How has the sports marketing landscape changed in the last 20 years? The short answer – a lot.
As the keynote speaker of the second annual Sports Business Society Conference at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, Sean Eggert, vice president of global sports marketing at Under Armour offered his thoughts about the latest marketing trends to hit the sports world and what direction he sees it moving to in the future.
One significant change that’s impacted every aspect of sports marketing, Eggert said, is the shift in recent years of athletes becoming influencers. There’s a massive difference from the days of putting posters of athletes up on walls to now being able to interact with them or consume their content on social media, he said.
“Now you actually get to know who they are, what they do, what they like and how they interact with others. It’s a whole different level of influence,” said Eggert. “It feels like you have athletes that are coming through with an ability to tell their stories in broader ways they haven’t before. That human connection is so important.”
At Under Armour, Eggert said he’s responsible for managing over 700 athletes and over 2,000 teams within the brand’s global portfolio and enabling the next generation of athletes to reach their full potential.
That includes helping Under Armour expand its presence in esports, a space that Eggert said is forcing people to reconsider their perception of the athletic ecosystem and one that offers brands an opportunity to connect with consumers at an even deeper level.
“If you take a look at casual and professional gaming, it’s no longer niche. This is as mainstream as it gets,” said Eggert. “I actually saw a stat that music and entertainment combined still don't equal the fan base of gaming. Regardless of how you consume that content, you’re playing in your own universe.”
There are also decisions to be made by brands regarding name, image and likeness (NIL) sponsorships for college athletes, as well as in exploring ventures in sports gambling, which Eggert said is raising the stakes in the game for consumers.
With the emergence of NIL deals, specifically, the pool of opportunity for brands has increased dramatically, he said. But there are also a lot of questions about the best ways to navigate this new era in college sports and to connect with athletes.
“One of the things that’s most important in the NIL discussion is the support of our university partners,” said Eggert. “How can we support the student-athletes to help them reach their potential? A lot of that comes by way of education. They understand how to play their sport at a high level and then attend classes, but we can help them learn how to represent a brand.”
At Under Armour, building relationships with athletes remains paramount to the company’s success, Eggert said. Whether it’s a college, professional or amateur athlete, the process starts with the same question: Does the athlete’s values and vision align with Under Armour?
That question is a catalyst to find out what athletes stand for, what’s most important to them and how a brand like Under Armour can help them make a difference by leveraging their influence.
“I always thought it was the allure of the brand and compensation package that attracted the athlete. That’s not so much the case anymore. It’s the connection that you build with them that may make the difference and you create special relationships when you find that you’re after the same goals,” said Eggert.
“When it's time to make those investments and put your money where your mouth is, you need to know if you’re together. Sometimes that actually matters more than the compensation.”
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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.