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The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced the sports industry to adapt rapidly in response to disrupted schedules, widespread cancellations and live events without fans. With the three core streams which account for the bulk of revenue in sports – media rights, commercial partnerships and ticket sales – all impacted to various degrees the industry has sought new and innovative ways to interact and engage with fans and restore fractured confidence with sponsors. This has intensified the spotlight on Euro 2020 as the wider sports industry looks at just what is possible within this new normal.
While there will be limited fans in attendance at Euro 2020 matches, physical spaces – stadiums, airports, bars, hotels, public squares – won’t experience the same degree of fervor and fanfare typically associated with an event of this magnitude. This begs the question if fans aren’t where they typically would be, where are they? What will they be doing, and how can they be engaged in meaningful ways that will help the tournament meet expectations?
In 2020, the FA, the governing body of football in England, launched the campaign #footballsstayinghome on TikTok accumulating over 330 million views. In the US, the NBA and NFL both partnered with the platform in 2020. By the end of 2020, 70% of teams in the top five US leagues and top five European football leagues had a TikTok account and were investing more into content creation.
All this activity makes the recent announcement of a sponsorship between UEFA and TikTok somewhat unsurprising yet incredibly exciting with what it promises – bringing fans back to football and encouraging more active engagement based on fan-generated content. Reportedly, 83% of TikTok users have posted a video many linked to viral challenges and games and fan contests allowing brands to not just interact with users but encourages them to produce their own content, share it with their friends and followers, creating and more importantly sustaining momentum. This will be a key mechanism in maximising engagement during the tournament. For the platform, the partnership with UEFA will enable it to tap into the lifeblood of European football culture, catalysing growth in users in key football markets globally.
While fans may not be flocking out to bars or public squares to watch the matches, and with strict limitations on capacity at host venues, ranging from 25-33% of total capacity, fans are still likely to carve out a portion of disposable income to mark key matches. Partnering brands will be looking at digital engagement to grow not just exposure but sales during the tournament. Sponsors across key categories –soft drinks, packaged food, food delivery, alcoholic drinks and others – are better utilising digital inventory to greater effect in place of traditional activations. Yet all will have different strategies, objectives and understanding as to what success looks like.
For UEFA success will mean driving fan engagement to new heights online and illustrating how the pandemic hasn’t diluted football fandom. Beyond UEFA, rights holders will hope that a successful tournament will diminish any tentativeness seen from sponsors throughout the ranging from a lack of certainty around return on investment to reputational risks if sponsorship activations failed to strike the right chord with consumers.
The prevailing belief in the industry is that as the world emerges from the pandemic there will be a surge in partnerships and subsequent content brought about by this newfound confidence and increased fluency in digital platforms. TikTok’s partnership with UEFA will be a useful litmus test to understand the extent of what level of fan engagement is possible in this new normal.
To learn more about the impact of TikTok in sports, access the report “TikTok and Twitch: Engaging the Next Generation of Sports Fans Online“.