Front-runners – how four sports brands use content to position themselves as leaders of the pack

Sports marketing is a fertile field, with billions being spent every year to try and capture yet more billions back in revenue from sales of the latest boots, bikes and bits of kit. Fortunately for sports fans, that means there is some truly great content created to try to capture our imaginations. Here we look at four of the most dominant sports brands in their respective fields (pun intended) and how they use content to cement their places at the top of the pile.

Instant rugby recognition

Links to content, as well as product, are given prime real estate on the Canterbury homepage.
Links to content, as well as product, are given prime real estate on the Canterbury homepage.

Canterbury of New Zealand is the world’s most recognisable rugby brand. While other sports brands try to cover many bases (see Nike, Adidas et al), the company has remained steadfast in its commitment to the pursuit of the odd-shaped ball. As you’d expect, the brand’s content follows this pattern and on its social channels you’ll find a flood of rugby-related pics, posts and videos.

Especially impressive is the Canterbury Instagram feed and the way the brand has embraced the site’s new video functionality. The brand has two weekly features; Try Time Tuesday and Fend Off Friday. These are short clips of action in professional rugby matches, and from the looks of things Canterbury is using a phone or device to film them ‘second hand’ from TV broadcasts, rather than just using content it has the rights to broadcast. Copyright law and Youtube is too vast and nebulous a topic to go into here but what we can say is, if the way Canterbury is creating this content is on the up and up, then it’s a very savvy way of cutting costs and opening up a whole world of rich video content.

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Sticking with social, and the Canterbury Facebook page is also home to a lot of good things. Every post we looked at had a strong CTA – whether driving traffic to product pages or other channels. This is the real measure of whether you’re doing social well, because, as every good marketer knows, likes and shares aren’t the only KPIs to consider.

Your personal swim coach

Speedo wants to be a part of its customers’ lives. That means being there all the time, not just when they’re shopping for a new pair of goggles or searching for training tips online. To this end the brand has created an app called Speedo Fit, which is a training tracker to help keen swimmers keep a log of the metres and minutes they’ve done in the water. While you’d probably struggle to actually take an iPhone into the pool with you, the app is about as close as you can get. It’s also free to download, a sign of how badly Speedo want to be the first thing you drop in your kit bag (apart from your cossie!) screen568x568

As the world’s biggest swimming brand, Speedo enjoys unrivalled access to the sport’s top talent. It has sponsorship deals with virtually every aquatic Olympian of note and makes sure to press this advantage by publishing heaps of content starring its athletes. Ryan Lochte, all-conquering, all-American super-splasher is a poster boy for the sport and his easy-going nature has made him a bit of a media darling – the guy even had his own short-lived reality show in the US.  Speedo would be mad not to exploit the popularity of one of its top personalities, so unsurprisingly there’s lots of video content featuring Lochte and other superstars (Michael Phelps features in this video alongside Lochte).

The brand also leverages its sponsored stars on Pinterest, giving them their own dedicated board. In general the pinning site is a channel where Speedo is very active – the brand’s UK account had more than 600 pins on 23 boards at the last count. In terms of competitors, Speedo is blowing everyone else out of the water. Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 19.15.30

Winning the fight for football

Nike. Arguably the most powerful sports brand ever. How did they get there? Well content marketing has certainly played a huge part… In 1996, Nike caused a stir by announcing that it spent 33% of it’s advertising budget on traditional media, down 55% from the previous 10 years – a sure sign that the brand was moving  its focus away from athlete endorsements and onto its consumer. This strategic shift towards building an audience took the form of various strands that reached out and asked users to engage with their products, and therefore become part of the brand – Nike ID product customisation, and Nike Plus (which allows users to record and share athletic activities) being prime examples.

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Nike spends a lot of its marketing bucks on soccerball, sorry, football, which is understandable given its status as the world’s most popular sport. It uses content to fight the ongoing war with Adidas for the title of world’s biggest football brand. The Nike Football Facebook page has more than 35 million followers (15 million more than Adidas), and there is good reason for it – firstly the use of aspirational, inclusive language seen in the above site image, is also consistently applied across all social channels and posts (below).

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Nike Football also focuses on the past, tapping into its heritage by not only drawing on its affiliation with the legends of the game, but also the products that helped innovate the sport – this in turn creates a level of reassurance and authenticity that its consumers look for in such an influential and historically rich sport. One other key point we noticed is the continuous dialogue between the brand and its consumers – a mainstay when building a loyal following. It’s a full circle with Nike Football as it also uses content to demonstrate its commitment to the future.

The Nike Football Academy represents a door into the world of professional football for many aspirational young players – by showcasing success stories from various countries, they are reaching out to the next generation, positioning themselves as the brand committed to investing in the future, and taking football innovation to the next level – a movement many aspiring football fans want to be a part of. Nike Football has used content to strengthen its connection with its consumers, building brand advocacy by providing valuable, engaging, sharable tools and content that allows users to engage with, and become part of the brand’s story.

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Section by Nick van Buuren

All aboard the Sky train

Team Sky is well known in the cycling world as the team everyone wants to beat. The last two winners of the Tour de France have ridden for the British team, and with its impressive roster of top stars – Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Richie Porte – Team Sky is about as close as you’ll come in cycling to a team of ‘Galacticos’.

Cycling is unusual in that supporters of specific teams don’t really exist, largely because of how often the teams change names, personnel or disappear altogether. Instead, fans follow specific riders ­– in footballing terms, it would be the equivalent of worshipping Wayne Rooney, but feeling no real affinity to Manchester United. This has historically meant it is very difficult to achieve any kind of following for a team – something Sky has set out to change.

Rather than ‘owning’ the sport of cycling as a whole, which is largely dominated by manufacturers of bikes and high-performance gear, Sky has targeted the UK as its main audience and the creation of a loyal supporter base as its main ambition. The content it produces to pursue these aims comes in a lot of forms, one of our favourites being the brand’s Spotify playlist widget that can be accessed on the main team website. It’s a novel way of giving fans another insight into the team camp, beyond the usual ‘this is what the cyclists ate/rode/wore today’ type content.

Of course, as a team that is constantly competing in various races around the world, there are plenty of content opportunities in terms of race news and results. The Team Sky site does a great job of keeping on top of this, with an excellent ‘always on’ publishing mentality. It isn’t all ‘who finished where’ though – there’s also some great photo essays like this one featuring Bradley Wiggins on a recce of the route for this year’s Paris Roubaix (our favourite is the one of him grumpily putting his socks on while sat in a car boot).

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Storytelling in sport

Whether it’s done to focus in on a particular market, or geared towards ‘owning’ an entire sport, powerful, emotive content is the new way for brands to mark themselves out in a fast-paced and hyper-competitive market. Mirroring the main attraction of sport itself, it’s not about the statistics, it’s about the stories.

Breaking free: four brands using content to get ahead of the competition
Speak Media’s guide to building a loyal and engaged audience
Adventure stories: how eight outdoor brands climbed new content peaks in 2013
Content brand of the week:, the brand that’s piling content high and selling it cheap

Author: Tom Owen

A strategic storyteller and compelling content creator, awash with acuity and adept at alliteration. I work for Speak Media.

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