Measuring Impact during Mega Sports Events: Earned vs. Organic Media Coverage

Large sporting events have long attracted sponsorships, as brands look to capture the attention of extremely large audiences, both in-person and through broadcasts.

With this year’s upcoming Olympics in Paris and FIFA World Cup fast approaching in 2026, it’s worth taking some time to look at how “mega” sports events present opportunities and challenges when it comes to measuring the impact of brand mentions.

Team Sponsorships, Events, and Brand Goals

When there’s a possibility of an audience of billions of people—like the Olympics—brand sponsorships are competitive. This is despite the fact that most Olympic athletes are amateurs, without the name recognition that typically precedes sponsorship opportunities.

From clothing and shoes, to official foods and drinks for teams, some Olympic athletes will follow a complex formula that specifies what they do, wear, and eat during this summer’s games in Paris.

The Olympics are just one example of “mega” sporting events. FIFA World Cup is another, along with others, such as the Superbowl and major marathons. The definition of what classifies as a “mega” event can be a point of debate. It is generally accepted that a combination of a number of attendees, potential viewership, and the percentage of people who travel to the event from outside the area, region, or country, fit the definition.

One of the big attractions, then, for brands is the potential for a much-expanded audience. Sporting events attract big crowds, usually sports fans. But mega sports events garner the attention of a much broader cross-section of the public. The FIFA World Cup can generate intense national pride, capturing the attention of even casual watchers of football (soccer), drawn into viewership by the chance their country’s team might do well. The US Superbowl draws a global audience, including a portion of viewers in the US who will proudly tell you that they watch for the commercials or the halftime show.

With the Olympics, so many sports are competing that there’s practically something for everyone. For the summer Olympics, events include aquatic sports, track and field, gymnastics, archery, fencing, cycling, rowing, tennis, weightlifting, and more. There are 32 different sports scheduled for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. With so many different types of sporting events, there’s something to appeal to just about anyone—not just the ardent sports enthusiast.

Mega sports events draw attendees and viewers in numbers far higher than even regular sporting events. These massive audiences mean an opportunity for higher awareness and messaging, and the competition for attention is fierce.

Tracking and Monitoring Visual Images

Sponsorship logos are prominent throughout mega sporting event venues. It seems like they are everywhere—in stadiums, hallways, the post-event interview rooms, and all over the athletes themselves on clothing from track suits and shirts to shoes.

When these logos appear onscreen, the presence is anything but subtle. Companies are hoping to build brands through association, so the number of times a logo appears in the background is a monitoring activity that is worth adding to your plans.

Artificial intelligence is making headway in scanning images to detect logos, but the best and most accurate way to accomplish this task is through human review. Human review allows for additional context, such as adding information about the athlete, the interview, and length of time the logo was visible.

Managing Volume

Given the prominence, duration, and interest in mega sporting events, the ability to manage large volumes of monitoring and measurement data can be a concern. Proper setup is key to capturing the information needed, so plan to check search terms and setups well in advance.

With so many brands competing for airtime, share of voice is a particularly important metric to track. Make sure that you are capturing SOV across print, social, and visual mediums for the most accurate results.

Managing volume can be made easier through automated processes or by sampling. Paying attention to volume spikes along with sentiment can also help to manage monitoring when there is a lot of content to sift through.

Controversy—and there’s almost always something controversial—can drive volume much higher. Judging and scoring decisions, athlete behavior, doping scandals, or making the decision to go forward (or delay) an event due to weather conditions are just some examples of how external factors can spike volume during a mega sporting event.

Brands with sponsorship contracts with athletes might want to consider some crisis management planning. It’s better to be prepared, especially with a global audience.

Timing – When is attention most focused?

Monitoring results are likely to be largest during the mega sporting event. However, valuable insights can be gleaned from examining results before and after an event as well—it all depends on what you are hoping to learn from a mega sporting event.

Content ahead of the event is anticipatory: who the up-and-coming athletes are, what a team’s chances look like for winning, profiles of individual athletes and teams—coverage prior to an event can be valuable, as it might stand out more than coverage received at the peak of an event.

Event monitoring during the peak of activity can be useful to analyze to see which topics are capturing the attention of the media. Monitoring social channels can similarly show what stories the general public is finding interesting. Some of the topics may overlap, but there might be differences in focus, tone, or responses.

Post-event coverage is good to review for context and analysis, and for future planning.

Conclusion

Brand participation in mega sporting events can offer tremendous opportunities to capture audience attention. With an extended, pre-defined period of time, there’s plenty of time to prepare messages.

With a monitoring program in place, analysis can yield insights that will help achieve brand goals and allow for improved performance in future mega sporting events.

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