Win when you’re singing | Why music needs to be more than an afterthought for sport

Former Synergy chief executive Tim Crow says sport needs to do more to integrate music into its marketing. Here he offers a four-point action plan for rights holders

Twelve minutes watched by over one hundred million people.

Every year since 1993, one of the biggest, most-watched moments in sport globally isn’t a sporting moment, it’s a music moment.

Until 1993, the Super Bowl half time show was a turn-off, filled by marching bands and cringeworthy ‘light entertainment’.

Then Michael Jackson blew it all up with a dazzling, historic 1993 set which, for the first time, beat the big game’s audience ratings and handed the NFL the A-list act template it still uses today, paid for by a sponsor – currently Pepsi.

Watching Justin Timberlake perform this year’s Super Bowl Half Time Show – and once again beating the game’s ratings – reminded me that integrating music into its marketing is sport’s biggest untapped marketing opportunity.

Because sport is only scratching the surface of what is possible – it can be much, much more than a vehicle for selling records and tours.

We all know that sport is in an unprecedented struggle to recruit the young against multiple social factors and cultural competitors.

In response, it’s primarily employing two strategies: developing new, shorter, youth and entertainment-oriented formats, and extending its distribution beyond legacy broadcasters into new youth – and entertainment-oriented media and D2C platforms.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. In both cases the business and marketing logic is undeniable, so sport is making these strategies a fundamental part of how it presents itself.

But music should also be a key pillar of sport’s youth marketing strategy – not, as it is currently, a tactic or an afterthought.

The business and marketing logic is equally undeniable.

Globally, music is the young’s number one passion by far. Bigger than sport, bigger than anything. Always has been, always will be.

Music is brilliant at marketing to the young.

Music is inherently viral. The rise of streaming means that music is being listened to like never before, and back to making serious money – take a look at the majors’ balance sheets.

By making music fundamental to how it presents itself, sport will hugely increase its reach and engagement with the young and open a major new revenue stream.

So why isn’t it happening?

The complexity of music rights and the music industry’s shorter-term cycles are undeniably part of the problem. The industry needs to make itself easier to deal with, think longer-term, and be prepared to create new rights and revenue models. Easy to say, harder to do, but the momentum is already there as evidenced by the rush of recent Facebook deals.

On the sport side, capability is a barrier. At the senior level required to get things done, very few sports execs have music industry experience or expertise. If it’s not ‘natural’ territory, it’s not going to happen – unless you want to break new ground.

And that, above all, is what needs to happen. Sport needs to break out of thinking about and using music in the way it has been doing for decades – all too often with terrible results.

Two weeks ago, a glorious clip did the rounds on Twitter of The Shamen copping a fearful barracking from the crowd at Highbury while miming ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ at half time on the pitch back in 1992. The result of an ill-fated attempt by Sky to make a show out of its new Monday Night Football slot, this and similar gigs by other acts met the same response at every Premier League ground, and mercifully for all concerned was quickly binned. (My favourite response in the Twitter thread: “I was at the Sonia game.”)

Couldn’t happen now you say?

Think again.

As part of its current Champions League sponsorship, Pepsi, in an attempt to replicate its Super Bowl Half Time Show, owns a pop-up gig on the pitch before the Champions League Final. And the acts before the first two finals? Alicia Keys in Milan followed by the Black Eyed Peas (without Fergie) in Cardiff.

Cue predictable response from the fans and media.

We can and must do better.

And it can be done, brilliantly. Way beyond the ‘gig at the game’ model.

“Take Me Out To The Ball Game”. “C’mon Aussie C’mon”. The Three Tenors and Italia 90. “Three Lions” and Euro 96. Adidas and Run DMC. Coke and K’Naan. Puma and Rihanna. Pogba and Stormzy. Everything the NBA is doing.

The only limits are the power of our imaginations and our appetite for innovation.


1.    You’re a global rights holder with a big problem attracting Millennials. Your only anthem is, say, a Greek hymn dating from 1896. It’s time for something new.

2.    You’re a sports league with a broadcast partner. You let them create and monetise the music that effectively becomes your soundtrack. Take back control.

3.    You’re a legacy sports team. Music is what you play on the PA on match days and what your fans chant. Look up the story of Jim Jones’ ‘New York Giants Remix’ and Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Black and Yellow’. Co-create your version with a big act that loves you.

4.    You’re a new team in a new T20 cricket league launching in 2020. You particularly want to attract young fans. Your brand is a blank sheet of paper. Don’t just make it about the logo – make music an integral part of it.

And there are many, many more.

I’ll say it again. Music should also be a key pillar of sport’s youth marketing strategy – not, as it is currently, a tactic or an afterthought. The business and marketing logic is undeniable. And the only limits are the power of our imaginations and our appetite for innovation.


Tim Crow is the former chief executive of Synergy. Follow him on Twitter @shaymantim

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