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Content creators have been on the rise across various industries, and sports is no exception. As sports fans increasingly turn to social media and online platforms for news, commentary, and entertainment, content creators have become an integral part of the sports ecosystem.

Most recently, as a part of its digital content rights partnership with ICC, Meta partnered with more than 500 creators for the Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 to deliver behind-the-scenes content to cricket fans. Not just this, even brands are also using influencers to amplify their World Cup campaigns.

Rubeena Singh

Rubeena Singh, Country Manager India and MENA, AnyMind Group, “The digital age has ushered in an insatiable demand for real-time, interactive, and tailored content. Content creators, with their unique styles and narratives, aptly cater to this demand. Their collaborations offer a potent blend of reach and authenticity, as influencers often command a loyal audience that trusts their endorsements. This presents a cost-effective marketing strategy for sports organisations and brands, as they can tap into these dedicated audiences and benefit from diversified content that resonates with various audience segments.”

Ankit Grover

Adding to Singh’s point of view, Ankit Grover, Lead Integration Director, Wondrlab Network, said that content creators bring a fresh perspective, take everyone behind the scenes, and really get fans excited.”

This trend is visible across major sporting events globally, helping them connect with audiences of different age groups, be it FIFA, BCCI and ICC events, IPL or Super Bowl.

Content creators also bring in a fresh perspective on the sport, and the advantage of real-time engagement, said Rubeena.

Challenges and considerations

While the rise of content creators in sporting events has numerous advantages like expanded reach, increased engagement, authentic storytelling and much more, there are also challenges to navigate.

Samarjit Singh

As per Samarjit Singh, COO, Mad Influence, some of the challenges of such collaborations are mismatches in brand alignment, conflicts of interest, less control/monitoring over the content produced, and determining the return on investment (ROI).

Rubeena seconded, “There's a potential risk of brand misalignment if the chosen influencer's image doesn't resonate with the sports organisation's ethos. Over-commercialisation and inconsistent messaging can also pose threats, potentially alienating fans or diluting the core message.”

Samarjit further commented, “To tackle these challenges effectively, sports organisations and brands should establish clear guidelines, contracts, and expectations when forming partnerships. Open communication, mutual respect, and a shared vision are crucial to ensure a successful collaboration.”

Ritesh Nath

When forming partnerships, as with any other genre, sports organisations should consider the authenticity, credibility, and alignment of the content creator with their brand, according to Ritesh Nath, Head of Sports, Collective Artists Network.

“Relevance to the demographic that the rights holder wants to reach out to is important, which creator is engaged is determined by the output that is expected by the rights holder. Whether that is penetration in new markets or whether you want to address a certain demographic, the creator is picked accordingly,” he added.

Creators need to exercise ethical responsibility, especially when dealing with sensitive topics or controversies within the sports world. Grover said, “It is very important that these partnerships are carefully managed to prevent any potential controversies.”

To solve the above challenge, Nath suggests brands, sports platforms and companies have clear contracts and lines of communication to manage these partnerships effectively.

Legal nuances associated with creating content around sporting properties

Regulations surrounding sports endorsements can vary by jurisdiction, adding another layer of complexity for creators. Samarjit said that content creators must be cautious not to use copyrighted material, like sports footage, logos, or music, without obtaining proper permission.

“Sporting events are often protected by exclusive broadcast rights agreements. Therefore, using or rebroadcasting live footage, even for commentary or reaction purposes, can compromise rights and result in legal issues. The use of sports team logos, names, and trademarks can lead to trademark infringement if not used with proper authorisation. Creators should be aware of the guidelines set by sports organisations regarding trademark usage,” he said.

Using a player's name, likeness, or performance in content without permission may violate their rights to publicity. Content creators may rely on the fair use doctrine for commentary, criticism, or parody. However, determining what qualifies as fair use can be subjective and may lead to disputes.

“To avoid legal issues, content creators should seek licensing or permissions from relevant rights holders, like sports leagues, teams, or broadcasters, when necessary. Creators should ensure their content is factually accurate and does not tarnish the reputation of individuals or organisations. Recording and sharing footage of spectators at sporting events may raise privacy issues, and creators should respect individuals' privacy rights,” suggested Samarjit.

Brands and sports organisations can tap content creators across genres

The beauty of sport is that it spreads across genres, so you can be a homemaker, a fitness coach or a travel creator. Sports transcends genre.

As per Samarjit of Mad Influence, the agency that has worked on influencer-led work for Disney+ Hotstar ICC World Cup, while the suitability of influencers can vary depending on the event and target audience, some categories that typically excel in this domain are Sports Influencers, Entertainment and Lifestyle Influencers, Travel and Adventure Influencers, Comedy and Entertainment influencers, Gaming Influencers, and Fitness and Health Influencers.

It's evident when you consider the official anthem of the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023, 'Dil Jashn Bole,' which showcases a diverse lineup of influencers spanning different genres. Notable creators like Gaurav Taneja (Flying Beast), BeYouNick, Scout, Dhanashree Verma, and Viraj Ghelani are part of this unique collaboration,” pointed out Wondrlab Network’s Grover.

Nath of Collective Artists Network said that the beauty of sport is that it spreads across genres, so you can be a homemaker, a fitness coach or a travel creator. “Sports transcends genre. Sports influencers, lifestyle influencers, and gaming influencers can all create engaging content related to sporting events. Especially in a country like India where sports and cricket specifically, permeate so much of our life and social events. Sports influencers provide expertise, lifestyle influencers bring a personal touch.”

Although gaming and sports influencers have a notable inclination for producing sports-related content, content creators aren't obliged to be linked to the sports realm to share experiences from these domains.

“Gaming influencers often have a tech-savvy and young following, making them suitable for esports and tech-related content around sporting events. Moreover, one of the main mediums of content consumption in gaming is streaming/digital content created by gamers,” added Nath.

Samarjit seconded, “Gaming influencers often have a tech-savvy and young following, making them suitable for esports and tech-related content around sporting events. Moreover, one of the main mediums of content consumption in gaming is streaming/digital content created by gamers.”

For Rubeena, “It would be interesting to see how gaming influencers can be made to work for sporting events as their involvement can bridge the gap between traditional sports and the digitally wired gaming community.”

She also emphasised that it's imperative to forge selective partnerships, choosing influencers whose values, content aesthetic and fanbase mirror or at least significantly overlap those of the organisation. “A continuous feedback mechanism is also instrumental in ensuring that the content remains genuine and in tune with the sport's essence,” she said.

Distinct ways in which creators create content around sports

Content creators engage with their fans in a number of distinctive ways, setting them apart from traditional sports media outlets.

Grover pointed out that nowadays, younger fans find long-format broadcasting the least compelling. When content creators step in with their interactive and entertaining stuff, it creates a sense of togetherness that you don’t quite get from the traditional sports media outlets, he said.

“This could be in the form of behind-the-scenes access or maybe they interact directly through comments and live streams, and they also create relatable, informal content. This engagement fosters a sense of community and immediacy that traditional media outlets may struggle to replicate,” added Nath.

Samarjit said that content creators provide exclusive behind-the-scenes access, taking them into locker rooms, practice sessions, and even personal lives of athletes, interacting with followers via tools like polls, Q&A sessions, and challenges to involve fans actively.

“Also, content creators build communities around their content, where fans can interact not only with the creator but also with each other. This is a powerful driver of fan loyalty,” he commented.