Opinion: Brands failing to connect with grassroot consumers

05 Feb 2018

By: Sport Industry Group

Matthew Cook, managing director of Match Day Media, and Sport Industry NextGen Leader 2018, looks at how brands efforts and grassroots level and how they are connecting with the consumer.

Grassroots participation in sport is an integral focus for brands looking to cut through the clutter and engage with key customers. Companies rely on well-heeled commercial sponsorship with national governing bodies or stellar clubs to appeal to the masses, but the question remains whether they’re doing enough behind the veneer of silky media campaigns to align with core consumers at a grassroots level.

Our recent survey into consumer and brand interaction of 2,000 people involved in both local football and rugby union, found that 62% want to have better access to brands and more engagement with them at the grassroots level.

McDonalds has been involved with community football for 15 years.

Of course there are influential campaigns such as McDonald’s’ 15-year commitment to community football or Natwest’s Rugby Force, which reach people at a passion point. However, there is a wider issue across the industry of the increasing gap between brands who want to help make a difference at a local level and connecting them with the teams who rely on their initiatives.

Large sums of money are committed to community activism and CSR, but the irony is that there is a clear detachment between how they’re delivered to, and engaged with, by the intended audience.

We operate in a more tech-savvy world, where the rise of technology has made it easier for consumers to connect with brands when and wherever they want. At the same time, the evolution of social media has opened up access to the sporting world like never before - audiences remain cynical about what they read and view yet crave the transparency that comes with unadulterated content.

ESPN opens multifunctional sports courts in some of the poorest areas around the world

Marketeers need to understand the importance of putting consumers at the heart of their outreach. Take, for example, Old Mutual Wealth and its Kids First initiative – which helps to upskill rugby coaches for children aged between seven and 13. An offshoot of its partnership with the RFU, the campaign has been praised for its unpolished authenticity which demonstrates the true power of bespoke, fresh content.

Videos of Ugo Monye and Flats visiting local rugby clubs to meet with communities is compelling viewing, but the true impact lies with opportunities the programme offers to children, to help them develop and learn the game. This example highlights the weight social responsibility carries and the importance of tailoring social outreach through appropriate channels.

Old Mutual Wealth and its Kids First initiative 

Entry into a sport through commercial partnership opens up an unprecedented level of credibility and access to a key demographic, and more often than not works to keep a brand front of mind with the consumer. Our survey found that 71% of respondents associated O2 with England Rugby, and that Vauxhall is the standout name associated with England Football. The survey also found that people are unaware of the local and community support banner sponsors like the aforementioned engage in.

Grassroots activation is a key concept that the sporting world is starting to embrace. For popular sports, the sheer scale of the market can be daunting – how is awareness built across a vast number of participants, and fragmented audience?

Our main partner, Pitchero, represent over one million active participants, including 75% of all grassroots Rugby Union clubs and over 6,000 football clubs.

Done properly, a grassroots activation can be the most rewarding part of a sponsorship campaign and fall nicely as a counterpart to all the glamour around high-level sponsorship, by reaching consumers at the coal face. The opportunity for brands to combine the benefits of their association with top tier purveyors of the game and apply them to the people, players and fans that form the backbone of their consumer base is hugely rewarding, and measurable when done through the right channels.