The world of sports is slowly getting back on track after months of uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has tested the resilience of the industry on many levels.
With event organisers forced to adapt, commercial teams were challenged to find ways of connecting existing sponsors with fans in the absence of live events, and to provide alternate avenues for brand building and visibility.
In equestrian sport, more than 1,100 international events were cancelled worldwide in 2020, requiring the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) to broaden and develop its existing sponsorship model and build on its revenue-generation strategy.
“Traditional models of sports sponsorship give brands broad international reach primarily through in-venue activations and other global campaigns,” FEI commercial director Ralph Straus says.
“With digital platform viewing on the rise, many brands are looking for extended opportunities to interact with audiences online as the return on investment can be measured with data on engagement levels, sales leads or traffic. Digital platforms provide additional avenues for brand awareness along with the flexibility to monitor performance during a campaign and make changes where needed.”
In a key development in its commercial strategy, the FEI introduced opportunities for brands to advertise directly on the International Federation’s digital channels through standard display advertisements, branded content or other digital activations.
These advertising possibilities have included, for example, displays of static banners to promote the sale of a product, fan activations through quizzes and surveys, or the sponsorship of sport and lifestyle video series. Brands can produce their own digital content or work directly with the FEI to create a bespoke online campaign.
It is a move that has raised the commercial profile of the FEI and opened the door to conversations with different brands around the world within the first four weeks of its launch.
Traditional sponsorship models in the sporting industry have relied on exclusivity and long-term agreements, the FEI’s digital advertising initiative also offers brands with smaller advertising budgets a chance to gain visibility.
Digital platforms have made it easier for the FEI to listen to the community, understand their specific needs and know the types of content that fans desire.
This ‘digital listening’ is what convinced the FEI to unveil My Horse World Club in June 2020, a TikTok channel produced for the youth, by the youth. This initiative, which is independent of the FEI brand, was launched with the intention of bringing young people together around what they love most, the horse, and to celebrate the precious horse-human connection.
My Horse World Club provides information on good horsemanship practices, useful tips on horse care and on equine health and wellbeing. Within one year of its launch, the channel generated over 100,000 followers, two million likes and 17 million video views.
“We know that a key driver in our digital growth is the content created around the community’s shared passion for the horse,” Straus explains. “This is why, even in the absence of live sporting events, we could continue to engage with existing online fans and find new audiences through our lifestyle content and original programming.”
The FEI had 280 million video views, and 12 million engagements – such as likes, shares and comments – across social media channels in 2020, a 30% increase compared to 2019.
A major factor in this growth was #ForTheLoveOfEquestrian, a digital campaign of inspiration and solidarity that the FEI produced for riders, fans, organisers and all other members of the equestrian family during the pandemic.
The video focused on the bond between the rider and horse and was narrated by Hollywood star Kaley Cuoco, generating more than 31 million post impressions, five million video views, and two million engagements across the FEI’s social media channels.
A highly engaged audience
With direct access to a large and highly engaged audience on its digital channels, the FEI is in a unique position to assist brands with the creation of meaningful storytelling as well as top quality fan content.
“With digital advertising, it is essential that a brand’s content is authentic, relevant and non-intrusive to your audience,” Straus says.
“Our digital analytics give us a better insight into the preferences, habits and behaviours of our fans, and with this information we are better equipped to assist our commercial partners with producing content that speaks directly to the equestrian community.”
One example has been the creation of #HorseOClock with FEI Top Partner Longines, a consumer engagement campaign that was run on the FEI’s digital channels in July 2020. Fans were invited to complete a fun questionnaire with equestrian related questions to determine the watch that best matched their personality.
The campaign generated high-performing content across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, resulting in close to 20,000 fans completing the quiz, driving significant traffic to Longines’ digital platforms.
Digital advertising campaigns offer a level of flexibility and originality that also perfectly complement traditional sponsorship methods.
“There are so many creative ways for brands and rights holders to engage with sports audiences and as an International Federation, the FEI is only just beginning to appreciate the reach and creative potential that digital advertising can provide to our partners,” Straus says.
“While we have realised that we are only limited by our creativity, it is important to keep in mind that these digital platforms are only a means to an end. The success of any sponsorship model or advertisement campaign is not determined by the technology but by the depth of cooperation with the brand, and the way in which the activation helps engages the target audience.
“It is only by fully understanding a brand’s business objectives that you can design an effective campaign with content that is relevant and will speak authentically to a sports audience.”
Click here to access the FEI Digital Sales website: https://www.advertising.fei.org/