Every year, the Super Bowl dominates comms-land conversations. These conversations about the converging of entertainment and sports highlight the increasingly high level of cultural crossover the US and UK share thanks to a common language and social media. Their news is now our news, and the events that get people talking lead PR people to wonder if we can learn something from the stories that resonate?
Can the UK blend sports and entertainment and do what the Super Bowl does by adding halftime shows? Can we bring NBA All-Star game glamour to the Carabao Cup? Should we take cues from baseball and race sausage dogs around cricket pitches?
Let’s take a slight tangent…
We’ve just had WWE’s annual Wrestlemania event – the ‘sports entertainment’ spectacle is an example of blending of these two worlds. They have historically brought in cultural figures from all areas to enhance the reach of their product. Recent years have seen Snoop Dogg and former UFC fighter Ronda Rousey join the company, boxer Tyson Fury take part in a match, social media icon Logan Paul wrestle to much acclaim, and screen star Johnny Knoxville promote the new Jackass film with his own Wrestlemania match in 2022.
As well as sports and social stars, musicians have long been tied to wrestling with live performances at events and some, as in the case of global titan Bad Bunny, have even stepped into the ring to ‘compete’ (seriously, check it out on YouTube, the man can do no wrong).
So, what can we learn from the bright lights and spandex of WWE? First, going beyond your sector is a great way to get new eyes on your brand. Every celebrity partnership WWE announces generates coverage and social media chatter. But it’s this social chatter which is the key focus when we turn our attention to Europe and the UK.
Not every Super Bowl halftime show or Wrestlemania guest will be received warmly by fans, but this is a calculated risk in a cultural space that has long been set up for ‘special guests’. There have been some choices made in recent times when trying to import this kind of transatlantic entertainment that haven’t aligned with the culture of European sport. Notably, Camila Cabello’s pre-match performance at the Champions League final in 2022 saw fans chanting pre-match; a perfectly normal activity for such a high profile game, but something which led the unaware Cabello to tweet complaints about the crowd being disrespectful and not listening to her performance.
Despite the potential pitfalls of blending entertainment and sport, brands and teams are increasingly getting it right. Spotify’s partnership with FC Barcelona is an example of respecting the traditions of the club and creating moments that will make rival fans green with envy. From player curated pre-match playlists, to special edition Drake and ROSALÍA shirts, this partnership has been beneficial and credible for both parties.
Plenty of column inches and social conversation has been dedicated to Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s takeover and Hollywood-isation of non-league Wrexham AFC. While critics may say the newly minted team are buying success, the way in which Ryan and Rob have remained respectful to the community and traditions has won over many cynics.
Another example of sports teams being perceptive to their audience is the use of UK rappers and actors in kit announcements for Manchester United (with Stormzy and Aitch), Tottenham Hotspur (with AJ Tracey), and Arsenal (Idris Elba). The entertainment talent used are authentic supporters of the teams, and the link ups were organic and loved by fans who recognised the synergy. Simply slapping a team’s new kit on Jennifer Coolidge or having Maroon 5 perform at halftime wouldn’t resonate as being authentic.
There is no magic formula for how to blend sports and entertainment, but by listening to the audiences and executing with respect to the traditions of the sport you’re working with, the possibilities for brands are limitless.