The History of Sports and Marketing

Sports and Marketing

Sport has a universal reach. It is a kind of entertainment that can be accessed and understood by everyone. Most importantly, sport connects people emotionally. Marketers have been using this emotional connection to market their brands for over 100 years. Brands are linked with sports to get better attention from the potential customers. Get ready to dive into a brief history of sports and marketing!

Sports marketing first came to be in the 1870s in the form of Tobacco cards that featured the baseball players of that era. But, the actual and considerable growth in sports marketing was observed over the last 70 years with the increase in Television coverage of sports. In 1939 for the first time, a major Baseball League match was broadcasted on Television that helped Babe Ruth to become the first 6-figure athlete in the world of professional sport.

In its initial days, sports marketing was only concerned with the placement of products and development of product credibility. During the early 80s, marketers began to use sports as one of their effective marketing tools. Sports sponsorship deals with the awareness of brands, whereas sports marketing are concerned with activation of sponsorship contracts. The main purposes of sports marketing are to create a connection between the brand and the symbol and to communicate this connection to the customers. The popularity of a particular sport reflects the probability that sports stars would be able catch the minds and hearts of the public. Because of this reason, the modern Olympics have become a major event for marketing.

In 1976, Canada spent millions of dollars to organize the Montreal Olympics. Just after eight years in 1984, the organizers of the Los Angeles Olympics made a profit of $200 million. They realized that, by commercializing the Olympic event, the corporate sponsors could reach a universal audience. At the time, the estimated universal audience was about 2.5 billion people across 156 countries.

In 2008, the Beijing Olympics created a watershed in the development of sports marketing where Western brands competed with established Chinese and other Asian brands. In the upcoming decades, we would see major sports marketing battles in the rising markets of China and India.  In 2008, Li Ning, a Chinese sportswear company, signed the Russian pole-vaulter Yelena Isenbyeva for $2.5 million/annum from Adidas and made her one of the world’s highest paid athletes.

With the emergence of new marketplaces, new brands also enter into the fray. Although the competition becomes tougher, additional investment also comes into the market. The EPL (English Premier League) is the best example for this. Many EPL clubs have sponsorship contracts with the Far Eastern brands, such as Chang Beer, Kuomo tyres, Mansion Casino, etc. These brands are developing a global profile as well as reinforcing their domestic presence. In future, these Far Eastern brands may look to activate sponsorships in the Far Eastern nations from the English market. We can say that the face of the sports marketing is changing. Many established brands from England are starting to target these sponsorships with an objective to grow business in the emerging markets. For example, Standard Chartered Bank looks at its sponsorship contract with the Liverpool FC, as a source to drive more business opportunities in the Far East.

Generally, companies see sports marketing as a tool to put their brands in front of a universal audience, but the contrary is also possible. For example, Aviva insurance is a global brand and it could have sponsored any event or team anywhere in the world. Instead, it sponsored the Norwich City. This is because, Aviva uses the excitement and passion generated by this team to develop an emotional connection with the public of Norwich, where most of the Aviva’s staffs live.

The trend of sports marketing appears never-ending. The Rio Olympics is creating a great buzz worldwide and is anticipated to be the most sponsored and branded Olympic till date.


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    Douglas, this is a detailed post. I really enjoyed college football and it did build an emotional bond with my college. I think sports and marketing are intertwined and benefits everyone. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Douglas Idugboe

      Emotion is the foundation of every sale and is the primary job of every marketing campaign – to make that sale possible. Sport is a great tool to facilitate that bond. Thank for your thought @dfwrealties:disqus .

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