Advertising within professional sports has become a multi-million dollar per year endeavor that companies must be prepared to pay for the right to market their product to the viewers and fans of professional sports teams. While international football has advertised on athletes uniforms for years, American sports have been slow to adopt this principal form of advertising. This paper will compare American sport advertising with international advertisement within sport, and decipher the various techniques used to market products within the sports marketing niche.
Traditional marketing methods within American Sports
The genesis of the term “sport marketing” can be attributed to a story in a 1978 issue of Advertising Age. In that venerable publication, sport marketing was characterized as “the activities of consumer and industrial product and service marketers who are increasingly using sport as a promotional vehicle” (Gray & McEvoy, 2005). Sports marketing is seen as a tool to market the services and equipment used to engage in sport, in addition, using sports as a medium in which to market other services not related to sports. Using sports as a medium to advertise non-sports products has become ever present in today’s sports world.
Shank (2005) defines sports marketing as the “specific application of marketing principles and processes to sports products and to the marketing of non-sports products through association with sports”. Through two specific dimensions, marketing through sports and the marketing of sports, we can see the ways of today’s traditional sports marketing within both American Sports and International Sports. The table below gives a few examples of these dimensions:
- Goods and services not directly related to a sport
Sports Products Spectator Sports Products
- The game or event itself
- Tickets for attendance
- Viewership and listenership on electronic media
Participation Sports Products
- Organized participation (leagues & tournaments)
- Casual participation
- Access to public and private athletic facilities
Sporting Goods, Apparel, Athletic Shoes, & Sports-Related Products
- Sports equipment (skis, golf clubs, & soccer balls)
- Sports apparel (hunting clothing, swimwear, & team uniforms)
- Athletic shoes
- Sports-related products (souvenirs, lessons, & refreshments)
As seen in the above table, sports marketing does have a far reach beyond the use of needed equipment to engage in a participatory sport. “Previous literature refers to sport consumption behavior as a process that involves the individuals when they select, buy, use and have products and services related with sport to satisfy their needs” (Funk, 2008). Sports are used to inspire and give hope to accomplishing the once unthinkable or unattainable. Sports can be used metaphorically in attaining the attention of a casual fan as well as those whom have no interest in sports. Sports have become a part of the American culture. “Sports have a strong psychological, social and economic impact on the lives of a lot of people. Previous research frequently refers that millions of people are involved in sport, either as participants or as spectators” (Fernandes, N.E., Correia, A.H., Abreu, A.M., Biscaia, R. 2013). While an average American citizen whom is unaware of the current National Basketball League (NBA) standings and does not follow the NBA may be oblivious to the recognition of Stephon Curry in an advertisement, Michael Jordan has become an icon due to successful sports marketing. Michael Jordan represents hope and determination to Americans due to his perseverance throughout his career, as well as his unmatched athletic ability that drove him to become the best basketball player of all time. A casual fan can relate to his ability to press on despite being cut from his high school team, and an avid fan can relate to his ability to dominate the competition. Michael Jordan clearly set the standard for an athlete’s “personal branding” in which today’s athletes and marketers follow.
Outside of “personal branding”, sports teams and equipment makers also have a need to market themselves. Sports teams can be seen marketing their organization through advertisements geared towards the population in which their market serves in an attempt to relate to their fans. Below are examples of American sports organizations capitalizing on relatability within their given market:
Detroit Pistons: 2004 changed their marketing strategy to imply “Going to Work”. Detroit is a blue collar city, in such, marketers placed billboards and television advertisements with the players wearing construction hats and wielding sledgehammers. Detroit went on to win the NBA championship against the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers.
New England Patriots: The Patriots wear the nation’s colors of red, white, and blue. The Patriots recognize a member of the military in weekly “Real Patriot” recognitions during the season, and visit with members of the military on a regular basis. The Patriots were also the first team to enter a Super Bowl as a team, rather than individual team member introductions.
Washington Nationals: Similar to the Patriots, the Nationals also wear red, white, and blue. They honor military members from the nearby Walter Reed Medical Center by not only visiting, but also providing tickets for the patients and their families to attend games. These military members are honored during the third inning of every home Nationals game. The Nationals also provide free tickets to military members and their families throughout the season, and allow for military children to attend their baseball camps at no charge.
Sports equipment makers also use the region in which they are marketing to determine product placement and advertisement. Lacrosse is a sport steadily gaining popularity throughout the United States, but derives from the East Coast. In States such as Virginia, Maryland, and New York, lacrosse advertisements and gear can be seen and readily purchasable at the local sporting goods store. While in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, the same cannot be said. In the Midwest, football, baseball, and basketball are the top played sports and gear is healthily stocked in accordance with this trend.
