Soccer at SXSW

Five days at SXSW and there was a lot to take in. Here’s a quick personal summary.

Clients. Prospects. Friends. Storytelling. Live video. Influencers. Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. Twitter. YouTube. Podcasting. Gaming. E-Sports. VR. AR. AI. Mobile. Data. Data. Data. Global. Music. Tacos. Vespa. Shiner Bock. Moscow Mules. More Tacos. Gatorade. Nat Geo. Mashable. Sun. Rain. Wind. No Uber. Solar hats … and, of course … Soccer Media & Marketing.

Let’s focus on the last part of this. Since returning from SXSW I’ve taken time to process the 2017 edition of this extraordinary event through the lens of soccer insights and trends. Here’s a hat trick of takeaways I’d like to share.

No commercials. That’s a good thing.

When I started selling soccer in the early 90’s one of the major objections you would hear repeatedly was “…but soccer doesn’t have any timeouts, when I can run my commercials?” Fast forward 25 years, and this simple truism of the sport was turned on its head by panelist, Eric Weinberger from the Ringer.

During a discussion on sports sponsorship as a service, Eric discussed the evolution of marketing from being an “interruption business” to becoming a “value-add” medium. He talked about a world where smart marketers look for ways to enhance the fans experience rather than simply insert their brand messages into game action breaks. To illustrate his point, he highlighted soccer’s lack of commercials as an incredible opportunity for the sport over interruption-laden leagues such as the NFL.

Whoa, whoa, whoa – time out (pun intended). Let me process this for a second.  He just said the lack of commercial breaks in soccer is a major benefit over leagues like the NFL. This is interesting. Is this true?

As a soccer marketer, I talk about this stuff all the time, yet I have never presented the case for soccer this way. On reflection, I probably would not serve up this insight in quite the way Eric did. TV advertising during sports (particularly the NFL) is still a highly valuable asset, of course. But, I do believe his underlying sentiment is unequivocally true.

In a DVR and ad blocker world where content-snacking is the norm for many, marketers need to think differently. They need to think differently about how they (a) reach the fan, and (b) how they connect with the fan. It is incumbent on brands to find more creative ways to associate with the passion of sports and the attraction of the live event. Experience enhancement will soon be the gold standard of sports marketing. If soccer’s lack of commercial interruptions acts as an enforced stimulus for advertisers to be more creative / sophisticated in their approach to marketing, then bring it on!

Buzzzzz … Facebook is broadcasting soccer!

Just a couple days prior to the kick off to SXSW Interactive it was revealed that Facebook, through a collaboration with MLS and Univision, would be streaming (in English) regular season MLS matches. The announcement followed closely on the heels of a similar partnership regarding streaming of Liga MX matches on Facebook – also in English.

MLS match streams will include Facebook-specific commentators (rumored to be Heath Pearce and Mark Rogondino), interactive graphics, fan Q&A’s and polls. In addition to matches MLS will also produce more than 40 Matchday Live analysis shows to feature on Facebook.

Facebook has previously streamed other sports, including USA Basketball matches as lead in to the 2016 Olympics, but soccer has most certainly been front and center for the social media giant. Streaming experiments last year occurred around Wayne Rooney’s Testimonial match (Manchester United vs. Everton) and Alex Morgan’s debut for Orlando Pride.

Now with MLS and Liga MX matches on the platform, soccer is firmly in the limelight. The industry will be paying close attention to Facebook’s entry into the sports world of course. While this partnership was described by MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, as a “toe in the water” for Facebook, it is certainly a clear indicator that the traditional sports broadcast rights landscape is set to be disrupted in way not previously seen.

Digital marketers love soccer

A quick look at the panels for the SXSW sports track provides an insight into the popularity of soccer as a digital marketing topic. The entire Saturday schedule in one conference room at the Four Seasons was focused on soccer. Beyond these panels, though, it was noticeable and exciting, to hear the references made to soccer in sessions unrelated to the sport.  Conversations about creative storytelling, live video, VR integration, podcasting, media rights, all included positive references to the future opportunities for soccer.

Soccer marketing used to be a lonely business. A mission, of sorts, that only a few passionate people believed in. Those days are now long gone and to paraphrase Don Garber, “these are fun times to be involved in the business of soccer.”

After spending five days at SXSW I was reminded of the incredible opportunity everyone working in this space has. Our sport is primed for marketing innovation. The soccer audience is young, tech-forward, socially-connected, and globally-aware. Our fans are open to new ways of sports presentation, content distribution, and brand integration. Many, in fact, are demanding it. How great is this? As marketers, we can think outside the box, push the boundaries, and take a few risks.

For a “foreign” sport that 25 years ago was deemed unsellable because of its “lack of timeouts” we’ve certainly come a long way.  How the world turns.

Categories: Alex Morgan, Digital Content, Featured, Liga MX, Major League Soccer, Soccer Marketing, Social Media, TV Rights