“Digital communication is about the right activity for the right platform at the right time.” – Commercial and Marketing Innovation in Sport – International Sports Federations

Commercial and Marketing Innovation in Sport – International Sports Federations

Marco Castellaneta, Head of Digital Media, Juventus Football Club

Hassan Elkameh, Commercial Director, Confederation of African Football (CAF)

Rob Johnson, Head of Digital and Content – The Hundred, England and Wales Cricket Board

Tom Scott, Chief Executive and Founder, Trippant


For sports teams and federations trying to grow fanbases and commercialise reach, the first step is careful assessment of the media environment.


According to the ISC 2024 panel on commercial and marketing innovation, the key to success lies in aligning your activities with your end goals.


That can begin with the right approach to content production. Marco Castelleneta, head of digital media at Italian football side Juventus, revealed that when the club built its new in-house content project, it wanted it to be more like a ‘creator house’ than a traditional media studio. It was crucial that the young content team were free to produce output that worked naturally on digital platforms.


Rob Johnson, head of digital and content for The Hundred, has been responding to a clear brief at the England and Wales Cricket Board. Launched in 2021, the short-form tournament was designed to remove barriers to cricket for those who do not already follow the sport, rejuvenating and diversifying the fanbase.


On the playing side, that meant a brand-new format with simpler rules, and new teams that rookie fans could make their own. The content project has been executed with a similar mission and has also followed straightforward commercial objectives: appealing initially to local communities who will fill stadiums over the English summer.


As Tom Scott, founder and CEO of communications consultancy Trippant, explained, it is more important than ever for sports organisations to keep sight of those central targets in any marketing activity. In a crowded media environment, having a well-defined story is a big advantage. That is as true for startup B2B tech companies as it is major rights holders – helping audiences quickly understand who you are helps to cut through, especially in unfamiliar markets.


There is no such thing as a universal content strategy and sports bodies are often addressing different ambitions with different initiatives. At Juventus, Castellaneta explained, the majority of the fanbase is overseas so the club must not only consider its global brand but also take the opportunity to reach those supporters on digital platforms. Since launching its creator hub, Juventus have released up to 1,500 pieces of content pieces a week across multiple languages and channels.


As Confederation of African Football (CAF) commercial director Hassan Elkameh discussed, audience dynamics in sport are changing all the time. The global cumulative viewership for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations passed one billion worldwide, with a growing impact in markets like Brazil. CAF has moved to connect with that international fanbase through the CAF Ambassadors Programme, where former players talk about the tournament in territories where they hold previous club affiliations or other local community relevance.


At the same time, while third-party platforms like social media can be useful for building reach, CAF is aiming to better model the interests and behaviours of those fans. The AI-powered CAF Play video player attracts fans with a large, dynamically organised archive but, crucially, the governing body retains ownership of valuable user data.


The Hundred has worked to consolidate that kind of holistic thinking across its marketing and commercial operations. Its content plans are geared to “carefully nurture” new fanbases with responsive, locally relevant communication rather than pursuing top-line “vanity metrics”.


Meanwhile, key sponsorship deals – like a front-of-shirt partnership with KP Snacks and a tie-up with soft drinks brand Robinsons – have got the tournament’s logo into stores and the kitchens of British families. With matches played in the school summer holidays, the ticket-buyers are predominantly female – because mothers often take responsibility for purchasing decisions for the whole family.


That is just another example of how far effective digital marketing depends on knowing your audience. Digital communication, as Scott suggested, is about the right activity for the right platform at the right time.