TikTok is leaning into sports content, with women's sports at the center

November 07, 2022
Sports may be trendier on TikTok than a Negroni sbagliato. In a Thursday interview, the company’s global head of sports Harish Sarma revealed that TikTok is leaning into sports content — and that women’s sports are central to its strategy.
Sports Biz
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The GIST: Sports may be trendier on TikTok than a Negroni sbagliato. In a Thursday interview, the company’s global head of sports Harish Sarma revealed that TikTok is leaning into sports content — and that women’s sports are central to its strategy.

The sponsorships: TikTok became the sleeve sponsor of the NWSL’s Portland Thorns last year, scored the naming rights to Women’s Six Nations in January and sponsored July’s UEFA Women’s Euro. The platform also counts MLB’s New York Yankees and the NHL as partners.

  • In addition to logo-slapping, TikTok has livestreamed multiple vertically shot sporting events and created content using archival footage. For the Six Nations, the social media app worked with TikTok Rugby Creators to capture content from each team.

The numbers: From March 2021 to March 2022, 12 of the top 25 fastest growing brands on TikTok were sports teams or leagues. The app’s overall appeal to women is mirrored in the sports world — 47% of ESPN’s TikTok followers are women, significantly higher than the 20 to 30% it counts as followers on other social platforms.

The strategy: In the interview, Sarma highlighted sports in TikTok’s user acquisition approach because of the industry’s unique ability to tap into both culture and entertainment. Working with rising properties like women’s sports organizations is the brand’s economically savvy way of experimenting in a space with lower advertising costs.

  • The move to inject marketing dollars into women’s sports is part of TikTok’s attempt to champion inclusion and “empower teams to go out there and actually secure the kind of commercial outcomes that they want,” per Sarma. You love to hear it.

The context: The platform is heading towards usurping counterparts for social media dominance. Ten percent of U.S. adults now regularly receive news from TikTok, including 26% of those under 30. It could also strengthen its foothold following Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, which may provoke users and brands into switching platforms.

  • TikTok does have its own problems, though. The app is facing bipartisan scrutiny from U.S. politicians over China’s access to data and is in security negotiations with the Biden administration.

Zooming out: In a frayed media landscape, sports continue to be the constant for TV and social media companies to engage users. While broadcast companies spend big on tried-and-true men’s sports, TikTok’s innovative promotion of up-and-coming women’s sports should lay the blueprint for building an inclusive base. Ooh, stunning.

Sports Biz