Brands, Bands, Fans: What Music & Sport Can Learn From Each Other

Sport is way ahead of music when it comes to brand investment. It’s at least ten times bigger worldwide and the gap is growing. From a niche play only 40 years ago, sports marketing has boomed.This hasn’t happened by accident.

Sport set out to make it happen, and has done so brilliantly. With the fall in revenues from traditional sources, in particular record sales, the music industry has never needed brands more than today, not just as replacement income but also for marketing support. So what can music learn from how sport has so successfully attracted brand partners and budgets – and what can sport learn from music?

What Music Can Learn From Sport?

1. Sport has made brands a fundamental part of how it presents itself – broadcasts, events, leagues, teams, stadiums, players. This has done many things, but in particular it has normalised sport’s relationship with brands, in a way that is still evolving in music, and made sports fans more accepting of brands in sports than they are in music – although this is now changing for millennials who accept brands operating in the music space.

2. Sport has used the media to make itself and its brand partners impossible to miss. Globally, sport is ‘always on’ – and always on screen. Music, by contrast, rarely gets a look in and has nowhere near the exposure.

3. Sport has made itself easy to buy. Although, like music, sport is a complex ecosystem of rights, it’s alleviated the problem by commercialising its assets specifically with brands in mind, bundling rights and minimising buying points. Music is still wrestling with the problem of being much more complex, and much more difficult for brands to buy.

4. Sport thinks long term. Most big brand partnerships in sport are built around multi-year agreements – usually over a minimum of three years, although even longer deals are not uncommon – enabling brands to plan long term strategies with all the benefits that brings to both sport and the brand. In contrast, music deals tend to generally be short-term tactical hit and runs which scratch the surface of what is possible and often result in low ROI and poor experiences.

5. Sport can be a powerful ally: when sport and music come together, the results are often amazing. Adidas’s collaboration with Run-DMC. The Super Bowl halftime show. Coke’s 2010 World Cup collaboration with K’naan. And – as our recent #TalkinRevolution music marketing panel event at Spotify demonstrated - the natural synergies which happen when brands bring artists and sports stars together. The potential is huge and the possibilities are endless.

What Sport Can Learn From Music?

1. Although sports marketing budgets dwarf those in music, music offers brands the same mass reach and arguably even greater emotion. This emotion is what drives the relationship between brands, bands and fans, inspiring product demand and marketing pull. Sport gets this, but can take lessons from music’s much greater focus on creating credible brand partnerships and avoiding over-commercialisation, which we also talked about at our #TalkinRevolution event.

2. Music can be a powerful ally for sport, generating both connectivity and emotional engagement. Think of the Three Tenors and Italia 90, and probably most effectively of all, the Three Lions, which became the soundtrack of Euro 96 and still resonates today.

3. Music is brilliant at marketing to the young, as Engine’s Cassandra Report consistently demonstrates. Millennials, for whom music is a bigger passion than sport, embrace brands who provide them with music experiences, especially online. In contrast, the audience for most major sports, which are heavily reliant on TV, is ageing. Music is inherently viral online, fuelling many of the biggest social platforms. By leaning into music, sport can dramatically increase its reach and engagement – especially with the young.

4. Music is still under-exploited by sport. Traditionally the music industry has led talent and content decisions, often with poor results – most recently UEFA agreeing to use Alicia Keys for the Champions League Final. Wrong act, wrong demographic. Sport should get on the front foot and insist on better, insight-driven choices.

5. Sport is terrified of risk. Music embraces it. Yes, risk needs to be minimised, but risk can be good. No risk usually results in less or no interest. Building on this ‘edge’ creates stand out and differentiation. Look no further than Nike and Red Bull, for both of whom risk has been central to their sports strategies for years.

In summary, music clearly has much to learn from sport’s advanced commercial strategies. But conversely sport can learn from the edginess, risk and social glue that music creates. More joint ventures, and better execution, can create huge synergies for brands, bands and fans. Sport and music just need to lean in to each other more. The only limit is the power of our imagination. Let’s make it happen!

This is an enlarged version of a piece originally written by Arnon Woolfson and Tim Crow for Music Week.