Where will sports marketers go from here?

I recently asked readers of this blog for to name the top trends they see coming in sports marketing. Read the comments on this post to see what others are thinking…

It’s pretty tough to predict the future these days, especially with the rate of change we’re experiencing. But here goes.

What will be the top 3 trends in sports marketing over next 5 years?

I believe the strongest trends of tomorrow will arise around the solutions to today’s biggest problems. For marketers, these problems include:

1. Consumers are harder to find – as the media market stratifies into niches, it’s tough to find your audience and even tougher to get your prospect’s attention, get your message through and elicit action. In fact the mass media “push” style of advertising seems to be giving way to something new.

2. Consumers have the power – your customer has information at his / her fingertips. Word of mouth is the biggest driver of consumer opinion…traditional advertising methods (which have always been hard to measure) are losing their effectiveness (especially among younger audience) –

3. Consumers don’t trust you – Enron is the poster child for this issue, but it’s not alone. As consumers become better informed, they grow more skeptical, and less likely to buy what you’re selling if your brand isn’t authentic in their minds.

So those are some of the biggest challenges facing marketers today, how can we solve them? And what “trends” will emerge in sports marketing over the next 5 years?

1. Return to “sponsorship”

Sponsorship in its truest sense is a wonderful model. A company desires to engage with an audience, so it finds ways to add value to that audience’s life or experience. Often this means finding something that is important to that audience (some cause, like a sports team or event) and underwriting some aspect of that event in order to enhance the fan’s experience. The sponsor doesn’t push product at the fan. The sponsor earns favor with the fan by enhancing the fan experience. Once it has earned favor (trust), the sponsor’s offers are more likely to be heard, received and acted upon by the fans. In my opinion, avid fans are the most likely to appreciate the sponsor’s efforts and be lead to buy.

Keys for sponsorship success: target avids, add value, improve reputation, earn business

2. Beyond the stadium and TV

To truly engage with a fan base, sponsors today need to go beyond the stadium and beyond television. For example, only 280,000 fans attend Colts games in our stadium each year, yet 6 million Colts fans visited our Website last year. The stadium is not the ONLY place to find AVID fans. In fact, the Website is the place where you’ll find more avid fans, more often. And the Web is just the beginning. Sponsors need to consider mobile, E mail, IPTV and other new media channels in order to truly activate their programs and reach fans where they are.

Keys for sponsorship success: go digital, go national, personalize the fan experience

3. Recognize the ecosystem and put the fan first

Sponsorships are a form of partnership. In the past, these partnerships have typically included only the sponsor and the team. Now these partnerships must also include the fan. Whatever program gets produced, sponsors and teams need to put the fan experience first. Improve the fan experience, and the fan will buy more tickets and the fan will buy more product.

Key for sponsorship success: focus on fan’s ROE (return on experience)

As you can see, I believe the consumer is the key, not the marketer. I feel like the only “problems” that should matter to marketers are those which effect customers or prospects. If we’re not solving problems for people, and if we’re not offering products and services that make improve their lives, then we shouldn’t expect our marketing efforts to succeed.