Call them what you will—niche sports, minor sports, third-tier sports, etc.—rights holders operating outside the realms of the major professional leagues have long stood on the outside looking in when it comes to earning significant revenues from corporate sponsors.
While no one should expect non-mainstream sports to attract anywhere near what brands spend on NFL, NCAA, NBA and other marquee rights holders, it also is true that most properties that make up the long tail of sports fandom don’t earn consideration or dollars commensurate with the value they could potentially deliver by connecting partners to their passionate and highly involved fan bases.
For decades, the odds have been stacked against such organizations, which are often under-capitalized and under-staffed in terms of marketing themselves to potential corporate partners. Lacking the data, analytics and professional sales personnel that could make their case, they too often find themselves falling back on impressions and awareness—two things they most lack.
But the success of one company that did see value on the sports fringes could be the wake-up call that brands need to pay closer attention to the opportunities offered by sports such as bowling, competitive fitness and swimming, as well as the most minor of leagues and competitions in mainstream sports.
That company is FloSports, which has built a streaming business selling subscriptions to fans of grappling, dirt racing, marching band and dance competitions—in addition to about 20 other verticals. While the privately held company’s financial numbers are closely held, the 16-year-old business has raised more than $70 million and some estimates peg its annual revenues at over $100 million.
Regardless of the specific financials, FloSports’ staying power answers two key questions for brand marketers.
First: Does the interest and loyalty of niche sports fans make up for their small numbers?
At the very least, those fans’ willingness to pay to access live game broadcasts and other content should tell potential sponsors that they are worth a longer look if there is an alignment with a brand’s target market.
Market research has long demonstrated that positive response to sponsors increases with the amount of interest and involvement fans have in a sport, event, cause, etc. Thus the fact that niche sports tend not to have casual fans shouldn’t bother most potential partners.
Second: How can a sponsor leverage the interest of fans who can’t attend events?
For years, niche sports did not have a satisfactory answer to that question, lacking TV or any other distribution of their events and content. When searching for sponsors, they were often limited to those geographically adjacent to their events.
Streaming, along with other digital and social media platforms clearly has changed that, allowing niche sports to connect with fans throughout the country or world and offering brands a way to activate outside of a single stadium or arena.
While challenges remain in forging partnerships with smaller properties—lack of partnership support infrastructure, fewer turnkey activation opportunities, etc.—brands would still be wise to investigate these lower-cost opportunities to use sports to engage with ardent fans and followers.