paris 2024 olympics

question of the week

2024: the year of sport. what can we expect from the ad industry?

The Paris Olympics, the Germany UEFA Euros and the Australian Open - these are but a few of the sporting events taking place this year - so how will adland embrace these?

By conor nichols

On your mark, get set, go! And *the blow of a whistle* … a spectacular array of sporting events are set to take place this year. The Germany UEFA Euros and Paris Olympics are set to draw the attention of sports fans from all over the world this summer. To add to the list - the Paralympics, the Australian Open, Cricket T20 World Cups and the Copa América are set to collectively send our hearts racing around these various games. The Africa Cup of Nations - called as "the best edition of the biennial continental showpiece" by ESPN - has already been and gone and the Six Nations is underway. Most notably, the Super Bowl LVIII lit the globe up with eye-watering amounts of attention. Taylor Swift’s win - sorry - Kansas City’s win was watched by a record-breaking 123.4 million viewers. The ads surrounding the event - believed to cost $7 million each in media value - have been dubbed as the best Super Bowl ads ever. While criticisms have been levelled against the high number of brands using celebrities to win over viewers, brands such as Uber Eats, Pringles, Paramount+ and CeraVe spots featuring the likes of Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimer, David Beckham (and Victoria), Chris Pratt, Sir Patrick Stewart and Michael Cera dominated social media chatter and had the most buzz around them.

And this is just the beginning. This playground for brands will continue to expand for the next ten months with most of the world tuning in to watch a series of sporting events across 2024. For reference, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics saw a total of 3.05 billion unique viewers tune into coverage across linear TV and digital platforms. A record global audience of more than 365 million people also watched the Euros in the summer of 2022. After all, sports is nothing without fans. A rare occasion in which people can come together and share a sense of pride and belonging. And what better time to speak to an audience with culturally relevant content?

So, how will brands capitalise on this in 2024? What do this year’s sport events offer advertisers and consumers? How are creative and media agencies preparing for the ‘year of sport’? How will brands and agencies seek to ensure that campaigns stand out in a sea of sponsorship marketing output? We ask the industry’s finest to find out.

Simon Gregory, joint chief strategy officer, BBH London

Oh goody. Another round of the Official Iron of the Paralympics and Preferred Antacid for the Super Bowl. If we’re really lucky we might see Mary Earps stood next to a tyre wondering why she’s in front of a green screen.

This year should be a huge opportunity for brands to participate in something full of passion, excitement, inclusivity and culture in the making. A chance to show its understanding of the real world and use their generosity to make things even better. But, by and large, most sport event sponsorship smells like a boardroom with a big bag of cash, and most activity sweats assets more than effort. Rarely do customers and fans get anything from it.

What should they be doing? For me, participation is the key word.

These events are nothing without participation, from the athletes, from the hosting cities, from the fans. Brands should be thinking about what they’re adding to the moments rather than simply labelling it. What are they doing to help fans enjoy it? What are they doing to help people feel more involved? What are they doing to make the experience better? How are they actually getting involved?

I’d rather wave my Paddy Power Pants over a free bet at the races than be bullied into drinking a lager I don’t like. I loved my O2 pint and pie to help me get into a Rugby World Cup on down-under-o’clock. It’s not hard.

Be generous. Be on the side of fans. Participate.

Ed Hayne, strategy director, Grey

Should we believe the hype around sport in 2024? In the words of Super Bowl LVIII halftime show headliner, Usher “Yeah!”

Big eventers will join everyday sports fans to create a large, highly engaged and emotionally charged audience. On paper, it’s the stuff of dreams for brands. However, if history is anything to go by, there’ll be plenty of red faces at the end of year.

Expect to be left frustrated by the millions wasted on forgettable, lazy badging work that does nothing for the brand, consumer or event itself. (Yes, England Rugby, I’m talking about you). Question why a sporting event means it’s okay to completely deviate from a brand’s core business and marketing objective. And if you’re anything like me, get angry about the sea of inauthentic and downright clumsy work that will be produced at vast expense.

But enough negativity. The media landscape around sport has never been richer, and I love that TV takes on extra significance during live events. After the weirdness of the Qatar Men’s World Cup, I’m expecting a return to some classic ‘Move me, dude’ advertising from Nike at Euro 2024 and the Paris Olympics. When they’re on form, good things tend to happen.

However, what really excites me is the type of work that last hit the headlines in 2015. That year, the best sports campaigns came from unexpected sources, with Grey’s ‘Volvo Interception’ and Samsung’s ‘School of Rugby’ stealing the show. The former was predatory thinking at its best during the Super Bowl. The latter showed genuine audience empathy and understanding of the brand’s novice role in the game. Both entertained in spades and answered a genuine business problem.

