The Unofficial Sports Digital Marketing End Of Year Awards 2020

The Digital Café is originally published by iSportconnect and takes a regular look at what’s happening, what’s relevant and what’s entertaining in the digital and social world of sport. In the last orders for this year we look at how social and digital were shaped by the events of 2020 and how Sport responded.

In a year like no other, digital and social media in sport responded to some unprecedented situations with (mostly) great agility and some surprising social stars were born.

Social Star

Manchester United player Marcus Rashford’s use of social has to be the event of the year if not the decade. He managed, through a concerted, understated, but powerful campaign to highlight and force the British Government into not one, but two U-turns. Having been initially criticised by the UK’s health minister, Rashford and other professional soccer players managed to come through the pandemic with more compassion and ideas than the ruling party.

“Austin FC didn’t have a team, a ground or a fixture list when it started its social campaigns — but they were a masterclass in garnering support and galvanising a Texan community.”

Special mention also goes to Lewis Hamilton who also highlighted causes close to his own heart and (as well as equalling Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles and beating Covid-19) also managed to get Formula 1 to take a long, hard look at equality in the sport.

Newcomer of the Year

Not a person, more an account. Well, a club. Austin FC didn’t have a team, a ground or a fixture list when it started its social campaigns — but they were a masterclass in garnering support and galvanising a Texan community which is not the first which springs to mind when you mention US soccer.

They had some great online campaigns (their shirt launch should be studied by teams in every sport) which were backed up by experiential marketing and some savvy influencer content generated by ‘local’ actor Matthew McConaughey. And, once again. This was while their stadium and team were being built. They won’t kick a ball in anger until the 21/22 season. A great case study for digital and social any time, let alone during a pandemic.

Tweet of the Year

…had to be Southampton Football Club. They hit the political, sporting and social zeitgeist with their “Stop The Count” tweet when they were riding at the top of the Premier League. The club’s renaissance following their 9–0 defeat to Leicester City reached its zenith in November when they hit the top of the table, just as the President of the United States was demanding an end to ballot counting. This was top use of social in sport.

Trend/s of the Year

The necessity of remote spectators meant there were some great innovations by clubs. The Zoom-view or fan reactions was great for football, and the fans’ submissions shown on the big screen at F1 races was interesting, but it was Leeds United who nailed it with their spectator sofa commentary from families forced to support from home.

The other trend of this year, in part driven by its massive audience and in part by athletes’ and teams’ innovation was that TikTok came of age. From Liverpool FC to Derry City FC, the chance to get great content in front of great audience numbers was an obvious next step.

Social Hype of the Year

It would be too easy to say TikTok or even esports, but influencer marketing (and arguably sports clubs moving into esports franchises is a form of influencer marketing) is what has been big this year. From the megastars of soccer (Ronaldo, Messi and Salah) to fitness coaches, cheerleaders and even the slightly leftfield Dude Perfect (ask your kids), the combination of sports personalities, fans and followers has gained real traction this year, especially as athletes had more time on their hands during lockdown to finesse their social and digital craft. And, as sports such as the NFL in the States have seen, gaining your next generation of fans means being where they are. And where are they? On social.

Faux Pas of the Year

The best (best?) examples of this appeared to be from sponsors and broadcasters rather than athletes (for the most part). While brands like Burger King got their digital marketing spot on, British Airways and Amazon were sadly less than clever with their support of their teams (in BA’s case) and programming territories (stand up Amazon).

Predictions for 2021…

The lessons learned from 2020 will hopefully continue in 2021 more meaningful digital engagement, better social content, great engagement and (for all our sakes) more spectators at games, events and races. Everyone loves a bit of digital and social interaction, but nothing beats actually watching live.

I’ve worked in digital and social content marketing in sport and music for (amongst others) Red Bull Media House and GoPro. I’m a columnist for iSportconnect

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