Huggity came on board as a member of Sport for Business in 2019. We have admired their work since appearing in a fan pic sponsored by eir at the All Ireland Final in 2013 and have watched as the company has grown into a real force in sponsorship activation.
We caught up with Founder Mike Sikorski in between overseas site visits and chasing storms to find out more about the Dublin based company, where it has come from and what the future holds.
SfB: What’s the main element of how Huggity makes a difference in sports marketing?
MS: In short, we help properties and their partners to connect with audiences. We create, amplify and measure activations by bringing technology into a cool fan experience at some of the most exciting events on the planet.
How does that look in practice?
Let’s take a match day. You meet your friends, take your kids and go to see your team playing. It’s a day out, you are excited and relaxed, which makes you very receptive to stimulus or influence. Now if we enhance your experience through a brilliant activation at a fan zone or within the stadium in a true, remarkable way, it builds affinity, ties you emotionally to the brand and increases the partnership value both for the brand and a partner.
The challenge is to create an experience that will be engaging and fun. It’s also really important that it is “interconnected” meaning it will leave some valuable footprint in the online world. If you are happy to share on social media it makes you look good and in return, you hand the company some data on who you are and what you like.
That’s why the experiential is in such high demand within sport and entertainment.
For a consumer activation, the days of pull-up banners and impromptu stands are over. Fans want to be engaged, surprised and delighted. When they are they are happy to share their experience online afterwards, delivering reach and building awareness of the brand sponsorship further.
I believe we have found a balance between experiential and technology to make those experiences truly unforgettable and easy to digest for the fan, which creates a lot of value for brands and properties.
What have been a few of this year’s highlights?
There are quite a few of those over the years.
Our FanPic has been used at FIFA World Cups, Olympics, most of the Premier League clubs. It was even there for Donald Trump’s Inauguration, all after launching our first one with Aviva and FAI in 2011.
Our experiences were part of fan zones at the Rugby World Cup, London Marathons and at Old Trafford and Twickenham, I think these are the ones where our creativity and technology abilities can shine. That has been a real focus in the past year.
One really cool match day experiences this year was the launch of a Fan Zone for the Euroleague Final Four in Vittoria Spain, where we fulfilled every basketball’s fan dream of doing a perfect Slam Dunk with the use of a custom-designed trampoline and then recorded in Slow Motion as a keepsake.
I love it because of fans’ reactions to the experience and because it completely exceeded our expectations.
Our goal was to engage around 1,500 fans over 3 days, we ended up with over 4,500 experiences completed and the queue was never-ending.
Another one would be the Scrum Challenge, used by Energia to support their rugby sponsorships in Ireland, where fans can challenge each other to see how strong their scrum technique is.
For this, we capture the memory by taking a GIF of facial expressions during the scrum and deliver it within minutes to fan phones ready for sharing on social media.
It shows that brands and some of the more progressive agencies, right here in Ireland and further afield, are starting to see a real value in creating original and well thought through, interconnected experiences on match days that can deliver their marketing objectives on many levels.
Last but by no means least is our work with Simplyhealth and their Great Run Series Sponsorship across the UK. It allowed us to think in longer, more strategic terms because of a whole year engagement.
We came up with the activation using technology that in the running world was used for the first time and came up straight from the research labs in Sweden.
Participants could get their running technique analysed through GAIT Snapshot. Within 20 seconds of stepping on a treadmill, all the activations narrative was connected to the commercial offering in the health insurance providers app, offering real value for customer and brand.
There’s been a big shift towards brands enhancing the live experience, not just being there. Is that your sweet spot?
Definitely, we can see that there is more focus on creating impactful and experience boosting activations that change the way we perceive brands involved in sponsoring the events, especially in sport.
We always say that the really good brand activation is the one that fans will miss if the brand leaves the picture and finishes their sponsorship.
We also see that more brands and agencies are starting to have a deeper understanding of what is possible and are interested to measure beyond just the number of people who took part or the reach on social from shares as previously.
We also see a lot of interest in being able to capture the physical movement around experiential areas, the time people spend watching others having fun and more.
We have more than doubled the number of inbound requests for interconnected experiences in the last year alone.
I believe that there is still a lot of room to grow though.
I don’t think I will see tailgate parties and huge interactive fan zone areas similar to the US very soon in Ireland. We are getting there though, and by bringing more value to brands through innovation and accountability in what we and other similar companies do, we will see even more interest.
There is a real value in experiential in building an emotional connection between brands and fans.
How big is your team now and how widespread are you?
We have quite a dispersed team now in several countries, counting between 15 to 20 people depending on how busy we are.
The core of it is in Dublin where all our planning and project management is happening, but we also have full-time staff in our R&D and development facility in Poland and creatives working from Lisbon.
We also work with consultants who present our solutions to brands and rights holders in different parts of the world such as the UAE or Asia, where we see huge potential to grow.
Working internationally forced us to create processes that now allow us now to get the best people in their field, who can work together as being under the same roof.
What do you think was the best-received activation you did this year?
I think the best received one by fans and the client was definitely the Slam Dunk, as we brought in something impossible for a fan to do in a real-life.
That made it unique but also fun and they loved it. The best proof of that was when Euroleague Directors visited the experience. We couldn’t get them off the trampoline as they wanted to do it over and over again!
How has your world changed since Huggity first came into being?
I have to think hard to remember life before Huggity. It was only eight years, but such a rollercoaster that it feels like a lifetime.
I definitely can’t go to a match or a concert without looking for improvements or what could be done to make things better from the fan experience point of view.
It also made world distances much smaller for me. I’m not thinking that doing an event in Qatar or Australia for a small Irish company is outside our reach. We get the request, it means we can do it and we do.
What are the biggest opportunities for you over the next twelve months?
Our biggest opportunities are in some long term sponsorship activation programs we are discussing with few clients. We will definitely be working on FanZones during Euro 2020 and possibly activating in several countries at once which will is as always extremely exciting.
Tell us one thing about your relationship with sport that people might not know about you.
I’m not a huge football fan. I know in this business that’s unusual but that’s me.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to watch it and love the match experience but I don’t have a favourite club and never had. I always envied my friends who got so excited about their clubs wins or loses.
I could always see what I’m missing though and maybe that feeling allowed me to understand better what fans want and be unbiased to any sports discipline.
I love extreme water sports with kitesurfing being my passion, so if you see the storm outside, you should know, I’m definitely not in the office.
Next Week: Join us as we get to feel the power of Pinergy and their relationship with Munster rugby and plenty more in sport.
Image credit: Huggity