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How You Can Leverage Sports Fever for Your Brand

Businesses face the challenge of standing out in a saturated marketplace, striving to transform their brand from just another name into a recognizable and trusted household entity. The sports industry, burgeoning with unrivaled enthusiasm and a global fan base, presents an untapped reservoir of potential for brands looking to make that leap. The unique fusion of sports and marketing not only offers a potent platform for visibility but also serves as a catalyst for brand transformation.

This guide delves into the thriving world of sports marketing, armed with compelling data, to unveil strategic insights that businesses can leverage to effectively engage with fans and catapult their brand to prominence.

An Overview Sports Industry 

The evident influence of the sports industry stretches far beyond the conventional realms of entertainment. With an estimated value poised to hit $614.1 billion by 2022, as highlighted by PwC's Sports Outlook, the sports industry market encapsulates a vast array of revenue streams including media rights, ticket sales, sponsorships, and merchandising. This growth trajectory is not just impressive; it reflects a deep-seated global passion for sports.

A significant revelation comes from a Nielsen Sports report indicating that a whopping 84% of sports fans show interest in women's sports. This statistic is a clarion call to marketers about the expansive and somewhat untapped market within women's sports, suggesting that brands can significantly benefit from supporting and promoting female athletes and events. The interest in women's sports opens a new frontier for branding opportunities, highlighting the need for inclusive marketing strategies that resonate with a broader audience.

Moreover, the global sports sponsorship sector is on an upward trajectory, projected to grow by 5% annually and reach around $48.4 billion by 2024, according to Statista. This growth is fueled by the ever-increasing visibility of sports across digital and traditional media platforms, offering brands unparalleled opportunities to engage with audiences worldwide.

sports marketing popular sports

The Impact of Popular Sports

When delving deeper into the fabric of the sports industry, it's crucial to acknowledge the influence of popular sports and their role in driving the industry's growth:

  1. Football (Soccer): Dominating the global sports scene, football boasts a fan base of billions. Major events like the FIFA World Cup and UEFA Champions League are not just sporting spectacles; they are global cultural phenomena that offer immense marketing opportunities.
  2. Basketball: With the NBA at its helm, basketball has a massive following, especially in the United States, China, and the Philippines. The sport's global reach and the star power of its athletes provide lucrative platforms for branding and endorsements.
  3. Cricket: Predominantly popular in countries like India, Australia, and the UK, cricket's major tournaments like the ICC World Cup and T20 leagues have attracted significant sponsorship deals, thanks to their massive viewership.
  4. Tennis: Grand Slam tournaments (Wimbledon, US Open, French Open, and Australian Open) not only draw global attention but also attract a diverse audience, making tennis a fertile ground for high-end and luxury brand sponsorships.
  5. E-sports: Representing the digital evolution of sports, e-sports has witnessed exponential growth, with its global audience expected to surge. The interactive and highly engaged e-sports community presents a unique demographic for marketers aiming to tap into the younger, digitally native population.


These sports, among others, are at the forefront of the industry's expansion, driving not just the economic value but also the cultural impact of the sports industry on a global scale. For brands, this diversity in sports popularity offers a spectrum of opportunities to engage with varied demographics, leveraging the universal love for sports to build meaningful, lasting connections with consumers.


Leverage Points: Where Brands Can Score


1. Sponsorships and Partnerships

The essence of sports sponsorships goes beyond mere financial transactions; it's about embedding your brand within the fabric of the sport, its teams, and its stars, thus fostering a deeper connection with the audience. A prime example of this is Nike's long-standing partnership with Michael Jordan. Launched in 1984, the Nike Air Jordan collaboration not only revolutionized basketball footwear but also created an iconic brand that stands at the intersection of sports, culture, and fashion. This partnership has endured for decades, contributing significantly to Nike's brand identity and its association with excellence in sports.

Another illustrative case is the partnership between Spanish football giant FC Barcelona and Rakuten, a Japanese electronic commerce and online retailing company. Announced in 2017, this partnership not only placed Rakuten's logo on the team's jersey but also involved collaborative efforts in innovation, entertainment, and community involvement. It provided Rakuten with a platform to enhance its global brand awareness and affinity, leveraging FC Barcelona's vast and loyal fan base.


2. Social Media Engagement

The digital age has transformed athletes into influencers, with social media platforms serving as a direct line to fans. Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most followed athletes on Instagram, uses the platform to share personal moments, professional milestones, and promotional content. His massive reach and influence offer a valuable opportunity for brands to engage with a global audience. His endorsement deals, including those with Nike, Herbalife, and CR7 (his own brand), leverage his social media presence for maximum visibility and engagement.

The power of social media was also vividly displayed during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Despite the absence of spectators due to pandemic-related restrictions, athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka used platforms like Twitter and Instagram to share their experiences, connect with fans, and spotlight their sponsors. This digital engagement helped maintain the Olympic spirit and ensured sponsors remained visible and relevant.

Moreover, leveraging trending hashtags during major sports events can significantly boost brand visibility. For instance, during the Super Bowl, brands often engage in real-time marketing, using the event's hashtags to join the conversation, showcase their products or services, and interact with viewers. This approach was masterfully executed by Oreo during the Super Bowl blackout in 2013 with their "You can still dunk in the dark" tweet, which became a viral sensation.


