Facebook's Joyce: Branded content can boost clubs' sponsorship revenue
By Tariq Saleh
Branded content is a “valuable commodity” that could add a much-needed revenue stream in the sponsorship market for sports teams, with income from other areas set to dry up due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Ronan Joyce, Facebook’s strategic partner manager EMEA, has told Sportcal.
Last year, Dugout, the club-owned media company, released its 2019 Branded Football Content Futures Report which found that sponsors are increasingly using branded soccer content as their primary activation tool within the sport and gradually moving away from traditional activations such as perimeter signage and shirt sponsorship.
The report stated that in 2018, £15.5 billion ($19 billion), or 31 per cent, of total annual global sport sponsorship spend went towards branded content, which is predicted to rise to 33.4 per cent by 2021, which could amount to an additional £1.5 billion to be spent on content annually. The report additionally revealed that by 2021, more than a third of marketing, media and sponsorship budgets will be dedicated to content.
With the global health emergency halting the majority of live sport around the world, teams have increasingly utilised branded content to both engage with fans and provide additional exposure for their sponsors, with clubs in England’s Premier League leading the way in this space.
According to social media giant Facebook, branded content posts by the 20 Premier League clubs on its platform increased by 41 per cent in the 30 days after the lockdown measures were enforced in the country in March compared to the 30 days prior.
On Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo and video sharing platform, the branded content posts over the same period by those clubs increased by 122 per cent.
Joyce expects this trend to continue and believes it will present clear opportunities for the clubs to monetise their content.
He told Sportcal: “It is something that has accelerated recently. I would say it is probably different for each club with their own specific model. Some will publish less branded content but the pieces they do will be super premium and they will position that to the sponsor as something that they do not give out as a scarcity value and then some publishers will have branded content series where they badge the sponsor within it on an ongoing regular basis and that works better for those brands.
“We have seen an increase in lots of different models and ways of doing it and it is only going to get more sophisticated as a number of the clubs realise that they do not necessarily just have to do branded content for their existing sponsors but their sales teams can actually go out and sell specific digital packages in a way that adds to the general revenue streams coming into the commercial side of the business. That is why I expect to see more of it going forward.”
Integrating more sponsors into their content is allowing soccer clubs to keep sponsors satisfied during a period with no live action and allows brands to extract additional value from deals in the absence of traditional matchday assets.
Clubs to have increased their branded content on both Facebook and Instagram during the coronavirus period include Manchester City and Manchester United in England, Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, and Italy’s AC Milan.
Joyce added: “They [clubs] are making use of it as a way to go back to their sponsors and show them that they are being supportive, especially those which might have long-term relationships with them. They are also tapping into a trend that more people are spending more time online at the moment, there is an appetite for content.
“When there is an opportunity, that is my job to tell them there is an audience there with people ready to consume content and here is how you should cater for it and they tap into that really effectively.”
Facebook’s partners span the entire global sports ecosystem and include federations, leagues, clubs, teams, athletes and broadcasters.
Joyce believes branded content has “gained increased importance” in terms of sponsorship activation with more brands making it a key part of agreements with teams and expects digital assets to be a “key component” moving forward.
He identified Liverpool as a club “leading the way” in terms of digital content and said the European champions are top for views “quite significantly ahead of the rest” in terms of metrics.
Outside of soccer, England’s Rugby Football Union has worked closely with Facebook, and Ewan Turney, the governing body’s head of marketing, recently told Sportcal the collaboration has helped the organisation boost its commercial value and speak to potential new sponsors with opportunities for branded content.
With matchday income and broadcast rights fees set to diminish across sports and significantly impact teams financially, sponsorship will be a key area where clubs will still be able to control their revenue stream and branded content across their digital platforms could play a significant role in maintaining relationships with existing sponsors and potentially attracting new ones.
Joyce, who manages Facebook’s partnerships across leagues and teams, insisted clubs will need to make use of their large followings to offer brands a wider reach that they would not otherwise have access to which could ultimately lead to financial benefits.
He explained: “If you are a football club, you can get a lot of distribution like reach, viewership and engagement because people care about you and because you create great content. What you cannot do as a brand is get a lot of watch time and have people stay with you throughout a 30-minute video.
“So I would lean into the things that clubs can give which brands cannot necessarily get and that is things like the number of people who have watched for a minute, the amount of watch time overall and actual real engagement. These are the type of things which a brand cannot buy so if clubs can present them in a succinct way that shows the value proposition, I think they are well positioned to make sure they keep tapping into whatever budgets that are available within the broader sponsorship world.
“The most important thing would be to work out your broader business proposition, you do not want to be giving this away for free, it is a valuable commodity. The best way to describe it would be to make sure that you realise what you have and you present that and package that effectively and once you have done that, start jumping in and measuring using the metrics that cannot be bought by an advertiser.
“If you can stand them up and make a commercial partner that you are working with understand how that can affect their business and their bottom line, then that is really important.”