2023 was a very exciting year in the influencer marketing space and 2024 is set to be even bigger, as Cameron Sims, senior influencer manager at Sky Sports, tells CORQ.
For Sky, this flowed from kicking off the Formula One (F1) season at the beginning of the year to the Greatest Show On Earth marketing push, tennis returning to its screens and the triumph of its new YouTube series SCENES.
- Creators are particularly useful in the sports space because they provide a direct link to a new and younger audience
- The Greatest Show on Earth marked the launch of Sky’s 2023 season in July and led to influencers trying different circus tricks and creating engaging content on the day
- Partners are chosen by their interest in and knowledge of sport, their willingness to get involved and their engagement rate
- The YouTube series SCENES started in August and has been a high point, with millions of views, an uplift in viewership from the crucial 18- to 35-year-old bracket and a 10% engagement rate
- 2024 aims include capitalising on more platforms, an increase in behind-the-scenes content and prioritising women’s sport
“A big theme for us throughout the year was how we integrate what we do in the influencer marketing team and our talent with what the social media and PR teams are doing, and taking a really holistic approach,” says Sims. “The Greatest Show on Earth marketing push really showed the value of what we can bring.”
The Greatest Show on Earth marked the start of Sky’s 2023 season and launched in July. It featured top sport stars such as Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish, Ben Stokes and Emma Raducanu taking on circus tricks and was shot by award-winning director Daniel Kleinman. It comprised a TV ad, social, digital, print, radio and cinema advertising, as well as an extensive influencer campaign.
“We had lots of circus performers come down and integrate all kinds of sports, and creators tried different circus tricks and got really involved,” explains Sims. “That worked really well for us because they were doing content creation on the day and talking about what was going on and getting engagement, and they were also featuring in each other’s content.”
According to CORQ data analysis, the best performing sponsored posts using the hashtag were by EMAN (1% engagement rate) and Paul Olima (1%) while the most engaged organic posts were by Olivia Hawkins (3%) and Emma Conybeare (1%).
The US Open Tennis Championships returned to Sky this year and the broadcaster invited tennis fans – such as writer Billie Bhatia (3%) – to attend the semi-finals in New York, which encouraged creators to then watch the finals on Sky Sports when they returned home and share it all with their followers.
“Creators are particularly useful in the sports space because they provide a direct link to a new audience,” says Sims. “We can try to talk to a younger audience as a brand but we need to do that in the places they are already watching content and often that is via creators. Their passion and love for sport comes through so much in their own content that it feels really authentic to have them involved in Sky Sports. Their followers love to see them do well so when we do integrate them in our content, we see a huge amount of positive sentiment in the response.”
Choosing who to work with
The team focuses on sports that present the biggest opportunities to grow the audience, especially with the next generation. This means concentrating on, for example, the NFL and the London Games, rather than the Super Bowl, which already has eyes on it and doesn’t lead to further touch points throughout the season.
“When choosing creators to work with, we look at how keen they are on the sport, how much they talk about it, and if they can speak with confidence on it,” says Sims. “As well as their willingness to get involved from our perspective, such as going to events and creating content that’s really authentic to their audience. We look less at follower size and more at engagement rate – there’s no point having a million followers but only 10 likes.”
Long-term relationships are key to help Sky learn what influencers are interested in and their aims and ambitions, and then direct them towards a specific campaign or event. Their ambassador programme – which includes more than 150 creators across a range of verticals and followings, and is updated annually – hugely helps with this.
The 18- to 35-year-old demographic remains Sky’s main focus, as they’re more likely to subscribe to Sky than their younger cohort, but adding value for the next generation across social and digital is always a consideration.
“We are very well known within what we call the heartland audience of the older male demographic, who absolutely love the sports, punditry and broadcasts we offer, but we have a job to do in terms of really tapping into a younger audience, which is why we want to work with creators who they know and love,” says Sims.
You may also like
This is where SCENES (a behind-the-scenes look at the Premier League, in collaboration with production company After Party Studios) and Editions (in-depth conversations with female athletes, in partnership with creative company The Midnight Club) come in.
“This is a bit of a different work stream for us because we’re creating content for Sky Sports channels and integrating talent, especially with SCENES, where we can create a YouTube series that any YouTuber would be proud of,” says Sims.
SCENES launched in August and has already been incredibly successful. Hosted on the Premier League YouTube channel, some episodes have exceeded 500K views, with a total of 16M views across all platforms and a 10% uplift in viewership among the key 18- to 35-year-old age bracket.
The talent involved – which includes lead presenters Specs Gonzalez and Morf, plus the likes of Chunkz, Sharky and Stephen Tries – have also seen an average engagement rate of 10% on the SCENES content they post on their own platforms.
So what’s the secret to this sort of success? “Organic content combined with the talent, authenticity and behind-the-scenes, which is of huge interest to everyone,” says Sims. “Specs and Morf really dived into it and were creatively involved. Other creators like Chunkz helped drive interest and engagement because they were genuinely interested in the project – it helps knowing them and things like what team they support and what they would enjoy, like access to a Premier League ground.”
Despite the wins on Instagram and YouTube, there’s always more to work on. For Sky, this includes TikTok – “It feels like there is more we can do there and get a big uplift” – as well as Snapchat and Twitch, perhaps with watch parties and second screen viewings where audiences gather to watch together as a community, alongside influencers.
Women’s sport is a huge part of Sky’s 2024 planning, both covering it and integrating women into male-dominated environments, such as American football.
“I think having the Solheim Cup alongside the Ryder Cup worked really well, there was a huge amount of interest and coverage from a PR perspective but also from an influencer side we’ve seen more people get involved in that,” Sims says.
“Editions is a huge part of our plans, to put a spotlight on women’s athletes, and not just what they do on the field or the court but actually what they are like outside of that, and drilling into their personalities. I think how we cover the Women’s Super League has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and we really want to open that sport up to the masses.”
Next year is about capitalising on what worked in 2023 – SCENES, Editions and behind-the-scenes videos will continue, as will hosting influencers at events and having them promote both attending sports and watching on Sky, as well as encouraging organic and authentic content.
The main sports of F1, football, tennis, the NFL and women’s sport across the board will all be back. Other opportunities lie in golf – “There are a huge amount of influencers who play golf and talk about golf” – darts, cricket and boxing – “We’ve got a nice crossover now between a younger audience who are interested in influencer boxing and moving into more mainstream professional boxing”.
“We want to move away from the traditional ‘here’s your brief’ influencer marketing and collaborate more with creators, and involve them in content we’re creating across Sky Sports, which can be used across their own channels as well,” Sims says.
“We want to be there and use talent in the right way and show off the vast amount of sports we have to offer.”
By Lauren Harris, CORQ editor. Picture credit: Sky Sports