Guest Blog

Analytics and Sports Marketing

“Clubs, managers and agents, with the help of InsightsAtlas service, can bring strong, additional arguments to contract negotiations. Of course, I would also recommend it for well-informed marketing decision makers, who want to know how their sponsored athletes or clubs are getting social media visibility and engagement. Especially when the sports influencers are used as brand ambassadors.”

Arto Kuuluvainen, Senior Client Service Manager,
M3 Research A/S

Sports marketing needs social media

“The sponsors are nowadays expecting more tailored solutions.”

Sports marketing is changing all the time and adopting new compensation-based models fast. Sponsorships and marketing within sports were earlier linked to charity or fundraising, especially in Finland. Today, sport teams and leagues have to concept and sell what the partner is paying for.

This is not the only challenge. Pushing traditional visibility and ticket models has also faced an inflation. Due to this, sponsors are nowadays expecting refined solutions for their money.

Taking all this into account, social media has brought plenty of new opportunities for sports. While the small sports clubs have been slow at adopting social media, the big clubs have started to heavily invest into it. For example, the Premier League clubs are opening localized accounts at an accelerated pace, and this also reflects to the growth of popularity of these clubs in Asia.

“I would choose player A”

By being active in social media, a single athlete is able to build his/her own personal brand and make himself/herself more valuable to the club he/she belongs to.

Let’s think about it a little; if you were the manager of the club and two players, both equally good athletes, were offered to your team, which one would you choose? Player A, who has 10,000 followers in Twitter alone, or Player B, who doesn’t use social media at all? I would choose player A. A good example of this type of personal branding is the former NHL player Paul Bissonnette.

“Social media truly has revolutionized the following of sports”

The link between social media and sports is easy to concretize also through my own behavior. During the European Football Championships in Portugal in 2004, I didn’t use social media at all. Yet, during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the situation had changed and I was uploading pictures from Cape Town on Facebook multiple times. Nowadays, I often also keep Twitter open while watching sports and check what is said about the game on social media.

So called ’Second screen’ is already routine for sports followers, which creates great opportunities for marketing. No one is as emotional as a sports fan during the breaking moments of the game or competition, and a smart marketer is able to create an impressive memory trace for the fan by offering value-added content or marketing messages. Yet, the message should be in line with the event and its values, because the fans do recognize too-superficial content from an authentic one. In this case, a direct product promotion may turn against itself.

Facebook itself has told, that over 500 million of its users are football fans. It’s definition of being a fan is based on the fact that the person has liked either a club or a player. During a major football match, the fans might make tens of millions of interactions related to the game, such as status updates, likes of pictures, etc.

If you add interactions on Instagram and Twitter on top of Facebook, we’re already talking about incredible amount of sports fan engagement. Also, the majority of the status updates and comments are made on smart phones.

We can say that social media truly has revolutionized the following of sports.

The biggest challenges in sports marketing in social media

The biggest challenge is the direct transformation from the amount of followers into money, which remains still unsolved. The clubs have used a lot of energy into solving how to make money out of people, from who they don’t have any other contacts to, except that they’ve liked the club on Facebook.

Club’s own applications offer an opportunity here. In other words, the clubs can build an interesting app for the followers, which require registration. As part of this registration, the clubs collect more information about their followers. From a marketing perspective, this information is a real gold mine.

However, no one can stress enough, that the followers will only use these apps if the content is good.

The club’s application and social media posts can’t look too much like company advertising either. The football club must speak like a football club, not like a company. The fans are also expecting some sort of inside information through the apps and social media channels.

Another challenge is that social media is an unfiltered channel for communication with the fans. Since athletes tend to be in an emotional state especially after the games or matches, it may increase the risk of excessive behavior.

In North America, athletes have long been trained in social media usage, and this is slowly getting more common in Finland as well. Especially for young athletes, it’s crucial to point out the fact that you can basically destroy your career with just one thoughtless Tweet or post.

“The role of social media will grow as part of contract negotiations”

I think that for sports clubs, the importance of following the social media usage of the athletes, as well as identifying which players are adding value to the club brand, will grow in the future.

I also think that the role of social media will likely grow as part of contract negotiations.

Can it be possible, that in the next few years the clubs are forcing all their players to be active in social media? Possibly, since at its best it is an extremely effective marketing channel.

I can imagine that, for example, Finnish hockey star Teemu Ramstedt, who often takes a stand in societal issues on Twitter, has polished the brand of HIFK within a target group that ice hockey traditionally haven’t ever touched.

How can you then verify the value of each respective athlete on social media? With the help of a service such as InsightsAtlas, that verifies the quality and sentiment of social media conversations related to each player. This information will be highly valuable for marketing professionals, agents and managers.

For other traditional social media analytics tools in the market, it has been challenging, if not impossible to analyze pictures and videos, as well as complicated texts such as sarcasm, irony, and multiple languages. This has a big effect in sports industry, since fans often use different memes containing a lot of irony. A computer can’t interpret and categorize all of this accurately, but InsightsAtlas has been able to solve this challenge.

“There hasn’t been proper tools for this before.”

Clubs, managers and agents, with the help of InsightsAtlas service, can all bring strong, additional arguments to contract negotiations. Of course, I would also recommend it for well-informed marketing decision makers, who want to know how their sponsored athletes or clubs are getting social media visibility and engagement. Especially when these sports influencers are used as brand ambassadors.

What is typical of Finnish sponsors is that they haven’t made efforts in the past to find the best influencers for sponsorships. This is partly because there hasn’t been proper tools to do this.

At M3 Research, we are bringing our Danish partner’s sponsorship research and matchmaking tool also to Finland. This and InsightsAtlas’ services will create a perfect combination to cater to clubs, managers, agents, and marketing professionals.



Dr. Arto Kuuluvainen, Senior Client Service Manager at M3 Research A/S


Marketing Research


Earlier, Kuuluvainen was working for 8 years at Turku School of Economics. He has been teaching and lecturing sports management and sports marketing at different universities since 2007. Kuuluvainen is also often consulted as an expert within sports business-related issues by leading Finnish media houses (i.e. by Yle and Kauppalehti).


Kuuluvainen’s popular blog “Urheilujohtamisen Sekatyömies” can be found here