Sometimes the classics hold a lot of truth, and in the case of sports in Australia, we really didn’t know what we’d got until it was gone due to COVID-19. Now that we’ve seen sports return to screens, there have been a few stand-out lessons for both sports-land and ad-land to learn.
The first of these is that lockdown and the pause of sports in Australia turned out to be a long advertising campaign for the role that sports play in our daily lives. The appetite for sports remains undimmed, in fact it’s increased.
For the Foxtel Group, 2020 is the number one rating NRL season ever. Live NRL audiences are up 16% compared to the corresponding Rounds 1 to 18 of the 2019 season. In AFL, equivalent data also highlights massive fan engagement with the 2020 season so far, with live audiences up 32% compared to the first 17 rounds of the 2019 season. The story is the same in motorsport, which has never been more popular in Australia. Overall motorsport audiences are up by 35% this year compared to 2019.
The power of sports is far more than just large audiences. It’s the power of emotion.
This year we’ve all been through rollercoasters of emotion as we’ve faced a global pandemic, local shutdowns and the inability to gather in large groups. The return of sports represents the return of some form of normality – and a massive emotional outlet for fans who had missed sports from their screens.
And behind the overall numbers, there is another story to be aware of: the growth in how Australians are increasingly engaging with sports through online and digital media alongside traditional audiences. The record-breaking NRL season on Foxtel, for example, has been driven by an increase in the average live audience for Foxtel Now, Foxtel GO and Kayo audiences, up over 150%. By comparison, free-to-air NRL viewing is down 3% year-on-year.
As a result, for brands trying to grow their business and the ability of sport to help connect brands to business has never been stronger. There is a massive opportunity to integrate and bring brands to life alongside sport – and we’ve seen some great examples of how do this. A great example from last year’s summer of sport was Maccas, who amplified their partnership with Fox Cricket through their “Summer of Spin” animated series, produced by OMD and the FOX Sports production team.
This content series featured Shane Warne reminiscing about 11 of his favourite on-field and off-field stories. The content series was then screened across Broadcast and Digital as well the social pages for FOX Sports, Maccas and Warnie himself.
The campaign achieved some incredible results, and was itself a highly entertaining piece of content for our audiences too.
Some brands were already ahead of the game in 2020 in spite of the impacts to sport this year, realising the rebound value potential that was imminent even during the depths of the COVID-19 lockdown as sports vanished from the field. For example, Toyota Australia and The Media Store, both envisaging a successful return of sports, signed up for a long-term integrated Kayo partnership in April, building on their long-term association with linear sport on Foxtel across Cricket, AFL and NRL.
As we approach the end of the year, sport is only just getting going, with grand finals on the way. We’ve got what has the potential to be the biggest-ever season of cricket these shores have ever seen, with Virat Kohli and his Indian team arriving for the test series. And as we move into 2021 – and hopefully the re-introduction of live audiences in due course – sports will continue to deliver powerful emotional connectivity for brands.
If anything, this challenging year has proven that with supersized audiences, there are supersized opportunities for brands to harness the power of sports. The challenge for brands and agencies is to embrace creativity in how they engage with this opportunity.
Martin Medcraf is Director of Sports Sales and Partnerships for Foxtel Media.