Thankfully this kind of talk is largely a thing of the past when it comes to sports rightsholders and their digital activations with commercial partners.
But integrating branded content into a sports organisation’s output can still be fraught with difficulties, particularly if the right conversations aren’t discussed at an early stage.
Ascot Racecourse, one of the most prestigious sporting brands in the world, is one example of getting it right though, with content from carefully selected partners like Longines, QIPCO, Cunard Line, Lavazza and Garrard & Co fitting seamlessly into their digital output.
“Branded content is really important to us,” said Ascot’s digital editor Rhys Hayward.
“We’re moving into the next phase as we modernise our approach for digital with partners. Some brands still want to produce digital content in the style of five years ago, whereby they expect two tweets and a Facebook post. That’s changed massively - and for the better.
“What we’re trying to show our partners now is how we as a racecourse and they as a sponsor can work together to maximise our joint output, putting an emphasis on quality content that is relevant to our audiences.
“We have a really strong brand identity, particularly with the Royal meeting in June and we’re fortunate to have partners who share that identity, making the process of finding crossover concepts easier - but doing it in a subtle way that doesn’t disengage people: the audience is everything.”
Ascot, who have worked with LiveWire Sport since 2014, have gradually embedded sponsors into their digital strategy, building trust on both sides that content will be produced which delivers for everyone - and in doing so, alerting other potential partners to the benefits of getting involved.
“This collaborative approach helps to improve the statistics related to the content, with those numbers ultimately showing a return of investment to the partner,” added Hayward.
“We’re lucky to work with some really well-known brands and, as a result of our approach to branded content, more and more are wanting to get involved. For us, it’s just the start.”
Let’s take luxury Swiss watchmakers Longines as an example. The nature of its product and status as a globally recognised premium brand make it a natural fit for content like course record times and landmark achievements.
But the brand is also known for style and elegance, two words synonymous with Ascot. That connection lends itself to style-based content that appeals to Ascot’s fashionista racegoer while also enabling Longines to profile its ambassadors to a new audience.
The moral of the story is that a well thought-out content strategy will produce digital output which works for everybody.
“Having a partner like Longines with its global stature is brilliant. Our brand values are very similar and that synergy to create collaborative content is key,” said Hayward.
“Working with its ambassadors enabled us to create content that would help us reach new markets that might not have been open beforehand, particularly Asia and America.
“We’re increasingly trying to reach those markets. It ties in perfectly with our broadcast association with NBC Sports and the aim of bringing Royal Ascot to the consciousness of Americans. It’s a partnership that’s gone from strength to strength.”
So what are the lessons to be learned when it comes to creating branded content that works for everybody?
• Invest time and effort into developing a strong working relationship – especially in the initial stages but also on an ongoing basis – and gaining a full understanding of what both sides are looking for
• Take the initiative by putting forward proposals based on mutually beneficial concepts
• There will inevitably be some discussions to be had around the specifics but ensure the agreed content is the right fit for your audience (or an audience you want to target): staying true to your brand is crucial
• Plan and deliver the content with a firm idea of how, where and when it will be promoted: the target audience should have an understanding of why they’re seeing it and what purpose it has
• Creating content for the sake of creating content is in nobody’s interests, resulting in poor engagement and missed opportunities
• Consider amplifying the content with advertising spend
Ascot have demonstrated that, if done in the right way and with good levels of buy-in from all parties, the power of partnerships can have a significantly positive impact all round.
Now about that viral video…