Advertising brands find more value and reach by shifting dollars away from the “Big Game”

By Evan Brandoff

Chipotle. Mars Wrigley. Kraft Heinz. Tide. Hyundai.

If you were reading that list of brands five years ago, you might assume they were included in a list of best Super Bowl commercials. But you’re reading this in 2022, so you’d be wrong. Those brands (and others) took their media dollars elsewhere and backed out of doing any advertising at America’s biggest sporting event for various reasons. 

With Pepsi most recently ending its longtime Super Bowl halftime sponsorship to transition its spend toward more digital audiences, the sports advertising industry is learning what some in the industry already know: Traditional broadcast audiences continue to narrow and spending $6.5 million for 30-second commercials once a year is no longer an effective strategy. In fact, studies have shown that 80% of Super Bowl commercials fail to accomplish what the brand had hoped.

The good news for brands who no longer prioritize the “Big Game” is that there are big games happening every weekend in neighborhoods across the country. Every Saturday and Sunday youth sports teams and their families head to the fields for daylong action — all while creating a $19 billion opportunity for brands seeking to penetrate hyper-local communities through sponsorships, digital campaigns, and event activations that reach real, engaged consumer audiences.

Youth sports sponsorships are nothing new. We all likely had a team sponsored by the local pizza place or the town mechanic. But consumer shopping behaviors along with advancements in technology have changed the game, enabling global brands into small towns across America to reach communities in a more personalized way.

Why youth sports?

The Super Bowl has always been the pinnacle of advertising opportunities because in any one commercial, you are able to reach 208 million people in a 30-second clip. While it may seem egregious to spend almost $7 million for 30 seconds of air time, it’s long been challenging to reach that large of a passionate audience all at once anywhere else — especially on a localized basis. The explosive growth of youth sports across the U.S. — projected to reach $77.6 billion by 2026 — has changed that view dramatically.

There are now about 60 million children involved in youth sports across the U.S. That’s 60 million children whose parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles also head to the fields each weekend to watch games over a longer 12-week span. Brands are now realizing that running campaigns through youth sports can still allow them to reach Super Bowl-sized audiences at a local level, who arguably have a higher passion point due to their personal connection to the children playing every weekend. Local consumers want to see what brands are supporting their children and communities, and likewise become loyal customers to the brands making an impact in their own backyards. 

Less wasted reach on a hyper targeted level

In theory, the idea behind massive national advertising efforts like Super Bowl commercials makes sense: Reach as many people as you can at once and you’re bound to resonate with a fraction who become supporters of your brand. Even 1% of 200 million is two million people, right? Seems like a good deal.

What’s ultimately happening though is brands are paying to reach non-relevant consumers for the opportunity to also reach the audiences they really want to target. Reaching two hundred million people in a span of 30 seconds may seem like great exposure for a brand until you remember only a fraction of that audience is relevant to your brand. But you’re paying to reach them all and ending up with a lot of wasted reach within the wrong demographics.

On the flip side, youth sports are as targeted and localized as you can get. Brands can target down to a zip code where they need to see a list in sales or store traffic and activate a campaign directly within that community. Other demographics like age, gender, or household income can ensure you’re in the right market and not wasting spend on audiences that do not fit your buyer profile. 

For example, if a coffee chain was seeking to increase store traffic and sales within certain regional markets where it is lagging behind a competitor chain, a youth sports activation involving logos on jerseys, digital activations, and a sampling event is more likely to build loyal local audiences than hoping those coffee drinking parents will see a billboard or TV commercial.

Omnichannel marketing through youth sports like activation events, banners, and jerseys, in conjunction with geo-targeted digital, provides an extension of these brands into homes and in front of the overall community — a group that is majority your target consumer rather than trying to reach the needle in the haystack.

In the past, brands would have to sacrifice the scale of their reach to be able to cater to specific demographics. With youth sports, there is opportunity to reach the same amount of people at a professional sporting event as a hyper targeted level both nationally and locally.

$6.5 million just for consumers to forget about the advertisement and who put it out

There has been a 195% increase over the last 20 years in Super Bowl advertising costs, which seems like a lot of money to spend on something that only 33% of consumers remember seeing in the first place

In contrast, $6.5 million invested into youth sports would get you into more than two thousand leagues in any of the top 150 DMAs across the country. In result, you would be reaching 2 million+ households (6 million+ consumers) all throughout the week for 12 weeks straight with consistent omnichannel engagement. 

Omnichannel engagement would include physical and digital activations consistently throughout the span of a season, but it’s not only on the field. The engagement consists of activations at home and in the community with possible exposure on jerseys, coupons, emails, social media, seminars, and fundraisers. 

As the transition away from advertising in large sporting events continues from these large brands, they will continue to dedicate more of their strategies towards better options like youth sports. Being able to have the same reach, with a better target audience than a major sporting event, at a fraction of the cost, has shown brands that exclusive sponsorships for large sporting events and leagues may not be the go-to option and how youth sports has become a hidden gem in the sports marketing world.

Evan Brandoff is co-founder and CEO of LeagueSide, a community sports sponsorship platform.