sports marketing

Sports Marketing: An Awakened Giant


Human beings have loved sports through the ages. The fanaticism for sports has evolved into a new social group in itself united by the allegiance towards the team. Athletes are walking parallel to movie stars in terms of influence and are becoming the poster boys for more and more marketing campaigns. Similarly, on a collective scale, more and more firms are associating themselves with sports teams and players to boost their brand image. But why has this shift occurred and should entrepreneurs and marketers be wary of it?

Sports marketing is an incarnation of marketing that focuses on promoting sporting events, sporting equipment and/or services or other products through a sports team or athlete. This domain of marketing blends the characteristics of a sport and a firm into an association and eventually a marketing campaign that benefits both of them. And with the increased engagement of people with sports, it forms a lucrative option for marketers.

Generally when one hears ‘Marketing’, the first image that flashes is that of a door to door salesman pitching at every house or a charming celebrity persuading you to buy a conditioner if you aspire to in any way mimic that ‘perfect’ life. This initial trigger is what drove the majority of marketing trends in the 70s and early 80s. Come the 90s and early part of 2000s, sports started booming as an industry. Athletes and clubs rose in both net worth and influence rivalling those of the members of the media and entertainment industry. Nike’s Air Jordan that debuted in 1984 helped boost the brand of Michael Jordan and Nike simultaneously and exponentially. The expectations from the association were fairly average, which was evident from the fact that the contract with Nike had a clause enabling Jordan to opt out if the product didn’t generate $3 million in revenues in the first 3 years. The shoe made $130 million in revenues in its first year. Campaigns like these pushed what is now called the sports marketing industry into overdrive. The potential of this type of marketing knows no bounds because it tantalizes people with two crucial elements, uncertainty and reality.

Superbowl is one of the most anticipated events of the year. A 30-second commercial slot during the galore costs anywhere between $6 – 12 Million. This is representative of the visibility that products would receive if promoted during it. The FIFA World Cup is watched by over a billion people all over the world. No wonder Coca-Cola is the most recognized term on the whole planet after OK. The relationship, however, isn’t unidirectional. The hype to gather viewership and engagement for the events is hugely aided by the promotional campaigns of the associated brands.

The source of a movie star’s influence is the world of fantasy that he creates through his movies. People look up to a particular individual because of his/her ability to create the wonder. People are swayed by their desire to one day live that fantasy. This makes the celebrities an effective tool to aid the promotion of a product which is naturally communicated as a path to living that fairytale. But as general societal perception progressed, the impact of the illusion got harder and harder to maintain.

Sports don’t have to create that illusion because every story is knit live on the pitch. The result of a match cannot be ascertained by anyone but the people playing it. This sense of uncertainty brings with it a whole range of emotions. And when a person invests those emotions on a player or a team, the athletes and the team’s ability to influence a customer’s action rises exponentially. Firms such as Adidas and Nike have sculpted campaigns that have skyrocketed their sales and driven their growth. As a result, the brand valuation of Nike has overtaken the likes of Nestle and Loreal. They are driven by an endeavour to provide products that, just like in the athlete’s case, would help you create a fit, healthy, fashionable and successful reality. Also, creativity has by no means fallen behind when making campaigns on real sports events. Adidas with its ‘there will be haters’ campaign in 2015 created a bulletproof promotion strategy for their football-based products. The campaign embraces the hate from the so-called ‘haters’ resulting in both the supporters and cynics feeding the campaign.

Firms have started to place their bets on athletes and sports teams to contribute to their brand equity. Brands like Gillette are roping in more and more sports stars from different parts of the globe including Lionel Messi and Roger Federer to promote their premium shaving products while the legacy of Michael Jordan with Nike is being continued by LeBron. This is because the association that the customers form through endorsements via sports marketing fulfils the 3 critical criteria for identification with a brand i.e. attributes of the product, benefit of the product and the attitude linked with the product. It’s communicated by an existing entity making it all the more credible, relatable and achievable.

In the coming years, this trend is set to grow further as more and more sports are being integrated into commercial banners. Sporting clubs are seen as lucrative investment opportunities as their goodwill is strong and durable. So, as an entrepreneur, it’s always better to be on your toes when it comes to this domain of marketing. The giant has been awoken, but it is yet to be seen who tames it. The ball is in your court now.

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Abhishek Shridhar is a student of the Integrated Programme in Management at IIM Indore. He has been involved in the field of article writing for the past 2 years and was a part of the Media and PR team of i5 Entrepreneurship Summit 2017.
Abhishek Shridhar is a student of the Integrated Programme in Management at IIM Indore. He has been involved in the field of article writing for the past 2 years and was a part of the Media and PR team of i5 Entrepreneurship Summit 2017.
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