First published in Sport Business.

On first blush, the logic of the partnership between the Women’s Six Nations (WSN) and TikTok is like any deal between rights-holder and content platform. As well as taking the sponsorship fee, the WSN wants to grow and reach new audiences, particularly younger ones, and TikTok, with its 23 million monthly users in the UK is an obvious place to do it.

TikTok wants access to exclusive content and to drive more users to its channel, as well as continue to drive brand recognition and legitimacy. In some ways, it’s not overly different to a deal like DAZN’s global agreement to broadcast the Women’s Uefa Champions League. Both are smart ways of bringing more eyeballs to a women’s sport that needs more support while benefitting the brand.

However, the real potential of this deal comes in looking beyond awareness building and seeing it in the context of TikTok’s dramatic rise. Because the thing that has made TikTok a sensation is the same thing that has always made sport most interesting. Sport represents something different to every single one of us, and each of us has our own way of expressing our love for it.

Decentralised creativity

TikTok represents decentralised creativity. Its rise has been built by the creators, big and small, all over the world, that have contributed content to the platform. Its USP is the ability to develop, recognise and then promote creative individuals from within their own world, who then inspire more users, who become the next stars. This is the virtuous circle of TikTok.

While some early marketing misses came by failing to build around this core strength, the platform has now honed in on its unique ability to drive its campaigns through its community. The Euro 2020 campaign was a great example – integrating content from Tik Tok creators into licensed match footage. TikTok’s partnership with the latest ‘Spiderman: No Way Home’ release felt like another giant leap forward. Again, an above-the-line 30-second ad celebrated creators from the platform. Notable TikTok creators were even invited to the red-carpet premiere alongside the stars of the film. Its greatest asset, the community, was right at the heart of the partnership.

TikTok and sport

This is where TikTok and sport is such a great match. Sport means something different to all of us, and so will always create infinite opinions, reactions and new ideas. As much as punditry on a post-match broadcast can be great, I don’t think I’ve ever found it as interesting as a WhatsApp group popping off after a big sporting moment. Sport is designed to be experienced through many eyes, not few. Which is why TikTok is home to endless great reaction vids, sports tricks and unique edits to sport highlights. Where decentralised creativity and sport come together, the results are amazing.

So, in looking forward to TikTok’s partnership with the Women’s Six Nations, I’m not primarily excited about it as a great way for the tournament to get more eyeballs on new channels, although it certainly is that. I’m excited because of the women’s rugby creators and voices that should be elevated by this platform – the members of the community whose powerful voices, creativity and style will be elevated to front and centre of the partnership. A true community-first broadcast.

The way the sponsorship is activated should flow from that idea. So instead of doing post-match interviews in front of a branded step-repeat board, we should see players team-up with members of the TikTok community for post-match content creation. Creators like @theproplife co-creating matchday video in her own very personal style with a star like Zoe Aldcroft post-game. Instead of just highlights pumped out on the platform, we should see reaction vids – with creator fans reacting to the biggest moments they’ve just seen. Every sponsorship asset, put through the lens of the community.

Too often we think about a partnership in terms of two sides of a coin – seller and buyer – rights-holder and brand. But the third group – the community – is by far the most important. It’s the community that will determine the success of any sponsorship. It is community that will be at the heart of the Web3 era of sports – where the community are set to become more and more the owners and operators of sport itself. TikTok, as the platform where community is king, is perfectly placed to create a type of community-first broadcast model that could change the game for sports fandom. The Women’s Six Nations may just be the beginning