How Digital Became the Top Dog in Sports Marketing

3 min read


Until just a few years ago, digital was the scrappy underdog of sports marketing. But today, it’s the LeBron James of the industry: fast, powerful, and versatile. Meanwhile, traditional media is looking more like Tim Duncan: lumbering, slow, and old.

Digital advertising has become so big it now encompasses 33% of total advertising spending in the United States. Similar trends in social media have had a vast impact on sports marketing. They include:

Convenience and Engagement

One of the biggest advantages of digital marketing is it allows you to be where consumers are. With more than 72% of adults in the United States owning a smartphone, 73% of teens able to access a smartphone, and the average American spending 4.7 hours of their day on one, it’s no wonder sports marketing is shifting to a mobile age. It’s no longer a question of whether you should market on mobile devices. Rather it’s a question of where to do it, and how.1402680983000-UD-APP-graphic-02-1-

Sports leagues and broadcast networks like the NBA, NFL, NHL, and ESPN are capitalizing on this trend to interact and connect with fans. They’re using social media platforms and smartphone apps to keep users updated with news and statistics, entertained with streaming events, and engaged with discussion boards, live tweets, and promotions. Just a couple of months ago, the NHL and NBA tailored their apps for the times zones and locations of individual users during the NBA Finals and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals.

Not Just One-Way Communication

Sports networks and athletes used to be very limited in their engagement and communication with viewers. Connections were only made via live action, interviews, or advertisements. There was no way for fans to interact directly with athletes. But today, athletes and sports networks are engaging consumers in real time and driving conversations to elicit feedback from fans.

Digital media allow fans to interact with content and share their voice. Take Tony X (aka @soloucity): an avid Twitter user who, this past April, was searching for the Cubs vs. Cardinals MLB game on TV when he stumbled upon his first hockey game ever. It was Game 7 of the Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues series, and Tony was instantly captivated. He sent out numerous Tweets expressing his newfound love for hockey and the St. Louis Blues. In response, the St. Louis Blues invited Tony to Game 3 against the Dallas Stars, even buying him a jersey to wear as he cheered on his new favorite team.

New Tools

By 2018, 84% of communication will be visual. To prepare for this change, the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL have all created Snapchat accounts to share instant visual news and behind-the-scenes footage of events and players. These sports leagues have all signed major deals with Snapchat, and are now featured on Snapchat’s “Our Story” segments. “Our Story” gives users a firsthand look at featured events—and it allows them to share their own personal videos.Broadcast networks like ESPN, Fox Sports, and TNT have also integrated new technology into their programming. The NBA has added new technology to Inside the NBA to assist hosts in presenting game analyses. This new technology allows fans to be engaged while showcasing relevant information in an exciting, engaging way.

Finally, big data and analytical tools have improved the quality of digital sports marketing by pushing marketers to be more data-driven. New tools tell marketers where, when, and how to engage their fan base. Furthermore, it gives them the information they need to constantly adjust and improve their strategies.

Keys to successful digital sports marketing:

  1. Find your voice (as an athlete, team, or brand): Be genuine and consistent in your communication.
  2. Be data driven: Utilize analytical tools to point you in the right direction.
  3. Be social: Respond to fans. Don’t talk at Talk with them.
  4. Adapt and innovate: Use technology to your advantage, find new ways to engage fans, and retain their attention by keeping up with trends.


For more insight and key pointers, check out this helpful webinar from Sportz Interactive CEO Arvind Iyengar.