Attention marketers: The future of marketing is appearing faster than you think…. you are already holding it in your hands. Yes, that’s right, your smartphone or tablet is where all the action is in sports marketing. Act fast to take the lead over your competition. 

The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets has created a “second screen” which enables a sporting audience to consume content in parallel to live TV. However, while TV is still mostly a passive medium, two way interactions through simultaneous consumption and contribution are native to the internet. Its common to have CricInfo open on our second screen while watching a match, or publicly gloat or vent on social media for days about a controversial goal after the football match might have finished.

We are in the early stages of the sporting audience if not migrating its attention to the second screen then definitely splitting its attention between the live broadcast and the second screen. Two things are driving this. Firstly, sport polarizes an audience into partisan tribes. One either supports Liverpool or Manchester United, Federer or Nadal. While such partisanship has always existed since the start of sporting competitions, in the internet age its easier to aggregate a global or national community around a tribe with a shared interest and to empower members to amplify their shared identify.

Secondly, sport creates a lot of data and for the first time this data is accessible to fans through their second screen. This brings them closer to the action. It enhances their experience of immersing themselves into an event without leaving their home. Consumers are choosing to engage with this data more than they engage with boring one way TV commentary. This creates a more sticky second screen audience.

So how can you take advantage of this trend which is only getting bigger?

To start with, recognize that India will soon have some 70 million active smartphone users and this growing installed base will increasingly spend time on the internet at the expense of TV. You can know more about each of these users through their location, usage and of course their tribal affiliation and thus customize your message to them for better targeting compared to the mass market messaging of the TV era. At least for the next few years the cost of communicating your brand message to these consumers will be orders of magnitude cheaper than through live sports on TV.

Further, early experience of second screen usage in developed countries indicates that these users are usually more emotionally engaged in the event and therefore can be a more endearing consumer for your brand if you get your message right. Your brand must join the conversation and you must curate content around sporting events to augment the consumer experience. Done intelligently, you might never need to push a blatant sales message because fans will become loyal to you through your contribution to increasing their enjoyment of an event that is important to them. 

This brings me to relevance – keep your message relevant to the brand and the event – you don’t have to capitalize on every trending topic. Last week, during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington celebrations, the Golf Channel solicited tweets on “your golf dream on MLK’s I Have A Dream speech”.  Many thought it was inappropriate for an elitist sport to exploit the occasion for customer engagement on the sensitive topic of fight for social justice. By contrast, Oreo did a great job with its “you can still dunk in the dark” tweet during this year’s Super Bowl black out.

Finally, build your internal dashboard to keep track of progress. Not to get into the TRP debate, but TV analytics are stuck in the 20th century. In the internet age, its easier to both track and measure a campaign’s ROI even at a granular level. There’s a reason why Twitter and Facebook are buying social TV chatter companies to help brands stay on top of engagement levels on the second screen. You can get a real time pulse on how your brand is being embraced and can course correct in a nimble way even in the middle of a tournament.