A Brand New Ball Game

Article excerpt

Technology is offering an array of opportunities for marketing at sports events.

Next time you visit a packed football or rugby ground, take a look around and see if you can spot the fan eating a hot pasty, programme in hand, while listening to the PA system for the half-time scores from other games.

He probably is there, but he could be hard to spot, as he is part of a diminishing demographic. The nation's best-loved sports are now so suffused with marketing technology that the live match has been transformed into something more akin to a marketing-cum-social-media interactive event. Fans can use their smartphones to order food, watch goals (see box, below right) and, now, even to get their faces printed on the shirt numbers of their sporting heroes.

The latest fan photo initiative, called Playing2, was announced last weekend by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

It will roll out during the 6 Nations tournament next year, and offers fans the chance to have their photo printed as one of many that will make up the shirt numbers of Welsh players during the competition.

Price of inclusion

Paying pounds 20 to have a tiny photo of yourself placed on the back of your favourite player's shirt may seem a waste of money to some, but Neil Latimer, retail and licence manager at the WRU, is confident it will take off.

'Fans today want to be included more, and for them, this is a coup. It is not a lot of money, which means this could work well in football, particularly as football players have the same shirt number for every match,' he says.

The attraction when it comes to megastar players is even more obvious, says Latimer, with the prospect of a Manchester United fan having his face on Wayne Rooney's number 10 shirt, for example, likely to be a major draw.

Wales' home 6 Nations matches tend to attract crowds of more than 70,000 fans to the Millennium Stadium, and Latimer argues that a significant number of these will sign up to Playing2.

Aside from this latest activity, marketing is now part of the fabric of the match-day experience. At the Millennium Stadium, for instance, there are 450 TV screens that show game footage, directional signage and brand advertising.

Dove, Investec and Fiat are among the brands running ads during matches. They are attracted because a significant proportion of fans at big games fall into a high-spending demographic, says Latimer.

However, rugby is in some respects playing catch-up to football. Vange Kourentis, commercial director at Sports Revolution, which is pioneering the use of technology in this area, says his company has been focusing its research on football fans. …