Vodafone Warriors and NeuroSpot: Demonstrating the marketing power of live sports sponsorship

At the end of the 2019 NRL season, The Vodafone Warriors and behavioural insights agency, NeuroSpot, used Kiwis love of sport to test subconscious emotional reactions to live event advertising and demonstrate the power of sponsorship. Using the trials and tribulations from a live Vodafone Warriors game, NeuroSpot tested audience members responses to sponsor’s messages in a bid to further understand audience emotion and help the advertisers tap into those heightened feelings. As live sports returns to NZ, this highlights a key opportunity for sponsors to connect with fans and consumers.

The Vodafone Warriors are one of NZ’s most exciting professional sporting teams, competing in the Australasian NRL competition. The club is backed by a loyal fan base that spans NZ and boasts an extensive list of long-term sponsorship deals with brands such as Vodafone, Canterbury of New Zealand, Mazda and Asahi Beverages.

But what is it like to be a game-day supporter at the Vodafone Warriors’ home ground – Mt Smart Stadium? And what does this mean for sponsors? To answer this question, the Vodafone Warriors partnered with behavioural insights agency NeuroSpot to take a scientific lens to how fans felt watching the Round 24 match against the South Sydney Rabbitohs at the end of the 2019 season.

Sponsorship and viewer emotion: the impact on brand

There has been much discussion about the importance of emotion-driven advertising and the different impact our subconscious vs conscious processing plays on decision-making. For example, Behavioural Economist Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow talks to the large role of our subconscious and emotion on decision-making, while Peter Field talks more specifically about the importance of emotion on effective advertising.

In contrast, our conscious processing has a smaller, although still important, role in decisions such as what products to purchase.

This is where sponsorship of sports team such as the Vodafone Warriors can be so valuable; brands get the chance to associate themselves with the emotional intensity of a game, which can carry over to long-term brand associations. But the challenge has always been to measure emotion without the introduction of conscious bias or people having to recall how they felt at the time.

According to Aaron Lawton, GM marketing, communications and projects at the Vodafone Warriors, NeuroSpot allowed them to focus on the role of game day activities and sponsorship.

Warriors Roger Tuivasa-Sheck leads his team out during the NRL rugby league match between the Warriors and Sharks at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday the 19th of July 2019. Copyright Photo: Grant Down / www.Photosport.nz

“We often hear that following the Vodafone Warriors is like riding the world’s longest rollercoaster ride. Sure, there’s sometimes disappointments, but there’s always plenty of excitement too when it comes to watching our games. That said, we wanted to know whether we could back up something so subjective with some more objective insight. Innovation and doing things differently is a key value here at the club so when the opportunity arose to do something like this, we absolutely jumped at the chance”

NeuroSpot uses neuroscience to better measure how people felt using physiological response measures. Using a focus group type setting where participants wear two small sensors on their fingers, groups of fans can have physiological changes in excitement recorded. And what better environment to measure the drastic ebbs and flows of moods than a rollercoaster ride of a Warriors game?

According to NeuroSpot’s founder Cole Armstrong, neuroscience helps companies move past conscious bias when measuring emotion-based brand recognition.

Cole Armstrong

“Neuroscience gives brands an opportunity to get deeper moment-by-moment insights into areas such as emotional response that traditional research approaches have struggled to access. Rather than relying on fans and customers to tell us how they feel and why, we can scientifically and objectively measure their responses.”

Testing the response

As part of this study, 20 Vodafone Warriors fans were asked to watch the game from a media box at Mt Smart Stadium. Throughout the game NeuroSpot was able to measure second-by-second fluctuations in fan emotion and identify what caused it.

People talk about the excitement of watching a live sports match, and this came through clearly in people’s emotional responses with a 38 percent uplift in heighted emotion vs baseline.

Yet sensors also spiked when opposition teams scored which showed the excitement from a live sports event didn’t just come from your team scoring – people respond to the excitement from both teams competing, and the crowd response around them.

This becomes a drawcard for sponsors, that no matter the game outcome, excitement levels still peaked.

Building brands

The Vodafone Warriors club boasts a long list of high end and long-term sponsors, including the likes of Mazda and Asahi. But how do these sponsors get ROI for their partnership. According to NeuroSpot, quite easily.

As part of this project, fans were shown a series of sponsors adverts before the game started, and during the half-time break. NeuroSpot wanted to see the level of emotional response to the adverts before and after the excitement of the game influenced their opinions.

The key finding was that emotional responses to the same adverts increased 21 percent at half-time vs before the game. The findings confirmed that partnerships with brands were encouraging audiences to take the emotional association of the game and subconsciously apply it to the brands.

The implication for brands trying to positively influence perceptions amongst their target customers is to consider advertising in places where customers naturally gravitate – and are emotionally engaged. Venues such as Mt Smart and teams such as the Vodafone Warriors becomes opportunities to integrate into events that people are naturally drawn to. This becomes particularly valuable as live sports returns to NZ shores – with near sell out crowds being drawn into stadiums.

To find out more about sponsorship and marketing opportunities with the Vodafone Warriors, contact Tim Cossens: [email protected] 

To find out more on how NeuroSpot can help you tap into the emotional responses of your audience. Visit: NeuroSpot.co.nz or contact [email protected]

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