Sports marketing has been around since the 1800s and has continued to grow with the rise of social media platforms. To analyze the power of sports marketing, let’s travel back to 1984 when Nike signed what is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan.
Jordan was entering his rookie year with the Chicago Bulls and at the time, bigger brands like Adidas and Converse were interested in hiring him as their personal pitch man, so why did Jordan choose Nike? He understood early on the power of branding and sports marketing.
In the 2023 film “Air” Jordan’s mother Deloris Jordan is seen telling Nike Executive Sonny Vaccaro, “A shoe is just a shoe until my son steps in it” and in its first year, Nike reached $126 million in sales with the release of the personalized Air Jordan 1. This is 4,100% more than what they hoped to earn that year.
Today, the Jordan brand has become a lifestyle brand that has transcended beyond the game and off the court, making it a billion-dollar brand.
Does sports marketing still matter today?
Now more than ever athletes have a large platform and multiple outlets where they can speak directly to their audiences about topics, they are passionate about in a fast and efficient manner.
Here are three reasons why sports marketing is influential in today's society:
- Immediate Awareness. The ability to reach large audiences and generate potential new customers who were not previously familiar with your brand or organization can catapult sales or help rapidly spread your message. Also, sporting events like the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the World Cup attract millions of viewers around the world. Marketers can leverage these events to create memorable marketing campaigns.
- Athletes have a significant influence on consumer behavior. Athletes are viewed as role models by many people from all walks of life. By partnering with athletes, marketers can tap into their fan base and build trust, increase brand affinity, and influence consumer purchasing decisions or set trends.
- Sports marketing can help to create a sense of community. Sports teams and events bring people together and create a sense of shared identity and community. Marketers can use this emotional connection to create brand loyalty and connect with audiences on a deeper level.
However, it's important for marketers to carefully consider their partnerships with athletes and sport organizations. Here are three things to keep in mind:
- Authenticity is key. Audiences can quickly understand when a partnership between a brand and athlete is authentic. Marketers should choose athletes who are genuinely interested in the product, the message, or in the service they are promoting and make sure they align with the brand/organization’s mission and values.
- Relevance is crucial. We recommend partnering with athletes who are relevant to the target audience. The spokesperson selected should be someone that will resonate positively with the brand/organization’s existing audience, even if the goal is to reach new audiences. Brands and organizations should take it a step further and evaluate the fanbase of the proposed spokesperson.
- Ethics and values matter. Marketers should consider the ethical and moral values of the athletes they partner with. Athletes who engage in behavior that does not align with the organization can reflect poorly on the brand they represent.
An example of how athletes can help promote a positive message is the “Never Stop Quitting” campaign which Fraser helped create for the LA County Department of Public Health. The campaign has been on-going for 4+ years and we’ve secured partnerships with several professional sports teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Sparks, the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), and Angel City. The campaign leverages the athlete’s mentality of perseverance and determination to encourage people to quit smoking for good. Video and audio PSAs and static images have been created in English and Spanish to promote the quit smoking message by various LA sports teams.
Athletes are ideal spokespersons for this type of message because they are seen as role models and sources of inspiration for their fans. Their commitment to health, training, and discipline for profession is admired by many, and this mentality of persistence and never giving up can be applied to smokers trying to quit smoking. Research supports that audiences are more likely to pay attention to a message coming from their favorite sports athletes because they trust and respect them.
The “Never Stop Quitting” campaign acknowledges that quit attempts may take more than one time, it knows that people may need extra support, and it celebrates people trying to quit for their milestones regardless of how small they may seem.
Sports marketing, when done right, can create a powerful and effective message. It has the power to engage audiences and positively influence society for the better. Another quote from the film “Air” that summarizes the importance of sports marketing is when Vaccaro tells Jordan, “We need you in these shoes, not to have meaning in your life, but so we can have meaning in ours."