In our always-on world, a new breed of fan has emerged—the Connected Fan—and presented new challenges for marketers. Digital media and technology have empowered sports fans and consumers like never before, giving rise to a seismic shift in marketing methods and messages.
Reaching consumers may be as easy as ever—exposure requires only the push of a button. But engagement has never been more challenging or more business critical.
Unlike other forms of entertainment revolutionized by on-demand media, sports retains the power to engage viewers in real-time and resonates with fans in ways other passion points cannot. As a result, the stakes are higher than ever for agencies in and around the sports ecosystem to plan, execute, and measure innovative campaigns that strengthen brand-to-fan relationships.
From advertising, marketing, and creative to experiential, sponsorship, and digital, the agencies who are driving a return for clients are those excelling in engagement.
In order to aid sports marketers and brand marketers in discovering who is best suited to help them connect with consumers through sports and fan culture, we’re unveiling The Engage 150—a new resource of agencies for an era defined by new rules of engagement.
Through a combination of an open call for submissions, client nominations, and recognition by Hashtag Sports staff, 150 elite agencies were selected as engagement experts. Selection criteria included:
Demonstrated expertise in U.S. sports, athletes, and fan culture
Ability to drive effective engagement across multiple sports-related projects and platforms
Award-winning work in and around sports
Bold displays of innovation and creativity that push the industry forward
Our goal is for this list to serve as an annual industry benchmark through which we can effectively identify true expertise in engagement and recognize the agencies pushing boundaries, whether through the use of new mediums like AI and virtual reality, unbridled support of athlete activism (as controversial a topic as ever), or creative risks on emerging platforms like IGTV.
By putting 150 agencies from myriad areas of expertise on a level playing field, clear industry trends also begin to emerge. For one, effectiveness is now synonymous with engagement. The mere number and breadth of agencies who list engagement consulting as an area of expertise or explicitly consider themselves to be an “engagement agency” is evidence in itself that engagement has become a measuring stick for success. Secondly, young fans—Gen Z and Millennials—are massively reshaping the way that brands interact with sports. Agencies are rapidly expanding competencies in emerging areas like esports and gaming and at the convergence of passion points (sports with music, film, fashion, and more).
Lastly, selecting only 150 agencies in an industry both buoyed by successful legacy players and disrupted by innovators at warp speed was a tall task. The dichotomy between the new and old represented on our list is a testament to the unabated growth of sports, the increasing importance of engagement, and the unstoppable force of fandom.
We applaud the elite agencies who make up the inaugural Hashtag Sports Engage 150 for transcending the status quo and helping their clients leverage the unique power of sports to authentically engage consumers.