Looking to the future is equal parts planning and worrying. I see that mix as a good thing. We have to plan for the future, as well as anticipate issues. Worry can’t be all-consuming, but a healthy dose can help motivate and innovate.
I took a brief look back at the marketing of swimming in 2013, but looking to the future is more fun. Below is a wish list for youth sports marketing in 2014 and beyond, along with a few of my worries. These worries are my personal “drawing board” if you will.
Industry Collaboration: We need to grow participation in grassroots swimming (at least in some areas of the country). The key will be collaborating as an industry the way the milk processors formed the “Got Milk?” campaign. We either grow the pie or swap each other’s pieces.
Disruption: The sport needs to be more disruptive in its marketing. It is a conservative (not in a political sense) sport and we speak to our own kind many times. We have to talk to the people who don’t even know they want to be involved vs. the already committed. The automotive industry is famous for “me too” type ads that make it hard to differentiate benefits of one car to another, but the Dodge Durango ads with Ron Burgundy disrupted that industry this year.
Expand TV/Media Reach: While swimming has enjoyed more TV than ever with long-term deals with NBC and Universal Sports, those event broadcasts primarily reach the existing community of swimmers. We have to find ways to expand programming that doesn’t fully rely on competitions.
Local Marketing Takes Hold: Clubs and facilities across the country will take on the responsibility of driving participation more than ever. We are competing with inactivity and other sports. Clubs will find that “build it and they will come” will not be sufficient. Clubs will begin creating specific roles for marketing, sponsorship and public relations to focus on the “dry side” of the business.
Think Locally: Globally, Activate Locally: Similar to above, corporate America wants to know how we can “put butts in seats” or “heads in beds” or “make the cash register ring.” This is done locally. High-profile events are great, but the properties that turn that national awareness into local activation will win.
Non-Endemic, Olympic Partners: After the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi end, the corporate worlds’ attention turns back to the Summer Olympics. The sport needs companies beyond the swimming industry to embrace and help market the sport. We have a good track record with companies such as AT&T, BMW, CeraVe, Mutual of Omaha, Phillips 66, Marriott and others but companies like these can help us get beyond the existing swimming community.
Organizations Tell Their Own Story: The blog boom is in full force, and that’s a good thing. We will continue to hear from leaders in their own voice across all facets of sports. As news aggregation sites like Zite and Flipboard grow in importance, these blogs show up just like the traditional news outlets in customized news feeds.
Multicultural Gets More Steam: We have seen the changing face of the U.S. Olympic Team as well as promotions for Make a Splash and multicultural outreach. This will continue and be a key part of business planning for any swimming organization going forward.
Things That Keep Me Up at Night
There are always a few topics that have me puzzled. I call this my personal “drawing board” as I feel these are topics that need attention, but I can always use others’ insight or ideas into how to make them happen. Below are themes that keep me up at night:
• Incorporating Athletes with Corporate Partners – How can we better collaborate with pro athletes on the marketing side and support performance in the mean time? Long-time Olympic sports agent Evan Morgenstein calls it the “consolidation of wealth” among a few pro swimmers and says sponsorship of Olympic level swimmers is at a low. If this is what others are experiencing, it’s something we need to get on the table.
• Print vs. Digital: Just look at Newsweek magazine announcing it is going all digital, then later retreating back to print. People say on surveys they want digital, but their click behavior doesn’t follow. People (and advertisers) appreciate print, but it has to be integrated with digital more than ever.
• Social Media Roulette Wheel – Every year we see a flavor of the day social media site. In recent years we have seen Instagram, Pinterest and Vine rocket to the top of conscious but now even Facebook faces challenges of losing youth audiences. Placing chips on the social media roulette wheel is always a challenge.
• Traditional Media Shift – there are fewer traditional media outlets (ex. major news organizations) covering Olympic sports on-site at major championships. More outlets are relying on wire reports or even reporting remotely. 3 Wire Sports creator Alan Abrahamson (@alanabrahamson) is bringing this issue to the light of day more and more.
• Fitness Disconnect – people who swim for fitness are not consuming the media of the competitive swimming industry (ex. TV, print, digital). This group is millions strong and isn’t authentically connected. Casual golfers and tennis players follow elite competitions more than in our industry.
• Getting Beyond the Olympic Halo – Is there such a thing as a “fan” of swimming outside the Olympics and the Olympic Trials? At non-Olympic year national events, most spectators have 1-2 degrees of separation from someone in the water. Is there a way to build our following beyond those connected to the sport?
Any feedback and ideas are welcomed, especially those that help me sleep just a bit better this year!