In the advertising world in the 1940s, Rosser Reeves, a creative partner at American advertising agency Ted Bates & co, first coined the term ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ (USP). Having a growing concern about the use of campaigns as an ‘expression of ego’, Reeves sought to redefine the importance of communication to ensure it was used directly as a tool for selling products.

According to Reeves, three key criteria for a successful USP exist:

(1) Each advertisement must make a direct proposition to the consumer. It must say ‘buy this product, get this benefit’.

(2) The proposition must be one that the competition cannot, or does not, offer. Put simply – it must be unique.

(3) The proposition must be powerful enough to inspire consumers to change from a competitor – meaning it cannot only speak to existing consumers.

Sports events today face a complex challenge. The impact of COVID-19 on the world of sports events is yet to tell its full story, but it is fully possible that many fans will re-think the way they consume such events, especially given the expected economic impact of the virus.

The challenge is further complicated by the highly competitive sports calendar, even more so now as a result of event postponements from COVID-19 – the knock-on effect of which is likely to last for many years. Great news for dedicated sports fans, but an additional challenge for sports events rights holders seeking to attract new interest in their sports.

To make sports events stand out, whether it is a new event, an established event or even a bid for an event, it is perhaps worth re-considering Reeves’ theory of effective communications, to make sure that the true, unique value of the event is effectively communicated. In line with the criteria, three key questions must be asked:

(1) What does our event do well?
In particular, what are the strengths of the fan experience at the event? What do fans get with their tickets?

(2) What can’t, or don’t, our competitors do well?
The focus must be on competitive strengths for our event, so careful consideration must be given into some of the drawbacks and limitations of comparative events.

(3) What do our consumers want?
What do fans of our sport value? What do sports consumers in our region value? How can we prepare for new demographic preferences in sports consumption?

By answering these questions, sports events can find their USP by highlighting those attributes which apply to all. With this found, the focus must be on communicating about it – repeatedly! – to ensure that this USP resonates with consumers. The above example focuses on fans, but the same formula can also apply to sponsors, media and even participants.

Sports events cannot let their communications efforts be ‘expression of ego’, primarily pleasing creative agencies or the rights holder itself. They must be focused on their consumers, and they must be focused on their USP.