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How Campbell’s Chunky soup brand sees the possibilities in sports marketing beyond live sports

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Recently, live sports has garnered more of advertisers’ attentions thanks to streaming video providers getting into the arena with live sports offerings, hype in women’s sports and the growing popularity of sports like Formula One here in the U.S. As the definition of sports marketing has broadened for the industry, so has it for Campbell’s C​hunky soup brand as it looks to reach new audiences and boost brand awareness. 

As the “Official Soup Sponsor” of the NFL, the brand has had a longstanding partnership with the NFL, with regular ads around games as a cornerstone in its media mix. But year-over-year, Chunky has started testing sport adjacent advertising opportunities like ad campaigns in the metaverse and Twitch streaming.

“We started expanding out and thinking about live NFL games, live sports versus sports programming more broadly,” said Marci Raible, vp of integrated marketing for the Campbell Soup Company. The brand is doing “more experimentation as we really think about that gaming space.”

Sports marketing has gone beyond live sports, pushing into esports and gaming for Chunky’s, which has historically banked on the NFL. Back in 2019, Campbell’s Soup launched its first-ever partnership with Twitch, teaming up with NFL stars Dak Prescott and Saquon Barkley. Since then, the company has been building in the gaming space, sponsoring EA Sports’ Madden Championship Series (MCS) last year and entering the metaverse earlier this year with a football-themed, native Fortnite gameplay.

“That has evolved as we look at live in-game performance, but also where the conversation happens,” said Raible. “Because when you look at those younger audiences, it’s really about the conversation that happens around the game in addition to the game.”

At this point, gaming has become a pillar in the media mix, she added. The Campbell Soup exec declined to offer specific details about Chunky’s ad spend. From January to July of this year, the soup brand spent more than $820,000 on media, according to Vivvix, including paid social data from Pathmatics. That figure is slightly down from the $1.2 million spent within that same time frame the year prior. In total, in 2022, Chunky’s spent $13.3 million on media, a slightly lower figure than the $15.5 million spent in 2021, per the data.

According to agency executives, there’s been a steady increase in interest around live sports for years. And while this trend has been ongoing, the recent WGA and Sag-Aftra strikes had some marketers retool their media mix to focus on reality TV, sports and live events, stoking an already burning flame. For example, JCPenney ramped up its live sports efforts to broaden its media mix in part due to said strikes.

“There’s such an opportunity right now to take those TV dollars and slide them right into all these streaming services and other video formats out there,” said Adam Bavaro, integrated strategy lead at Gale business agency. “If you want to invest in live sports, there’s other opportunities and there’s other ways.”

In terms of content opportunities, notably, streaming video providers have put their stake in the ground, offering live sports to capitalize on the momentum. Sports fans can stream NFL games with the NFL Network on Hulu. Last year, Major League Soccer signed a 10-year, $2.5 billion deal with Apple, in which its matches would stream on the Apple platform. Just this week, Warner Bros. Discovery Sports announced plans to launch a live Bleacher Report Sports on Max. 

Aside from the streaming services, non-traditional sports like Formula One have a growing presence, and growing ad opportunities, for U.S. advertisers. Meanwhile, the boom in women’s sports marketing has spurred new agency services. 

“Sports is becoming…there’s this live event,” said Jennifer Kohl, chief media officer at VMLY&R. “But then there’s this, what I’ll call a bleed out to more sports storytelling. They’re becoming entertainers, storyteller content areas, and there’s more and more interest in sports.”

Bleed out, in the sense that the definition of sports marketing goes beyond live sports, enveloping everything from sport-adjacent programming, like podcasts hosted by athletes, athletes as influencers, and esports. Per Insider Intelligence, esports ad revenues are projected to grow 10.0% to $264.3 million this year.

“You can have an ad within the game itself. Or you can go to the streamers as well too. There’s just so many other opportunities to get involved,” Bavaro said. “It’s not like you have to go immediately to [linear] TV.”

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