3. Event Marketing and Fan Experiences

Event marketing and crafting unique fan experiences are about bringing the game beyond the field and directly into the lives of fans, creating memorable moments that deepen their connection to the sport and the brand. An iconic example of this strategy is the Heineken Champions League Trophy Tour. Heineken, a long-time sponsor of the UEFA Champions League, takes the prestigious trophy on a worldwide tour, allowing fans to see the trophy in person, meet football legends, and participate in interactive football-themed activities. This not only enhances Heineken’s visibility across different markets but also strengthens its association with premier sporting excellence, thereby boosting brand loyalty.

sports marketing - Baumgartner with redbull

Baumgartner and Redbull. Photo taken from Redbull's website.

Red Bull is another brand that excels in creating immersive fan experiences, particularly in extreme sports. Through events like the Red Bull Stratos, where Felix Baumgartner performed a record-breaking parachute jump from the edge of space, Red Bull not only sponsored the event but also created a global spectacle that was watched live by millions. This kind of high-stakes, emotionally charged event marketing has solidified Red Bull's image as a brand that pushes the limits of human potential.

Read more: Red Bull Stratos: Felix Baumgartner's inside story


4. Content Marketing with a Sports Angle

Content marketing within the sports domain allows brands to tell stories that resonate with fans on a personal level, transcending the game itself. Nike’s "Just Do It" campaignsJust Do ItNike’s "Just Do It" campaignsJust Do ItNike’s "Just Do It" campaignsJust Do ItNike’s "Just Do It" campaigns are exemplary in this regard. Through short films, advertisements, and social media content featuring athletes’ stories of perseverance, Nike inspires consumers to overcome their own challenges. For instance, the "Dream Crazier" ad highlights the struggles and achievements of female athletes, connecting with viewers through narratives of empowerment and resilience.

Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign, featuring ballerina Misty Copeland, is another powerful example of content marketing with a sports angle. The video shares Copeland's journey of overcoming rejection and stereotypes to become a principal dancer, resonating with a wide audience and effectively broadening Under Armour’s market beyond just traditional athletes.

5. E-sports: The Digital Arena


E-sports, or competitive gaming, has transcended its niche origins to become a global powerhouse, attracting millions of fans and opening up new avenues for brand engagement. With its audience projected to reach 646 million by 2023, according to Newzoo, e-sports presents a lucrative platform for brands to connect with a young, digital-savvy demographic.

One of the most notable examples of successful brand involvement in e-sports is the partnership between the e-sports organization Team Liquid and the computer hardware company Alienware. Since 2011, Alienware has been providing Team Liquid with high-performance gaming PCs and gear, a partnership that not only supplies the team with necessary equipment but also embeds the Alienware brand into the heart of the e-sports community. This long-term collaboration has helped Alienware cement its position as a leading brand in the gaming world.

Digital Advertising and E-sports Events

The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), one of the longest-running e-sports tournaments in the world, offers another prime example of effective brand involvement. Intel, as the title sponsor, has leveraged the event not just to showcase its latest computing technologies but also to engage directly with the gaming community through experiential activities and interactive booths. This strategic partnership enhances Intel's brand visibility and association with cutting-edge performance among e-sports enthusiasts.

Read more: ESL and Intel pledge US$100m to esports in three-year extension - SportsPro

Beyond sponsorships and advertisements, content creation plays a pivotal role in engaging the e-sports audience. Red Bull, known for its deep involvement in various sports, extends its content strategy into e-sports by producing documentaries, interviews, and behind-the-scenes content featuring e-sports athletes and teams. This approach not only highlights the brand but also contributes to the community by providing valuable and entertaining content that resonates with fans.

Collaborations with Influential Gamers

Brands have also found success by collaborating with popular e-sports personalities and streamers. An example of this is the collaboration between the popular streamer Ninja and the energy drink brand Red Bull. The partnership included branding Ninja's streaming studio, creating custom Red Bull cans featuring Ninja's likeness, and co-hosting gaming events. This collaboration allowed Red Bull to tap into Ninja's vast following and further establish its presence in the gaming community.

Read more: Tyler Blevins Ninja joins Red Bull


The Playbook for Success


Authenticity is Key

Ensure that your brand’s involvement in sports emanates a genuine passion and respect for the game. Authenticity resonates with fans, building trust and loyalty. When consumers believe in your brand's sincere commitment to their beloved sport, they're more likely to embrace and advocate for your brand. For instance, Patagonia's dedication to environmental conservation in outdoor sports not only aligns with their brand values but also deeply connects with the values of their consumers, enhancing brand loyalty.

Data-Driven Decisions

Harness the power of data analytics to gain in-depth insights into your audience’s preferences, behaviors, and trends. Tailoring your marketing campaigns based on data-driven insights can significantly enhance their relevance and impact. Adidas, through its use of data analytics, has been able to offer personalized products and marketing messages, greatly improving customer engagement and satisfaction.

Diversify Your Approach

While the allure of major leagues is undeniable, there's a vast spectrum of opportunities in local sports, niche sports, and women's sports waiting to be explored. These platforms can offer more targeted engagement opportunities and potentially higher ROI. Red Bull's strategy of engaging with niche sports communities, from extreme sports to esports, has not only diversified their audience base but also solidified their brand's presence across a wide range of sports.

Stay Agile

The sports industry is characterized by its fast pace and ever-changing trends. Maintaining agility in your marketing strategy allows you to adapt to these changes, seize new opportunities, and mitigate risks effectively. Nike’s quick adaptation to the digital space during the pandemic, by enhancing its online sales platforms and virtual engagement activities, showcases the importance of agility in sustaining and growing brand presence even amidst challenges.