The Mob

A History of Sports and Advertising

Sport has been affiliated with advertising for as long as we can remember, and thanks to its popularity, it now has its own marketing subdivision: sports marketing.

It isn’t hard to see why brands are quick to jump on the sports marketing bandwagon – it’s one of the few platforms that retains the power to spread messages on a vast scale, something that’s becoming increasingly difficult due to new technologies and changing consumer habits.

Today’s generation is more interested in on-demand entertainment, like Netflix, as opposed to live broadcasts. That is unless it involves sports. For example, the 2016 Rio Olympics prompted half of the world’s population to tune in through traditional television broadcasting, with a wide range of demographics watching the event. Sports fans are also fiercely loyal towards their favourite teams and athletes – giving brands the opportunity to tag onto their devotion and use it to drive profit.

Considering the powerful bond that sport holds with advertising, in this post, we’ve looked at historical sports marketing along with today’s sports marketing, showing its ever-increasing importance.

What is Advertising in Sports?

Arguably one of the most engaging forms of content out there, sport is globally recognised and watched in many different formats everywhere. Businesses understood and recognised the power and scale of sports and wanted to somehow utilise this for their own gain, but how? The answer – Sports advertising, a subdivision of marketing.

Sports advertising is when a business promotes a product, or their brand for that matter, through a way of marketing. Whether that’s a sports event, team event, or through a specific talent, they’ll focus their efforts on customers who have real fan loyalty towards a particular sports team. By doing so, the chances of a customer buying into the promotion, and therefore the product, will create higher volumes of sales and, as a result, more profit.

Sports advertising was traditionally used to help businesses sell their products in the face of sponsorships, television, merchandising and printed materials, but as we work our way through the 20th century, it’s being used in many more ways than what’s been mentioned. We’ve got smarter, using digital marketing and social media, to be more specific, as key tools to attract and persuade customers into committing to buying a product.

When did Sports Marketing begin?

Marketing in the history of sports can be traced back as early as the 1870s when tobacco cards were first introduced. To solicit customers’ attention, portraits of different famous athletes of the time were printed on “stiffeners”, cardboard pieces placed inside the cigarette’s packs to prevent them from being damaged. Like Panini stickers, the goal was for customers to collect the cards and for the brands to promote their products while associating themselves with popular figures.

A Sports Marketing Timeline

Sports advertising doesn’t stop at athletes; in fact, entire events can be linked to a specific brand, product or company. Perhaps the best example is the partnership between Coca-Cola and both the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. Throughout the years, the soda brand has found ways to stay relevant and at the forefront of the market since 1928, the date of its first partnership deal with the Olympic games.

A few years later, it was the turn of cereal brand Wheaties to feature famous athletes on the back of their boxes, alongside their slogan “the breakfast of champions”. The first to make the print was baseball player Lou Garish, who we also talked about in our list of Oscar-winning sport films blog, being the subject of the 1942 film Pride of the Yankees.

With the generalisation of TVs in the mid-50s, advertisements started to be delivered in a brand-new way. Televised sports helped popularise a wide range of teams, athletes and events alike, and in doing so: attracted sponsorships and marketing partnerships. The year 1954 also marked the first publication of the now-renowned magazine Sports Illustrated.

Just a decade later, professional bowler, Don Carter signed the first million-dollar endorsement deal contract with ball company Ebonite. These million-dollar contracts became more and more common, especially in the 1980s, when sports and overall physical health were major topics in popular culture. It was the time of aerobic celebrity workout tapes, Andre Agassi’s colourful tennis wear and Michael Jordan’s debuts. The legendary basketball player went on to sign what would become one of the most iconic sports marketing deals of all time with Nike. The first Air Jordan, released in 1984, marked the beginning of a 38-year-long collaboration between the basketball player and the trainer company, one that still exists today and has permanently changed sports marketing.

The Benefit of Sports Advertising

For years, sports advertising relied on printed media. However, digital sports advertising has since then taken over after TVs entered people’s homes. Michael Jordan played in the NBA from 1984 to 2003, and his undeniable talent, combined with his large media presence, impacted the NBA finals television ratings in a way that hasn’t been reached again since then. With good marketing comes a wider media spread and, in return, public interest. The Coca-Cola Company has partnered with the Olympic Games since 1928 and has helped shape the event into the unmissable worldwide celebration it is today.

One of the many benefits of sports advertising is the spotlight it can direct towards lesser-known athletes. Many female athletes go unnoticed in male-dominated fields, resulting in fewer sponsorships and opportunities. Women teams of different sports are usually second-best to the men ones due to a systemic lack of interest from the public.

That is where good sports advertising can really make a difference in these athletes’ careers as well as their respective sports’ image. The interest generated through these promotions can help open new doors to not only the athletes involved but also to any viewer who might not have known about that path before, and in doing so, bring potential new blood and contribute to the growth of women’s sport. In a world that relies heavily on technology to evolve and communicate, good digital sports advertising can positively impact the tourism, economy and overall image of a sportsperson’s home country simply by appealing to the public. Companies that support sports events all over the world also help in putting each location on the map, bringing attention to places that might have been otherwise neglected.

In the end, communication is at the heart of advertising. It shapes our online activities and directs our attention, hence why creativity and originality are necessary to each campaign.

Our Favourite Examples of Sports Marketing and Advertising

Down below, you’ll find some featured examples of sports advertising work:







Tags: advertising