Placing Fans at the Heart of Activations - John Clark, SVP, Fenway Sports Management

John Clark is the Senior Vice President of Sales & Operations for Fenway Sports Management. He sells integrated sponsorship and marketing partnerships across Fenway Sports Group’s prestigious portfolio of properties.

In the past decade, digital and technological innovation has changed the way fans interact with the athletes and teams they so passionately follow. Social media provides unprecedented access and behind-the-scenes views into athletes’ routines, training regimens and off-the-field activities. Online gaming allows fans to play alongside the pros. New media platforms including LeBron James’ Uninterrupted and Derek Jeter’s Players’ Tribune provide athletes with a vehicle to communicate news, perspectives and messages directly to fans.

This new level of engagement creates a tremendous opportunity for brands that seek to engage consumers through their passion for a particular team or player, but it also increases the level of play. Consumers have access to unfiltered views of the teams they love, so it’s easier for them to spot something that is inauthentic or too commercial. Thus, brands are challenged with a new customer-centric imperative: fans must be at the centre of any sports sponsorship. To build a sponsorship that drives true engagement and tangible business ROI, brands must create authentic campaigns that provide value to fans – or else run the risk of being ignored.

Nivea’s partnership with Liverpool Football Club is an excellent case study. In 2015, Nivea Men became the Official Men’s Grooming Supplier to Liverpool FC in a first of its kind sponsorship deal. In the first year of the partnership, marketing campaigns delivered media visibility for the brand across the UK and reached an estimated 2.7 million consumers. Catchy commercials featured Reds manager Jürgen Klopp, first team players and legends in comical scenarios displaying Nivea products and their benefits in subtle and creative ways. The campaign included a co-branded Nivea Liverpool FC microsite that hosted the videos along with other Nivea and LFC related content including special behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes from the commercial shoot, giving fans exclusive content of their favorite players hamming it up for the cameras. The initiative was highly successful and popular among LFC supporters, with a number of the segments garnering more than one million views to date, placing it among Nivea Men’s top performing video content. And while the content prominently featured Nivea products, the key to the campaign’s success was ensuring it was built for adoption among LFC supporters by keeping the team and players as the focal point.

As an extension of the campaign, fans were invited to participate in the Nivea Men Kicking Cage Challenge, where they enjoyed unique access to some of their favourite players and had the opportunity to attempt to score a goal while Liverpool FC stars Emre Can and Dejan Lovran did their best to distract them. Fans who weren’t able to attend in person could join in the fun online, creating custom videos through a branded portal on Nivea Men’s Facebook page. The campaign conveyed Nivea’s brand message -- “A Little Irritation Can Make a Big Difference – Don’t Let Anything Irritate You” – in a truly creative and entertaining way that kept the priorities of the fans central. The Kicking Cage Challenge videos in total reached more than 7 million views.

Another illustrative example – one from my side of the pond – comes from the longstanding partnership between the Red Sox and L.L. Bean – two organisations with a storied history and deep roots within the New England community. Since the first Bean Boot stitch and Fenway Park’s first pitch in 1912, the connection between “Boots and Sox” has been deeply engrained. L.L. Bean founder Leon Leonwood Bean was a Red Sox season ticket holder and his passion for the team was renowned.

The venerable relationship between the team and L.L. Bean presents in both practical and inspiring ways. For years, L.L. Bean has sponsored the protective rain tarp that covers Fenway Park’s infield in weather events. But following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the partners conceived a way to work together to give back to the community in a meaningful and impactful way. L.L. Bean designers reimagined the iconic L.L. Bean tote design to fashion one out of Fenway’s tarp, decorating it with the logo of the One Fund. One Fund Boston, which aided those most affected by the bombings and the events that occurred at the Boston Marathon bombings, received $114,000 from the 3,500 bags sold. The bags provided an authentic piece of Red Sox memorabilia and Boston history that fans could bring home and a significant way for them to give back to their community during a difficult time in the city’s history. This past year, L.L. Bean created a David Ortiz tote to commemorate Big Papi's final season. Thirty-four percent of profits went to the David Ortiz Children's Fund.

The final example I’ll share is an event that was held at Fenway Park but with strong ties to Ireland. In November of 2015, Fenway and presenting partner AIG, world-leading insurance company, highlighted the deep historic ties between Boston and Ireland by bringing hurling back to the ballpark for the first time since 1954. Two of the sport's biggest teams – Dublin and 2015 All-Ireland Finalist Galway – competed on the pitch in front of a nearly sold-out crowd of 27,766 fans. It was an immersive experience for the fans as the festivities inside the park included a lively Irish festival complete with regional food, music and dancing, as well as a crowd-pleasing performance from Boston-based American Celtic punk band the Dropkick Murphys. AIG, a major supporter of hurling in Ireland, was able to bring an authentic hurling experience to thousands of fans in New England where they have a significant business presence as well.

As brands look to enhance affinity and sponsorship impact by connecting themselves to the devoted followings of sports teams around the globe, creating initiatives that keep fan desires and motivations at the centre of the partnership will always be a winning approach.