If you want to win during ‘the year of sport’, I’d start there.

Shane O'Sullivan, managing director, VML Sports & Entertainment division - PRISM

2024 is set to be a bumper year for the sports industry as it continues to show strong growth.

Paris 2024 is the first Olympics since 2016 where stadiums will be full and has already secured more than €1billion in sponsorship revenue. Following the IOC’s relaxation on marketing restrictions - with athletes now having greater freedom to share previously restricted content – we can expect to see greater direct athlete to fan interaction. Brands will look to capitalise on this with platforms such as TikTok and Team GB’s recently announced partnership is with no doubt a shrewd move.

The introduction of surfing, skateboarding, and climbing at the Tokyo Games plus breaking (brake dancing) in Paris will provide further opportunities to connect with more diverse audiences. Embracing new sports is key for the Olympic movement as is embracing the ever-changing media landscape.

2024 is also particularly important for European audiences as major tournaments will be hosted in North America and Australia over the next decade. Looking past 2024, learnings from the record breaking 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will act as a blueprint for activation in the years to come. Digital and traditional media coverage records were smashed, showing effective strategies can overcome time zone challenges and that engagement is not limited to moment of the live event. Fans are as passionate about how athletes spend their time between matches and events.

Moving ahead, campaigns focused on cultural importance, environmental consciousness, and wider purpose driven concepts will be front and centre as brands look to stand out and authentically engage with audiences in between those sporting moments. We will also see AI will come to the fore as brands look to deliver memorable experiences which embrace new technologies. The key to success here, will be those who manage to keep their strategy simple and accessible.

Joe Smith, strategy partner, AMV BBDO

Sporting events have always offered huge potential for brands. As well as being one of the few remaining draws for large live TV audiences, they provide a brilliant backdrop for brand storytelling. Heroes and villains, superstars and underdogs, emotion and tension, failure and victory. It’s all there.

And sport often overlaps with other powerful themes that can be catnip for brands, from celebrity to music and fashion. Look no further than the 2023 Superbowl for a recent example.

Brands that can genuinely contribute to these cultural conversations happening around sporting events will win an unfair share of social attention. Gone are the days when buying a TV ad in the main broadcast or being an official event sponsor is the only way to get noticed.

One of the things I’d expect to see this year is a growth in non-sponsors investing in marketing around major sports events. Despite the strict regulations around what you can and can’t say and show, the smartest brands are finding ways to capitalise on their audience’s interest and attention.

Guinness was not an official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup in 2023, for example, but still created the most recalled campaign in Ireland (Don’t Jinx It) and saw sales and share growth across the quarter by capturing the spirit of a nervous nation.

For creative agencies, big sporting events typically deliver challenging but exciting briefs. The campaigns that stand out will be those with real insight at their heart, executed in distinctive, memorable ways that connect back to the brand.

There is also a growing awareness of how mental health can affect even the most successful sportsmen and women. It’s something we have explored with the Invisible Opponent campaign for Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) and I’d expect mental health in sport to be another rising theme over the next 12 months. Our sporting heroes can really help to challenge the damaging perception that suffering with and speaking about mental health are signs of weakness.

Liam Hopkins, managing partner, Leo Burnett UK

The summer of 2024 promises a rare window for sports enthusiasts as the UEFA EUROs, Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games all converge on European soil, presenting a golden opportunity for marketers and brands to get involved in this mega event bonanza.

Most of the major rights holders will have sold the major traditional sponsorships well in advance and all the top talent on an individual basis will be signed up or leveraged in pre-planned campaigns (if their agents are any good!). This means that the opportunities for anyone late to the party or not involved with official sponsorships will be on social platforms. The true magic lies in the art of being reactive - which is not new, but in 2024 is simply expected, and a glaring omission when a brand is not doing it, or even worse - doing it badly.

The dynamic nature of sports demands agility, and brands must be attuned to the pulse of the games and matches. Real-time engagement on social media platforms enables marketers to tap into topical moments, harnessing the energy of unexpected victories, heart-stopping defeats, and viral sensations. In this fast-paced environment, brands that adeptly join the conversation, creating content that resonates with the evolving narrative of the competitions, stand to capitalize on the collective enthusiasm and forge a meaningful connection with their audience. The summer of 2024 beckons marketers to master the delicate dance between meticulous planning and nimble reactivity, ensuring their campaigns shine amidst the thrilling tapestry of the EUROs and the Olympic and Paralympic Games.


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