Under Armor and Nike can be seen following the regional trend as well. Both Nike and Under Armor sell and advertise locally inspired tee shirts and sweatshirts that can only be purchased at these locally specific stores. The limited quantities can make these shirts highly sought after by not only the local population, but also the population who has moved from the area. While Under Armor has proceeded cautiously with this line of advertisement with slogans such as “Midwest is Best” and “The States” at their Chicago Under Armor store, Nike has stirred relative controversy with a line at the Newbury Street NikeTown store in Boston. Nike offered tee shirts that included slogans such as “Get High” and “F**k Gravity”. Nike says they “are part of an action sports campaign, featuring marquee athletes using commonly used and accepted expressions for performance at the highest level of their sport, be it surfing, skateboarding or BMX.” Adding a controversial tee shirt to their line-up has the ability to aide in marketing as long as a back-up plan and clear explanation are given to the reasoning of the product.
Nike has also set the standards for athletic shoe advertisement and marketing with their Air Jordan line. Once marketed and used for playing basketball, the shoes are now considered status symbols. Air Jordan’s have created a cult like following with consumers lining up outside of stores hours (and sometimes days) in advance to purchase the newest pairs. The shoes are worn as part of an outfit and are most often seen outside of a basketball court, despite the original intent of the shoe to be a shoe intended for the use in playing the game of basketball.
Marketing outside of the sports realm using sports influence is also seen throughout America in both advertisement and affiliation. Goods and services not directly related to a sport are commonly advertised throughout print and electronic media, most commonly through the use of sponsorships. Sponsorships enable a large company to align itself with a high profile athlete, team, or event. These sponsorships allow for a company with no ties to sport (i.e. Visa, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Budweiser) to market themselves to the millions of consumers who are avid fans of sport. Using sports as a way to convey a message allows for the consumer to relate to the company in a way they can understand and relate to as an individual.
Advertisements in American sports can be seen while attending games, purchasing tickets, and on social media. While attending a baseball game, a fan can see the outfield fence plastered with advertisements of both local companies (W.B. Mason at the Nationals games) and International companies (General Motors at the Tigers games) and receives a promotional item upon entrance to the stadium that is sponsored by Ball Park Franks hotdogs. A fan is also likely to see an advertisement for Visa or Mastercard when purchasing souvenirs or refreshments, stating which cards are “the official card” for use by fans. Upon purchasing refreshments, fans will only have the choice of Coca-Cola or Pepsi, depending upon which brand has purchased the rights to provide soda at that given ball park.
Using electronic measures to market to sports fans has become ever present in today’s technological age. Ticket purchases can be made through the “official supplier” of a given team or event and can link to a secondary source when needed. Teams have partnered with such companies as Stubhub and Flashseats to sell their tickets electronically on the second hand market once an event is sold out. Partnering with secondary sources aides in revenue grossing by alleviating unused seats in addition to providing security to both ticket holders and purchasers, ensuring their tickets are sold legally and fairly.
Social media advertisement has become ever present and required to maintain a presence in marketing today. Using social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, allows teams, athletes, and organizations to communicate messages directly to the consumer. Providing advertisements of upcoming games and promotions, answering questions pertaining to a recently played game, and introducing new athletes to the team all provide a needed “buzz” to help keep relevancy in today’s sports marketing arena. “Marketers must find strategies to increase the commitment of sport consumers, because this will influence the levels of media audiences” (Fernandes, N.E., Correia, A.H., Abreu, A.M., Biscaia, R. 2013).
Marketing methods within International Sports
Sports marketing within the International sports arena can see both similarities and disparancies when compared to American sports marketing. Similarities within American and International marketing are seen in advertisements and brand association with athletes and organizations. Athletes from sports popular internationally such as soccer, rugby, and cricket are seen in endorsements just as with American athletes from football, basketball and baseball. Soccer star Christiano Ronaldo earns £14.1million-a-year with Nike, while Lionel Messi makes £13.6m with Adidas (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/worldcup2014/article-2669181/Cristiano-Ronaldo-beats-Lionel-Messi-Portugal-man-tops-sponsorship-deal-list-World-Cup-stars.html#ixzz46rn34LgT). These figures are comparable to American sports stars Lebron James and Kevin Durant who have the largest contracts for active players in American professional sports.
Internationally, athletic shoes are not worn as a status symbol as they are in the United States. Athletic shoes are called “trainers” and are rarely seen outside of the playing of sport. Additionally, the favored sports of soccer, rugby, and cricket are played outdoors wearing shoes called “boots”. Wearing “boots” throughout one’s day would be problematic as they have similar spikes found on American outdoors shoes called cleats. Sports apparel worn outside one’s home is frowned upon by International society as a whole, causing revenue generation by sports marketers to carry much more of a challenge than here in America.
The most common sports apparel items purchased internationally are soccer jerseys and soccer scarves. Jerseys are acceptable to wear to and from soccer matches or while watching the match at a neighborhood pub. Scarves typically carry the colors of the team along with the name of the city in which it represents. The scarves are similar to American scarves worn in winter with the exception of the weight and length of the scarves. Scarves are made of a thinner material than Americans are used to, and the length can often reach to the waist once placed across the shoulders of an adult. The scarves are meant to show affiliation with the fans team, similar to how an American would wear a baseball hat of their favorite baseball team.
