto2018. The jubilee, 15th SPORTO Conference will take place in (S)Portorož on 22–23 November.