Jerseys for international soccer and rugby contain advertisements of sponsors, a stark difference to American sports jerseys. American sports jerseys carry the colors of the team along with the team name or mascot. Internationally, rarely is the team name seen on the jersey other than in a small representation of what looks like a family crest. Across the chest of a soccer or rugby uniform a fan is likely to sponsors such as Vodaphone, Emirates Airlines, or Samsung. Fans are able to recognize their team by colors and sponsorship alone, a stark difference to professional sports in the United States.
Manchester United (Man U) is leading the way internationally with their marketing efforts. “Manchester United is one of the leading clubs in world football, with a global brand and following that embodies the passion and excitement of the world’s most popular sport with over 75 million fans” (Hill, J. 2006). Manchester United was able to separate themselves from the other premier soccer teams by recognizing the need to build a brand identity. Man U reached further internationally by aligning itself with Sky Sports, the ESPN of Europe. With their matches being broadcast throughout Europe, Man U has been able to attract further viewership and increase revenue. Man U has also been able to attract AIG and Nike as their prominent sponsors for deals worth $56 million and $303 million respectively. The increased revenue derived from media rights and sponsorships has allowed for the acquisition of high profile soccer athletes, further building the Man U brand.
Marketing reach within American Sports
America sports see increased revenue generation with the incorporation of marketing outside the United States. The NBA was the first amongst American sports to reach this decision and has successfully incorporated the game of basketball overseas. NBA games have been played in China, England, Germany, Mexico, Italy and Canada to name a few. Games are also broadcast throughout these countries and have grown the NBA’s popularity overseas by using these methods.
The National Football League (NFL) has also entered the global market with their “International series” games held in London, England. The league has statistics that demonstrate ways in which the London games have encouraged the growth of the game from the ground up: Participation in amateur football in the U.K., for example, has risen by about 15% per year since the International Series began in 2007. (http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2015/07/24/nfl-future-europe). The NFL has steadily increased the amount of games held in London each year which currently stands at four games per year, each one selling out the fabled Wembely Stadium. The Jacksonville Jaguars have become the “hometown team” of London known by the name Jacksonville Jax while playing their games in England. Rumors have become persistent amongst those in the NFL that within the decade the Jaguars will have a permanent residency in London, expanding their global reach and revenue sources.
Major League Soccer (MLS) has also slowly become relevant in International soccer. While still not nearly on par with the European Clubs, MLS has shown their star players are able to compete with the best in the world. USAsoccer has been able to qualify and advance within the World Cup despite heavy odds, gaining the attention of worldwide audiences. MLS has also welcomed former stars of the International soccer clubs who have gone on to success with MLS clubs, most notably David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Gains for athletic companies can also been seen when marketing using a global reach. Athletic shoes and caps are not a part of European style, and can be brought to the attention of global consumers with the correct marketing. Athletic shoes in America, particularly Air Jordans, are viewed as a status symbol whether playing basketball or going shopping at the mall. The correct marketing and branding overseas can reap tremendous benefits for the company able to reach this demographic. Increased exposure to American sports can only help aide this endeavor.
Marketing reach within International Sports
International sports such as soccer and rugby have begun to make their way here to the United States. Soccer and ruby have both staged “friendly” matches here in America at stadiums across the U.S. Matches have been held at the Rose Bowl, FedEx field, The Big House, and Soldier Field all in an attempt to generate interest from American fans. Additional interest can be grown by instituting meet and greets of the players, and effectively using social media to generate anticipation and interest in the upcoming matches. Hosting camps to teach both children and adults is another effective way to generate interest in that game. “In 2003, Manchester United piloted summer soccer schools in Seattle, Washington, a move that has since evolved into year-round youth development programs” (Manchester United Annual Report, 2003).
“In recent years Manchester United has formed commercial alliances with a number of global players in other industries: Vodafone, Pepsi, Budweiser and Fuji were all added to the club’s sponsorship list. Under these arrangements the club gains from sponsors’ international reputations and sponsors gain from their association with a marquee sports brand” (Hill, J. 2006). Using similar marketing strategies that proved profitable to American sports teams can aide in the relatability for American fans to adapt to the International game. Aligning the team with a well-known and successful American company can boost the credibility and notoriety of an overseas team, thus generating interest in both the team and the league in which it plays.
Incorporating International marketing methods within American Sports
Incorporating the International method of advertising onto jerseys into American sports can also pay huge dividends for organizations willing to use this method. The NBA has recently announced they will begin to allow advertising onto jerseys for the 2016-2017 season and NASCAR has allowed advertisements on the drivers uniforms for decades. The increased revenue and exposure using this method will allow for teams to further their marketing reach and generate much needed sponsorship dollars. The success, or failure, of uniform sponsorship will then determine future deals with the other major sports in the United States.
In conclusion, sports marketing can be seen not only with the gear in which is needed to play the game, but also advertisement of non-sports related products introduced into the game by corporate advertisements. Creating a brand identity using sports as the catalyst can be seen throughout the sports genre, both domestically and internationally.